Loving our neighbor, 6 Easter (B) – 2006

May 21, 2006

Acts 10:44-48; Psalm 98; 1 John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17

As we move from Easter to Pentecost our lessons highlight the broad spectrum of what the Christian faith brings to the people of God. The Gospel lesson and the Epistle remind us of the Commandments of God, while in Acts we hear of the necessity of baptism, even for those who may have already received the Holy Spirit. Finally the Psalm awakens us to one of David’s great songs of praise. Each Lesson is a message within itself. Today, though, let us concentrate on the message of 1 John and the Gospel of John: “For the love of God is this…”

Both the Epistle and the Gospel lesson are about the great commandment that God gives “to love one another as I have loved you.” Most of us have a basic understanding of this simple message. The question is: How well are we able follow this commandment of God?

1 John is a guideline to developing a fellowship with Christ. In our lesson we discover that it takes confidence in our lives to be able to relate to such a fellowship. To express the truth of love toward others as we love ourselves is no easy task. The great glory of our Christian faith is that it is gloriously secular. It is designed to prepare us for life and to fit us for living that life. God, indeed, created us to be that kind of person – to be confident, adequate, and full of the assurance that we can do that which God has planned for us.

This epistle from John lays out the secret of this confidence we seek. It is in the fellowship of sharing the life of Jesus Christ. This confident life will be manifested as truth, righteousness, and love. This is authentic Christianity.

John is very specific about this fellowship. He says, “If we claim to know God, but yet walk in the darkness of disobedience, we are a liar.” Back in the second chapter of this same epistle, John says, “To claim to possess the Father and yet deny the deity and incarnation of the Son is to be a liar.” Finally, John says in chapter four, “You are a liar if you say you love God and yet do not love your brethren.” These actions are not genuine. As Christians we cannot have life both ways.

Often we are asked when talking about this expression of love, “What does it really mean to love my brother or sister? Who is my brother or sister?” In verse one we hear it said, “Everyone who believes that Jesus Christ has been born of God … is a child of God.” We are family. If we love the Father, we will likewise love the other children of the family. We are talking about the extended family of God. We are talking about relationship with each other in the body of Christ.

We ask ourselves, “Are we to love others who are not Christian?” Yes. We must find ways to share God’s creative love for them in ways they will understand. Non-Christians do not have to be outside the circle that makes up the family of God. If we are able to unconditionally love those in the family circle we know are believers, then we will be better able to love those outside that circle. The love of a Christian is never limited.

John says in verse three, “His commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world.” As humans, there are times we simply do not agree. This is true within any family situation. There are times when we must do things that may offend one another. Does this mean that we don’t love that person? Not if we are keeping the commandments of God. It may mean that we need to find ways of better understanding each other. It may take great prayer on our part to override some prejudices or opinions we may have. Or it may take great prayer on our part to seek God’s wisdom in bringing us together for His sake and His glory.

Sometimes love must do unpleasant things. Sometimes love must be cruel to be kind. Back in the late 1980s “tough love” was a new buzz phrase for dealing with the crisis of drugs and other personal problems within family settings. It was not easy to intervene with someone you loved. At times we have to acknowledge in our relationships that “the rubber has met the road.” Then we must pause, regroup, and seek God’s enduring love for us and those we have tried to help in our own strength. God is the healer. He can heal our sinfulness, our hurts, our mistrust, and our inability to see the goodness in someone special to us. He can even heal our own self worth. It all comes back to obeying the commandments of God.

Finally, our Gospel – as the Gospel of Jesus always does – ties these commandments all together. Jesus says, “I am giving you these commandments that you may love one another.”

Jesus says the same thing as part of the greatest commandment. The first part is “to love God with all your heart, mind, strength, soul”; the second part is “to love your neighbor as yourself.” In this gospel Jesus emphasizes how our love for one another is how we show our love for God. The evidence that we follow Christ is not in our theology, or that we go to church. The evidence that we follow Christ is seen in how we treat one another.

Jesus taught many things, but the one thing he taught more than anything else was about love. It was not romantic love. It is that love that binds people together in a very relational and spiritual way. It is a love that thinks of the other before the self. It is the love that is willing to lay down one’s life for a friend. It is such love that Jesus is talking about.

He was describing a radical relationship, not just social acquaintances. He was talking about a lifestyle of love for one another because we need one another. Jesus set the example. Remember, He said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” His disciples – his friends – did not know it then, but Jesus was doing for them what he wanted them to do. It is also what he wants us to do.

Love and action are interconnected, bound up together. When we love like Jesus then we will want to follow the commands of God. When we love like Jesus, we will want to show it, not because we have to, but because we want to. Real love isn’t blind. It isn’t ignorant of the facts. Real love is love that continues despite the facts. Real love finds the way to move on despite failure and disappointment.

Does all this talk about love sound too simple? It may be simple, but it is not easy. Loving God is easy because God loved us first and God is perfect. Loving someone else – a member of the family of God – is much more difficult. We may be the best of friends, but we are humans, with our own unique sinful nature of expectations, judgments, lack of understanding, and frustration.

God is the transforming power within the family. As a community of faith we are called to be a family gathered together in the name of Jesus Christ. When we do that, we find ways to love each other, and our joy increases and becomes complete.

Loving our neighbor … our brothers and sisters … is a long-term commitment. It requires us to take one step at a time. It takes the reality that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. In the life of a believing Christian that is the greatest day of our lives. That is the time and place when God’s unconditional love reached out and touched us. Good Friday brings us to Easter, Easter brings us to Pentecost, and Pentecost allows us to express through our gifts of the Holy Spirit the love God has for us and for his family.

That is the sort of love Jesus was talking about. Is that the sort of love we are able to give?


— Harry Denman is a lay communicant of St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, Broken Arrow, Okla. He has been an active Episcopalian for more than 40 years. He and his wife, Emma, live in an independent retirement community.

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