Of all the words used in Scripture there is one that is most important. It is used more than 760 times. It is relational in nature and powerful in its meaning. It is also a word we use every day.
Do you have an idea of what this word is?
The word is love. That one word expresses how we feel about someone. It is word that we used to describe our relationships with others, whether it is our spouse, our friends, our family members, or even our favorite things. To say we love someone or something means that we recognize that they have a deep importance to our lives. We are deeply connected and committed to those things we love.
Just as love can describe many of our relationships it is also the best word that, I believe, can describe our Lord. When we think of love that is holy we think of God. Holy love is a love that is expressed in a deep commitment that has its influence by the love God offers. It is a love evident within the three persons of the Holy Trinity. The Triune God in union in a relationship built upon love and grace.
There is not a person here that does not want to be described as loving. We recognize what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13 that it is the most holy of spiritual fruits. We want love to define everything about us and everything around us, from our friendships, families, and even our church. Love is what we all yearn and hope for and it is the message that we seek to send to the world through our words, actions, and deeds.
If it were only that easy. If being loving were only as easy as saying those three words of, “I love you.” We know that is simply not the case. It is not easy to love. We know what it means to be deeply committed to someone, but we also recognize that it is a daily challenge to live out. This is because every day we find reasons why not to love. A person cuts us off on the road. Someone hurts us in ways that make us feel unwanted or unappreciated. Someone says something that goes against everything we know to be true. Love is difficult, because we live in a world that struggles to be loving towards each other.
One place where love is often difficult is within the church. This place that is called to be the ongoing witness of Jesus Christ is often the place where it is the most difficult to truly love. This reality is counter to the one Jesus offers in John 13:34-35. In this passage, Jesus says that the mark of a community should be its love for Christ and each other. So often and quite sadly this is not the case. Where there should be love in our relationships with each other there is often feelings of frustrations or anger. Where should be unity in our purpose defined by our love of Christ and for each other there is often multiple agendas, undefined purposes, and misguided loyalties. Where there should be community based upon the love of Christ and the community Jesus welcomes us into there, there is often fractured relationships and unwelcoming hearts. These are not the words Jesus desires for the church to be known by. Yet, they are words that can often describe emotions we have experienced within the church.
Why is this? Why is it so difficult to love within the community of faith? I believe it is because we live in a daily tension of knowing Christ’s call to love and hearing the message of how the world desires for us to love. The world teaches us that we should only love if we get what we want and we are truly taken care of. Love, then, is first and foremost about us. However, what Christ calls us to is a radical experience, and other-referenced form of love that is more concerned about the relationships we have with others than about our own self.
Christ calls us to this sacrificial kind of love where we are giving of ourselves through our relationships so that others may experience God’s grace. This is a love that is based on relationships and commitment. It is a love that is more powerful than anything we could ever know. A love that is built upon offering forgiveness when people hurt us. A love that challenges us to look beyond the ways of the world, and to be connected to the love of Christ. A love that is full of grace and hope. A love that is difficult and challenging every day.
This is a love that is nothing like anything the world can ever offer, because it has its foundation in the One who came to show us the ways of love. This is what Jesus is showing us in these brief words. Jesus is showing us that to love means to follow how he has loved them.
Jesus’ words are in the construct of a new commandment. There is nothing new about the importance to love. Jesus has preached on love before, based upon two key passages from the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy 6:5 we are called to love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Leviticus 19:18 gives us the additional words on love by saying that our love for others should be the same love we would show ourselves.
But, what Jesus is doing here is saying that if you truly want to be loving, and if you truly want to live out what it means to love, then we must follow in his footsteps. Jesus is our model to what it means to truly love each other and the world. What Jesus desires is that we have an active love that reflects the love Christ offers us that is shared with every person we encounter.
The Gospels give us a great picture of the ways that Jesus loves, both during his earthly ministry and today. The love of Christ welcomes others, whether it is people of different cultures or even women who were often told they were not wanted by the leaders of the day. The love of Christ shows compassion towards others, especially to those who are hurting or in need of help. The love of Christ offers forgiveness for the biggest hurts and rejections, just as Christ did to Peter after he rejected the Lord three times. The love of Christ desires all to be in community and committed to one another just as Christ is committed to the church and to each of us.
Jesus’ type of love goes beyond any love that the world can offer. Many of the characteristics of Jesus’ love that we’ve already mentioned are ones we can get behind, but there are also types that are quite challenging. The love of Christ calls us to love our enemies and to pray for their lives. The love of Christ calls us to offer unconditional love. The love of Christ desires truth to be honored. The love of Christ calls us to see other, every person, as having value.
This is the type of love Jesus desires for each of us to be known by. The same words and descriptors that can be used to describe how Christ loved his Disciples and loves each of us are the same words that Jesus hopes would describe are love for each other. As followers of Christ, we are called to be people of love who reflect the greatest giver of love that the world has ever known. This is a love that cries out to be sent out into the streets and neighborhoods that surround us and shared with people who need to desperately know that someone loves them.
How do we do this? First, we must be willing to love ourselves. We cannot begin to love others in the ways Christ calls us to if we do not first love ourself. We have to see ourselves as people of worth and value in God’s eyes. Love cannot happen in our world if we do not see ourselves as someone God has created and loves. Each of us are people worthy of love, and we must be willing to see that within our selves.
We must also be willing to see that within our community. We cannot share love in the world unless we are first willing to love our community and the people who are part of our community. We must be willing to exemplify the love Christ desires we offer the world here within our community of faith. To do this, we must love each other in our pews in the same ways Christ loves us.
Jesus says that the world will know us by our love. This is true. When we express our love in the ways Jesus desires the world will take notice. This because the love of Christ is a love not of this world. The church and we must be a place of unconditional love and unconditional grace offered to each other and the world. We must be a community that is defined by the words of “one with each other ,one in Christ, and on in ministry to all the world.” When we are the world takes notice.
I want the world to take notice of the church. I want our community that surrounds us to take notice of us here at Trinity.
I don’t want to be noticed because of the programs we offer. I don’t want us to be noticed because we are the most exciting thing on Sunday mornings. I don’t want us to be noticed because we sing great hymns written by Charles Wesley.
I want us to be noticed by how we love each other. I want Latonia, Covington, and Northern Kentucky to know us because we offer a radical, sacrificial, and other-referenced love that has as its role model the One who came and offered himself for others out of his love for the world. I want our community to know us because by the love we share for each other and our desire to be one with each other. I want our community to take notice of real relationships, transformational experiences, and hopeful encounters that connect us back to the love of the Risen Lord. I want our communities to know us by our love.
If we do this, if we can be defined by a love that is modeled after the love of Christ, I will make you a promise, we will be people who are loving and known by our love. We will offer love that is different than any love that the world could ever offer. We will be people who are truly change agents who go out to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” and speak justice, hope, peace, and joy throughout our communities. If we can have the love of Christ define how we love ourselves and each other, something powerful will happen. People will know us in a new way and they will know us by our love.
What better way for the world to know us than for Trinity UMC to be known as a place where we are united by our love of Christ, our love of each other, and our love for the people in Latonia, Covington, and Northern Kentucky?