The First Lesson
1 John 4:7-21
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart bless you Oh Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
National Police Week begins on May 13th and memorializes all those law enforcement officers that have died in the line of duty. We remember them knowing that none of those officers wanted to die. It was simply that they loved those they served and those they served with too much to hold anything back. On May 28th we will celebrate Memorial Day when we remember all our military personnel who have died. They too loved their country and their fellow service members too much to hold anything back. What does it mean to love so much that you are willing to offer your life? What does that kind of love even look like in life? Is it even possible for us to attain to it?
Renowned expert on the physiological, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of combat on human beings, Retired Army Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, notes that Hollywood and our culture in general holds many misunderstandings about combat veterans and law enforcement officers. Our culture tells us that these men and women resent serving us for the pittance they are paid. We are told that they are all suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We believe that they are time bombs just waiting to happen. The reality is far from the lies we have been told. Most of these men and women will tell you that they chose their way of life. Like the ministers of the church these warriors answered a holy call on their lives. Only 5% of them will ever suffer from PTSD, which is the equivalent of the rest of society. As for being time bombs, with over 3 million personnel serving during our current war, which has lasted 16 years, they have a lower rate of homicide than the general public with a rate of only 100 out of that 3 million. More important than the cultural distortions of veterans and law enforcement officers is what they can teach us about real love.
The love displayed by veterans and law enforcement officers is reflected in passages from God’s Word, like our reading from the First Letter of John or other passages like 1 Corinthians 13. If you are a veteran or have ever truly understood one you can hear a description of them in that Scripture. There are exceptions but most of the veterans I have known can be described this way, they are patient and kind. They do not envy or boast. They are not arrogant or rude. They do not insist on their own way. They are irritable or resentful. They do not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoice in the truth. They bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things. Perhaps this is because they have experienced a lifetime of poor food, difficult peers, mud and grime, heat and cold, rain, intense exertion, pain, suffering, and perhaps death. All of these things have a way of peeling away all those things that are unimportant in life. My father’s favorite Bible verse was 1 John 4:20, “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” My father was a man who had been to war, fired on other men, and been shot himself in combat, and yet, this was his favorite verse. There was time when we all knew men and women like him. They had suffered in war and peace and were willing to do the difficult work to keep the peace. They also understood that no person can change another human being. Through hard work and determination they had realized that it is hard enough to change yourself. All you can do is help your friends to improve themselves. You cannot do it for them. Finally, they learned that some things are outside our power to change or impact and we can only be thankful for God’s mercies. Martin Luther noted once that “Faith is a living, unshakeable confidence in God’s grace; it is so certain, that
someone would die a thousand times for it. This kind of trust in and knowledge of God’s grace makes a person joyful, confident, and happy with regard to God and all creatures. This is what the Holy Spirit does by faith. Through faith, a person will do good to everyone without coercion, willingly and happily; he will serve everyone, suffer everything for the love and praise of God, who has shown him such grace. It is as impossible to separate works from faith as burning and shining from fire. Therefore be on guard against your own false ideas and against the chatterers who think they are clever enough to make judgments about faith and good works but who are in reality the biggest fools. Ask God to work faith in you; otherwise you will remain eternally without faith, no matter what you try to do or fabricate.” Some things are only possible through God and those who have confronted the evils of this world understand this.
So is it possible for us to attain to a realistic model of the love we have seen demonstrated by Jesus and by all those through the centuries who have died for God and their fellow men and women? In a recent article submitted to a local paper, Bishop Stephen Lane, speaking about the level of despair in our country noted that we have struggled as a country before and but that “re-creating economic opportunity for all Americans requires public will.” Social observers have noted that Americans have organized themselves around social contracts or covenants: marriage, family, church and synagogue and mosque, volunteer organizations and charities, fire departments, bowling leagues and all the rest. In recent decades, such covenants have faltered. Gone with those covenants is the understanding that we are all in this together, that we all matter, that every life is sacred, and that we will not let one another fall. Bishop Steve believes that this is something that faith communities still understand and I believe that our military and law enforcement personnel share with us. Loving our neighbors realistically is possible but we first have to understand that it requires decision of our personal will.
If we would attain to the kind of love that Jesus speaks of, the kind that offers our lives in service to others, we first have to trust in God and do what God asks of us. In our passages today God asks us to love one another. This kind of love is not that emotional touchy feely love but the kind that reaches out in tangible fashion to help those around us. We don’t see Philip questioning the angel about his tasking or whining about the difficulties or even being offended that he was being asked to speak with a eunuch (they were considered unclean by the temple authorities). No, Philip eagerly did what the angel commanded focusing on what he was capable of doing. Philip declared the Gospel to the Ethiopian and let God do the work of changing his heart. This is what we are called to do in the church. If we simply take action to love those placed in our lives and trust in God to work in their hearts we will see the world around us change for the better. But first we need to stop pointing fingers at all the supposed slights against us by others and focus on the only person we have control over, ourselves. Abiding in God’s love means spending time in God’s Word, attending services regularly, participating in the ministries of the church, and discipline ourselves rather than gossiping about others or worrying about what our neighbor is doing or not doing. It also means putting others needs before our own. Are we truly listening to those around us and taking seriously their concerns and needs? Like good soldiers we should strive to care for the welfare of our brothers and sisters.
God is love and we can love others. It isn’t easy and we might find ourselves chasing down a chariot on a dirty, lonely road in pursuit of that love. But we are not alone in this. We have our brothers and sisters around us to hold us up and help us to abide in the Father’s love. We also have the courage and actions of the brave men and women of law enforcement and our military who have demonstrated again and again what self yielding love looks like. If we trust in God and let go of our own petty concerns loving those in need we will have no need to fear what the future holds, because perfect love casts out fear. Amen.