“Love In Action”
Texts: Psalm: 23
I John 3: 16-24
By: David D. McDonald
May 3, 2020
NRSV Psalm 23
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
3 he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff —
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
my whole life long.
NRSV I John 3: 16-24
16We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
18Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.
23And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.
The story is told about a young couple that married. The time flew quickly by as it does for couples madly in love and so the wife's birthday came.
"What do you want for your birthday?" he asked.
"I am out of perfume," she replied.
He went to the store to shop for her and got to thinking about the camping trip they had planned so he bought her a new, extra warm, sleeping bag.
"That's nice," she replied, when she received the present, but inwardly she was disappointed.
The next year rolled around and her birthday came and once again he asked her what she wanted and she told him the same thing, but when he went shopping they were in the process of planning a two week fishing trip with friends so he bought her an extra fine fishing rod and reel.
"That's a nice present," she said when she received it, but once again she was disappointed.
The third year came and by now they were a family of three. With the arrival of the baby there was very little, time for camping, fishing, or anything else for that matter. So when her birthday came the husband once again asked what she wanted for her birthday and she casually replied with words that betrayed her true feelings of despair,
"Oh, some perfume would be nice."
Since the baby really did occupy a lot of their time and since there really was little else he could think of with which to surprise her; he bought her some channel #5. He gave her the small package with some degree of disappointment because it seemed so small. Consequently, he was very surprised at the response he got when she opened the package. She threw her arms around his neck, gave him a big hug, and kiss saying,
"Now I know beyond all doubt that you love me."
He was very puzzled by all this and talked to his dad about it. His father had some light to shed on the subject. "Son," he said, "People want to be told they are loved. We all want to hear that. What we really need; however, is for someone to show it."
In Christ God offers the precious gift of love it is Christ who demonstrates what love is. It is an enormous love whose tale spans generations, ignores national boundaries, cares not for material possessions, or the place of one's birth. Perhaps most importantly it is a love which is shown. As one reads through scripture, love takes on concrete form. For Moses and the people of Israel wandering in the wilderness, there was manna that came down from heaven. For the disciples on the Emmaus road, he was known to them in the breaking of the bread. There is truth to the fact that we live in a material world. God takes on a material form - he has flesh and blood - but, he is a gift “to all and a possession of none.”
Love is found in God. The apostle John writes that, "God is love." Yet, in our imperfect, human form we cannot love perfectly, as God loves. Moses, the bearer of God's staff leads the people in a mighty way out of pharaoh’s land and yet, when he leaves the camp and ascends the mountain on the people's behalf, there are mumblings against him. They doubt that he is alive and so rather than search for him they build a golden calf. That's human love. God's love by contrast goes before the people as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Be assured! He never forsook his people then nor will he forsake his people now!
So, what might that look like to children today? The story is told about a second grader who contracted a case of pneumonia and was quite ill, one evening he became delirious from a high fever. His mother stayed by his bed all night waiting for the fever to break. On the window sill of the child's room was a small cup with a sunflower plant just barely breaking through the soil. They had planted it together for a science project. She looked at it from time to time as it was green and a promise of young life. During the night the child tossed and turned. From time to time he would blurt out:
His mother would reply, "I'm right here."
Sometime in the early morning hours the fever broke and the child rested more comfortably so she, too, drifted off to sleep. She was startled out of her sleep by the enthusiastic cries of her son,
"Mom, Mom, Mom, look!"
She answered through dry mouth and watering eyes that come from such an all night vigil: "I'm right here!"
"I know you are," said the little boy, “but look at my sunflower.”
Through her half-parted eyes she could see that the plant had begun to unfold and had lifted two leaves towards the light.
"See, "he exclaimed excitedly, "It has been praying for me all night."
The child's imagination disclosed what we adults would not have the imagination to see; namely, that God's love is so great that all creation prays for us and intervenes on our behalf.
It is equally difficult for us to imagine that God loves our neighbor as much as he loves us. Think about that for a moment. That implies that God loves the vandal even though he despises the damage which he does. God loves both the criminal and the victim though he hates the crime. That's difficult to understand. The Bible reminds us though that Jesus loved with a great love; he even found love for a thief on the cross.
This is not to say that just anything goes. Clearly, what we do makes a difference to God. Yet, it does mean that there are an awful lot of people whom the world despises that God loves. God's love is unmerited. It must be received as a gift. God loves us and he loves our neighbor BEYOND ALL DOUBT of that, BE ASSURED! As difficult as that may be to accept, the scriptures stand as witness:
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16
Notice the next verse:
"For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him."
What might that say to God’s people living among the obnoxious people of the world?
daniel schantz in Daily Guideposts, p. 327, October 18, 2011 a professor writes from his experience :
In my college days there was a student whom no one liked. For one thing, she was bony, with ratty hair and a spotty complexion. Add to that, sloppy dress and an in-your-face personality.
Wherever this student went, she talked about money. "Someday I'm I going to be rich," she would boast. "Someday I'm going to live in a big I house, drive a Mercedes and wear designer clothes."
It didn't take us long to figure out that what she was really saying was at "Someday I'm going to be loved and respected." She was convinced at if she could just win the lottery, everything else would be fine.
What she really needed (and got) was a wise and caring dorm mother to sit down with her and have a long talk about hygiene and manners. The transformation was slow, but it got a boost when a young man noticed her. The subject of money dropped out of her conversation. Sometimes it's hard for me to remember that obnoxious behavior in my college students is really a cry for help. It's even harder for me to find: courage to sit down with them and have the long talk. …
The "long talk" doesn't have to be unpleasant. Sometimes people just need a few gentle suggestions such as, "I think you should clean up your language a bit" or "I know you can do this."
It is difficult to admit and we even deny that it is so, but we scarcely know how to love. As John Brokhoff writes:
"We are often little in faith, in love, and in our words. How little we are when compared with the fullness of the stature of Christ!"
True love is exercised. It is taken out regularly and polished. It is made to shine for all the world to see. We are exhorted to, "PRACTICE WHAT WE PREACH!" We are to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Not in place of ourselves.
Not more than ourselves.
Not less than ourselves.
BUT AS OURSELVES!!!!!!!
The commandment to love one another, like all commandments can foster both joy and burden. It is a joy when it prods us into a life of cheerful giving, of showing deep and genuine concern for those in need, or of anticipation for the coming day and its journey in faith. It becomes a burden when it seems to compel us to destroy our health to please others. It is a burden if it destroys our sleep with worry and our work with anxiety. Love does not fret! "It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." Love is patient and kind.
The songwriter incorporates into his lyrics the words "I want to know what love is!" Don't we all! It is so elusive. We think we have it and then it seems to squirm out of our hands. If you want to know what love is, look at Christ! Look at His life! Love is flesh and blood in action.
Join me in reading one of the great descriptions of love. It is written by the apostle Paul in I Corinthians 13: 1-7 :
NRSV 1 CORINTHIANS 13:1-7 THE GIFT OF LOVE
13 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
If we can do our best in this way, I do believe we will surely see, Love In Action.