Friday, October 26, 2018
Nothing But Love (I John 4:13-16) by Rev. Dr. Steve Locke
Most people want to be loved and want to give love back. But history is filled with the stories of tragic stories of those that tried to give their love but, within the process of giving, they failed in reaching their desired purpose. They instead were mocked or dismissed. Upon this knowledge they feel lost and unwanted. We miss giving the very thing that is worth giving away. But why do we miss this opportunity when we know that it is what we want to do? When we know that giving this one precious gift will add to our life and to those we give it? The useful and truthful answer is that our understanding of our self and our flirtation with our image is the ultimate obstacle, as well as the indifference of others. Some may say that it is our upbringing, our tragic experiences or even our biology. But this observation seeks to dismiss those that do not show love because we were not given the capacity by nurture or biology. I don’t want to diminish those that struggle with illness and damaged psyches, but encourage all of us that with God all things are possible. If this is the case, then we can’t be fatalists who tragically call God into question for making us with these flaws and the misguidedness of giving. Love is a free act that must be measured by the sacrifice we offer it and the hope it produces.
Paul, the Apostle, says, “Love does not seek its own.” To say it another way, “Love’s obstacle is an obsession that is hindered by the self—our false self---that tries to engage the faces of culture instead of the face of God.” When we are working on how we look before others through the template of cultural protocols we miss the genuine presence and life of the other. Instead we are thinking about how we look before others. When this is our major concern all our relationships are tainted with concern for our own image. We are called to get over this practice of obsessing on our false self for the practice of finding the true self in others and in ourselves. When we can’t get over ourselves we are unable to see the real person in front of us. We need a new spiritual focus to overcome this constant habit.
Jesus and Paul’s teachings on love understand that love is an inward movement before it is an outward display. Both point to the need for an inward change in our self perception before we can properly move to a relationship of mutuality and trust. In order to do this our first relationship of change must be with God. Before we can truly extend the love of God and our love to others we must first be educated by the only true teacher---God. Our relationship with God educates us toward recognizing and embracing the uniqueness of others. When we begin to see the other’s distinctiveness and not judge it, we are moving from our false self into a truer perception of the world.
We see Jesus take his listeners through this education process in two important stories. First, there is the story of the Tax Collector and the Pharisee. These two men, that don’t see one another but instead have their own inward concerns, go up to the Temple to live out their religious duty. Neither one has a spiritual concern for the other, but both have their own interests in what is happening. The Pharisee has his religious concern and pride about who he is in relation to others. He does not see others for their distinctiveness but sees them only in comparison to himself. He cannot love the Tax Collector because he really cannot see him. His time with God has not proven to be a valuable experience. He has not become a person who can love others. The Tax Collector cannot see the Pharisee either because he is concerned about finding God in his inward self. His relationship with the world cannot be established yet because he needs to engage God and be educated.
Both these men have turned inward. But the Pharisee did so to elevate himself over others. He operates from his false self that he has received from his culture’s promise of admiration. The Tax Collector has moved inward in order to shed the falseness and destructiveness of his life. He knows that it can only be done through a relationship with God. His repentance is his desire to be educated by the one true teacher. Therefore, he is in a position to actually love once his education is complete.
The other story is the Prodigal Son. The Father sees the son as someone worth loving. In order to do this he must put out of his mind all the other voices from the community and his family. He doesn’t allow any of them to be obstacles to loving his son. His inward journey has resulted in accepting what is true about God and what is true about his son. From this experience the son has a chance to change his perception of himself and others.
The process of being able to love is what John was trying to convey to his church in his letter I John 4:13-16. He says, “My dear, dear friends, if God loved us like this, we certainly ought to love each other. No one has seen God, ever. But if we love one another, God dwells deeply within us, and his love becomes complete in us—perfect love!”