Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ 2 John 5-6 ~ Sunday, January 19, 2020
Juan Carlos Ortiz led a church in Beunos Aires, Argentina, and wrote a book called, Disciple. At one point, he realized his church had become more about knowing the Christian faith than they were passionate for putting their faith into practice. Many of them were getting 2 or 3 sermons a week, plus Bible studies in homes. Before they had time to digest and apply one message, they were getting another. He decided it was time for a change.
So one Sunday, he stood up to preach, opened his Bible and read these words of Jesus: “Love one another.” Then he sat down—he didn’t say anything else, just sat down. The congregation sat there, waiting. So Ortiz got up and said again, “Love one another,” and sat down. Now the congregation began to stir nervously—when was the pastor going to preach? So Ortiz got up a third time and said, “Love one another,” and sat down again.
A man on the first row leaned over to the man next to him and said, “I think the pastor wants us to love one another.” Then he asked him, “Is there anything I can do for you?” When his neighbor admitted he was having some financial difficulty, the first man opened his wallet and said, “Let me help you.” Soon, all across the worship area, people were talking and laughing and praying and crying and giving. They were loving one another.
For the next six months, Ortiz preached on one theme: love one another, until they not only knew it but were doing it.
What do you think? Should we do that here? To those who like to tease me that my sermons are too long, let the record show, I’m totally at peace with preaching the 3-word sermon “love one another” if all we really need is that quick reminder. After all, the point of preaching isn’t to fill (or exceed) a certain amount of air time in worship, but to move hearts with the soul-saving and life-changing love of Jesus in living out that love in real life. As some have said: it is better to practice one verse of the Bible than to be able to recite them all. And if we had to pick one biblical thing to do, loving one another would be a great choice.
I hope that doesn’t sound radical. It certainly isn’t a new thought, nor is it original to me. In fact, it wasn’t new to John either. He wrote: “I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another” (2 John 5). We like the sounds of what John is saying. We all want to be loved. It makes the world go ‘round. And while it is nothing new, to really live this out all the time is really hard, right?
There’s this classic Peanuts cartoon where Lucy is convincing Linus that he can’t be a doctor because he doesn’t love mankind. He clarifies by exclaiming, “I love mankind. It’s people I can’t stand.” Isn’t it ironic how on Sunday we can pray for world peace, for the success of the entity that gives us a paycheck, for the harmony of our family, or the good of our church but then … on Monday condemn church leaders who didn’t consider our opinion to be the best, get irritated at family members who don’t make our plans the most important, complain about our co-workers, and generally decide to be loving toward some people but unloving toward the ones whose political viewpoints differ from ours? Humanity is easy to love because it’s not personal. But when humanity has a face, when the world doesn’t just float in space as a perfectly spherical and harmless planet, but it gets personal and infringes on my time, my preferences, my comfort, that changes the game for us, doesn’t it? We’re hurt. We’re offended. Because we’re right. That’s also what makes it hard when … Jesus tells a parable or two about people who aren’t able to extend to others the love, mercy, and forgiveness they themselves expect and receive. It never ends well for those who refuse to love others, and in some way God is pictured as then treating the unloving and unforgiving the same cruel way that they have treated others. When we hurt others we hurt God. When we get offended simply because someone disagrees with our opinion we offend God. When we decide to love only the platinum select people of the world and judge the rest God decides to judge us. There is no other choice for a follower of Jesus. Love everybody the way God loves them or forfeit God’s love to you and suffer the consequences of your self-absorbed selfishness. Yes, this is that important to God. People are that important. All people, not just you. Every other person too.
There is no exception to God’s command that you love other people, that you love your family, that you love your coworkers and teammates, that you love your parents and teachers and coaches, that you love your neighbors, that we love each other. Love any less and you’re not a follower of Jesus. But how? Listen to this. God never gives you a command without a promise. When you believe the promise, you are given the power to keep the command. So, the command is that you love others like God has commanded from the beginning, from the culmination of ultimate love. When was that? John is trying to remind us. He is inviting us to go back to Jesus, to the night before he died. In the upper room on the night Jesus instituted Holy Communion, where he said: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34,35).
God’s will that we love is as old as creation. But what made Jesus’ command new was the surrounding environment of his love. He was going to be arrested, falsely accused, whipped and beaten, mocked, tortured, crucified, and die. Jesus put the ultimate love into practice by suffering and sacrificing for people like you and me, for sinners who don’t deserve such love. The command was new because the love of Jesus was new in this sense, that God was doing what he had not yet done before in his love for the world. From the very first second Jesus gave you the command to love, he gave you the promise that he loves you. Your love for others is made possible by Jesus’ love for you.
Maybe you’ve seen it. I ran across it just this past week. A journalist penned his own unusual obituary that has gone viral since his passing. The journalist opens: "Ken Fuson, born June 23, 1956, died Jan. 3, 2020 at Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, of liver cirrhosis, and is stunned to learn that the world is somehow able to go on without him." After sharing highlights from his career with similarly self-deprecating humor, He writes this about himself: "For most of his life, Ken suffered from a compulsive gambling addiction that nearly destroyed him. But his church friends, and the loving people at Gamblers Anonymous, never gave up on him. Ken last placed a bet on Sept. 5, 2009. He died clean. He hopes that anyone who needs help will seek it, which is hard, and accept it, which is even harder. Miracles abound. Ken's pastor says God can work miracles for you and through you."
And it’s what he shares next about his religious journey that illustrates what Jesus said about love the night before he died, the very point John reiterates in his little letter. The reporter writes: "Skepticism may be cool, and for too many years Ken embraced it, but it was faith in Jesus Christ that transformed his life. That was the one thing he never regretted. It changed everything. He [later] joined Lutheran Church of Hope. If you want to know what God's love feels like, just walk in those doors. Seriously, right now. We'll wait. Ken's not going anywhere." (https://www.legacy.com/amp/obituaries/desmoinesregister/194969073)
Isn’t that awesome? A real life reminder of Jesus’ love for us, real sinners with real problems. It’s also a moving illustration of what Jesus’ love does as God’s people live it out toward one another! Ken Fuson admitted he was a hard person to love, that there was a lot about him that was unlovable, yet God’s people at the Lutheran Church of Hope loved him anyway, loved him like Jesus loved him. I sin differently than Ken, but I’m just as hard to love as Ken, but you love me anyway. You sin differently than me, but you’re just as hard to love as me and Ken, but I love you anyway. I can love you and you can love me because Jesus loves us and because by faith Jesus’ love for all, lives in each of us.
That’s what John is teaching us about our love for one another when he says in verse 6: “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands.” Christ-like love is moved by something deeper than what makes me feel good. This is love that is driven by doing what will truly bless and benefit the other, even when they don’t deserve it. Especially when it’s difficult and you don’t feel like it. Even when it means it will cost you and cost you dearly. Loving like that goes way beyond listening to your own heart. It is listening to the heart of God. It is listening to the loving instructions that come from God’s own heart of love. Instructions that shape your heart, focus your thoughts, form your words, and guide your actions in ways that are in harmony with and reflect the love you have received from Jesus. Yes, loving one another like Jesus loves us invites and stretches us to give more than we want to, to love more than we feel like, to do so in ways far beyond what we believe we’re capable.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta was a living example of such love, her life of love is something that has inspired many people the world over. I’d like to close with something she said, explaining how she lived as encouragement and inspiration to each of us. She said: “People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway. If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good. Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.” It’s because it really is between you and God that you can love others like this, because you have received this kind of love from God through Jesus. And in loving others like this, you get to show that you belong to Him by sharing with others this same love, His love that lives in you. Amen.