Love in Action
Based on Psalm 23, Acts 4:1-12, 1John 3:16-24, John 10:11-18
I have always been around animals. From my earliest days my grandparents and great grandparents had dachshunds. My family joined in the pack when I was about 4 years old. We transitioned to a Labrador when I was an early teen. The thing that I like best about dogs, and this goes for most pets, is that they love actively. Labradors will let you know how they feel about you when you arrive home. My current lab, Hope, will turn circles and wag her tail off – sometimes even jumping up and down because she’s so excited to see me or one of the family (or any human to be quite honest). She rushes up to be petted and to rub up against you – seemingly not able to get close enough in order to show how much she loves being with all of us. Our pets show us how to love with abandon and with sheer joy – they show us how to love actively and well.
Psychologists tell us that we learn to love from those around us. If we have loving relationships growing up in our families of origin, then we have a foundation of trust and safety from which to explore the world. If we have significant childhood adverse experiences or come from dysfunctional family backgrounds, then we encounter significantly greater barriers to learning how to love ourselves and from there to love others. Additionally, if we witness significant others who model and mentor how to put love into action, then we find we have a road map to facilitate putting our love to work in the world.
How does this fit with our understanding of Christian spirituality? In many cases, faith communities have put their love into action through missional work ala Matthew 28. This takes many forms from actual hands-on missional work to monetary support of other missionaries. No matter what size faith community, all have some outreach to their greater community. It is the rare church, however, which really invests the bodies, minds and hearts of a majority of their congregation in actively loving their community and all their neighbors. Even though this is a clear mandate from Jesus to all members of the Body of Christ.
Our scriptures today speak to us about how to love actively like our Good Shepherd. The writer of 1John says quite directly, “…Little children, let us love, not in word or in speech, but in truth and action….” Our spiritual journey takes us along the transformative path via God’s love toward the mind and heart of Jesus. Jesus always put His love into action and we are called to do the same. Before we reflect more on this, let us go to God in prayer that we might learn to love actively and well…
We find Peter and John being hauled in front of the Temple leadership for lovingly healing a man and teaching others that there is resurrection of the dead through the powerful name of Jesus. Peter, empowered and enabled by the Holy Spirit, speaks boldly to these leaders about how healing people in the name of Jesus is a good deed. Putting God’s love into action through the name of Jesus leads all mortals to salvation.
Psalm 23 and the reading from the Gospel of John connect the understanding of the presence of God’s active love throughout the whole of the Bible. The God who leads us like a shepherd, who protects us and guides us, is also the God who lays down the life of Jesus for us. The Good Shepherd knows His sheep and we know Him – God loves us and is willing to do anything for us. God loves us enough to die for us and loves us actively enough to be resurrected to break our fear of death. Loves us enough to transform us into a people who are willing to go out into the world to find the sheep not in this fold who need to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd.
The writer of 1John picks up on the theme in the Gospel of John that Jesus died for all of us. The writer notes that we are to act toward each other the same way that Jesus acted out His love for us – we should dedicate our very lives to actively seeking the best for each person we encounter. The writer continues, stating that when we love greatly like Jesus, then we are living fully into His commandments and we will find our hearts emboldened to ask for whatever we need on behalf of another. In this way we will live in Jesus and He in us – in other words, we will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
We are called as members of the Body of Christ and followers of the Good Shepherd to share our love like a Labrador. The writer of 1John emphasizes this aspect of our faith development by asking, “…How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?…” This is a great question for all of us to spend some time pondering. We in the U.S. are greatly blessed with “worldly goods” and yet we know that there are at least 500,000 people who are homeless (unhoused) in the U.S. – many of them chronically. We have an enormous amount of food that goes to waste every day, and yet there are a significant number of persons in Madison County and across the Nation who experience food insecurity and hunger on a daily basis. How does God’s love live actively in us in the face of these long-standing social injustices?
Some of you might push back and say that you support MESA and other endeavors in our County and in the greater U.S. and maybe the world. You are putting the love of God that you experience in your lives into action on behalf of others. This is true and valid as far as it goes. I say that because our actively loving missional work tends to be transactional instead of relational. We write checks to MESA, we buy food for the Food Pantry, we hand out food from the Food Pantry to those who visit, we support the church with our money. These are all transactions and are all important…but are they truly acts of love in which we are called to give our lives for another person? Do we give of our lives in ways which call us to actually “walk a mile in another’s shoes” or get to know one another well enough to understand why someone is chronically without enough food, adequate shelter and healthcare or money to live on? Do we give our lives to try to understand and to fix the inequitable and unjust systems which maintain the status quo?
I think that if you wrestle with those last questions long enough you will come to the conclusion that none of us love actively enough to be seen as laying down our lives for another. In fact, as we come out of an isolating year, we find that we do not have the interest or energy to overcome the inertia that has infected our lives. COVID-19’s worst and most long-lived community health impact might just be our unwillingness to re-engage our lives with the world around us. You know this to be true as you avoid getting involved in church and other social activities – even though you are fully vaccinated now. What we are seeing in the Church is the spiritual condition of “acedia”. Acedia is a word that defies easy definition while being a phenomenon all too familiar. The term refers to spiritual sloth — a state whose symptoms include moroseness, weariness, fatigue, melancholy, gloominess, feeling overworked and under-appreciated, discouragement, dejection, instability, boredom, disenchantment, depression, languor, torpor, mediocrity, laziness, loss of interest, lack of fervor, compromise, a repulsion to the things of God, a deprivation of the meaning of life, despair of attaining salvation, and above all, an overall compelling absence of joy and hope. We have allowed the fear of death to paralyze us and our actively loving witness to the world.
The cure for acedia is the renewal of our spirits through the relational love of God. God actively loves us through God’s presence in our lives. The Bible tells us truthfully that God is with us from before we are conceived until forever. God’s love (God’s grace) is poured out on us extravagantly and constantly – available to us before we even admit to ourselves that there is a God. God’s love is given to us not because we are worthy of it, but because it is how God chooses to actively love us and all of creation. God’s love is unconditional, joyful, and overflowing – just like the love we experience from our pets like Hope. This kind of love calls us out of the darkness of acedia back into the light of Christ. God’s love empowers us, just like Peter, to witness to what the resurrection means in our lives by putting that love into action in this church and in our greater community. Putting our love in action is how we will thrive in the coming time of uncertainty and declining interest in organized religion. It is what has always attracted others to the Church. It is time to actively love like God loves you! Amen and amen!