Sunday, February 8, 2009

Love is a verb

Below is a sermon I preached today. Please click here to read the scripture 1 John 3:11-18.

Love is a Verb

“This is the message you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another.” Sometimes I wonder if God ever gets tired of telling us the same things over and over again. As I read this passage, I kept hearing the tone of an exhausted parent saying, “I’ve told you over and over again. Be nice to your brother.” Or saying, “I’ve told you a hundred times not to hit your sister.” This week’s scripture passage starts out, with the writer of 1st John reminding us that this message we’re about to hear isn’t anything new. It’s the same message we’ve been told before. We should love one another.

Yet that’s not the only message this passage has to tell us that we have heard before. Close to 2,000 times the bible tells us to care for the poor, the orphan, the widow. We’re told to defend the cause of the weak and powerless, and to seek justice and freedom for the oppressed. Verse after verse tells us that God is on the side of the poor. In fact, these verses are so commonly overlooked that the bible society has just put out a new bible called the poverty and justice bible. This bible literally highlights over 2,000 verses dealing with poverty and justice.

These two messages, love one another and care for the poor, are not to separate messages but are inter-related.

In 1 John 3:16 we are told, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” We know that God loves us by the way Jesus acts on our behalf. We know that God loves us, not simply from the many times God has told us over and over that we are loved, not from the many times that God has claimed us as God’s own children. We know that God loves us because of the way Jesus, God incarnate, God made flesh, willing gives up his own life so that we may live. We know that God loves us because of the way God and Jesus act on our behalf.

But what really strikes me about this passage is that it doesn’t say, “This is how you know that God loves you.” Instead it says, “This is how you know what love is.” This is how you know what love is. Not only does Jesus laying down his life for us demonstrate God’s love for us, but it has become our definition of love. This one act of Jesus, becomes the measuring line, the definition for all other love. If that’s the case, if Jesus dying on the cross for us is the definition of love then there are several things we can know about love.

First, Love is costly. It cost Jesus his life and it calls us into risky places. The verse goes on to say that we ought to lay down our lives for one another. In other words love calls us to be willing to give up everything, even the most precious thing we have, life itself. Love costs us something. It means we have to be willing to give up certain things for the wellbeing of others. It’s love that motivates the men on the Kairos team to give up their vacation time to go into a prison and minister to the prisoners. It’s love that motivates people to sponsor others going on mission trips. It’s love that compels people to risk their own life to save another. Love is costly.

Secondly, Love is self-giving. We have a lot of examples of selfish behavior by CEOs of big companies. CEOs who knew the company was in trouble and that thousands of people would lose their jobs yet they still took multi-million dollar bonus and severance packages. When those stories hit the news most of the public was outraged that the CEOs would behave that way, that they would be that selfish. That type of behavior is not love. Those CEOs acted out of callousness and indifference. They didn’t care what happened to others as a result of their actions. They didn’t care that their greed meant others would have to go without.

Love is self-giving. It means doing things that are in the best interest of the whole, even if it means that’s not what’s best for you. It means putting other people’s needs before our own wants. Love is self-giving.

But perhaps most importantly, this definition of love tells us that love is a Verb. Love is a verb. Love is known and experienced through actions. We can’t say one thing and act a different way. You can’t tell your spouse that you love them and then turn around and beat them or constantly put them down. That’s not real love. Love is known through action.

We know God loves us because of the way God acts on our behalf. A parent’s love is shown in the way they constantly care for their children, feeding them, clothing them, teaching them. Love is standing by your spouse through years of physical illness. Love is a verb and is made known through the way we treat one another.

No longer can we say, we love someone and then act in a way that serves only our best interests or even just the best interest of our family. No longer can we say we love and care about the poor or are concerned about the homeless and yet do nothing about it. No longer can we say we love God and continue to ignore the people God is concerned about.

This scripture tell us, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” How can the love of God be in him? The passage doesn’t say that if we ignore those in need then we aren’t loving our neighbor. It tells us that if we have the ability to help those in need and we choose not to then we are not loving God. It’s a lot like the verse from Matthew 25 where Jesus says whatever you have done to the least of these, you do to me. We cannot say that we are faithful Christians, that we love God, and ignore the needs of those around us. We love God by loving our neighbor.

As if that weren’t clear enough the passage goes on to say, “Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” Just in case we missed the point, we’re told very directly that we are to love through action.

With this economy it’s really easy for us to get very self-centered and self-focused. And yet even in this economy we are still some of the wealthiest people in the world. More than 1 billion people who live on less than $1 a day. That’s extreme poverty, where they often go hungry, don’t have access to clean water and die of treatable and preventable disease because medicines aren’t available or can’t be afforded. With all the technology and resources that we have today, there’s no reason that people should have to continue to live in such extreme poverty.

That type of poverty can be changed, can be eradicated but it takes those of us who consume the vast majority of the world’s resources to love with our actions. It will take those of us who have way more than we need being willing to share with those who need way more than they have.

The problem seems so overwhelming sometimes it just immobilizes us, we become stuck, not doing anything because we don’t know where to start. Or we think the problem is too big that we can’t make a difference. But you can make a difference. Each one of us can make a difference.

A few months ago Carol Pennington told us about the opportunity to sponsor a child from the children of Zion Village. For those of you who don’t know, The Children of Zion Village in Namibia Africa is home to 58 children who are orphaned or at risk because of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. All of these kids have been affected by HIV/AIDS in one way or another. Some of them have had both parents die from AIDS, some have HIV themselves. Rebecca and Gary Mink run Children of Zion Village and care for the children like they are their own. But their care is costly. The care for each child costs about $250 a month.

So Rebecca and Gary are looking for volunteers to help sponsor the children. Now if you’re sitting there thinking $250 a month is a lot. Don’t worry. You can do a partial scholarship of just 25 dollars a month. It may not seem like much, but those partial scholarships add up.

And when we are honest with ourselves, just about all of us can afford 25 dollars a month. That’s basically buying one less CD a month. If you bought one less starbucks coffee a week, the total would be close to $25 a month. If you bring your lunch to work, one more day each week, you’d save close to $25 a month. With a congregation this size, there’s no reason that we can’t get each of those 58 children at least a partial scholarship. Today I’m challenging us as a congregation to show our love for God by getting at least a partial scholarship for each of these 58 children.

After the service there will be a table set up in the narthex where you can find out more information about sponsoring a child. There will be someone at the table to answer any questions you have. They have little information cards where you can pick a specific child to sponsor. You’ll be able to send letters to and receive letters from your sponsored child. They also have written on each card the specific prayer requests for each child.

I know it’s a tough economic time. But God doesn’t tell us to love others just when it’s convenient or easy. God doesn’t tell us to love just out of our excess. Instead we are told that we know what love is by the sacrifice that Jesus made for us on the cross. Love is costly. Love requires us to give something of ourselves. And Love is what we do, not just what we say or think.

We as a congregation, as a community can wrap huge arms of love around the 58 children that live at the Children of Zion Village. It’s love that will be known by what we do, how we choose to act. “Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”



  1. What was the response in amount of children sponsored?

  2. 30 people signed up to be sponsors and all but one or two children have at least a partial sponsorship. It has been wonderful to see God moving through the congregation in such amazing ways.