A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Love Up Close and Personal: A Lectionary Reflection on 1 John 3:16-24

1 John 3:16-24

It's easy to love in theory. It's easy to know what to do in theory. It's easy to tell everyone else how they should love in theory. Love up close and personal-- that's hard.

I think that is one of the reasons Christians so quickly appeal to government solutions to social problems. It's easier to tell someone else what to do than to actually have to do it ourselves. Don't get me wrong. I think government has a role to play in social problems. but all too often it is simply easier to push the solutions off on someone else or some larger entity than to sacrifice our own way of life to help those in need.


We see this particularly on social media with what has now been termed "slacktivism"-- social activism minus the action. Kate Essig writes,
Slacktivism is a term for giving token support for a cause, like wearing a pin or "liking" something on Facebook, without being willing to engage in more meaningful support, like donating time or money. And with the presence of social media, being a slacktivist is easier now than ever.
A recent study from the University of British Columbia found that when people participate in a form of public token support, they aren't any more likely to participate in a form of more meaningful support in the future.  Someone who "likes" a cause on Facebook wouldn't be any more likely to donate in the future than someone who had no exposure to the cause at all.
"Raising awareness is a lazy objective. Awareness is a given, action is what you want to promote," LaFon said. "Eventually, I'd really like for us to be able to provide resources for people to start their own movements."
The writer of 1 John states, "We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us-- and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 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 help?" For John, love requires two things: action and Jesus as love's example.

John mentions the latter one first. Love is a very slippery word in today's culture. We use it to express our love for someone-- "I love you," to our enjoyment of a favorite food-- "I love pizza." Add to that the emotional sentimentalism so often associated with the word, and we end up with a very unhelpful and often shallowly expressed concept.

But John is clear in pointing out the substance of love to us. We know what love is in that Jesus gave his life for us. There is nothing sentimentally sweet here. The way of Christian love is the way of the cross. John gives us no room to wiggle out of this truth. "We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us-- and we ought to lay down our lives for one another." This is the kind of radical love that may very well get one strung up on a cross.

But John is not finished with us. It may be the case that in our journey of following Jesus we may not have to actually die for someone else, but we certainly can and must live in service to someone else. "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 help?" Here is love in action. It is a love that combines prayer with the knowledge that we may be the answer to prayer. It is a love that knows our debt to God in Jesus Christ is so great, we can never repay that debt, but we must continually attempt to do so in service to our neighbor. David deSilva writes,
God's grace is an initiating act that creates a relationship and calls forth a proportional response. While we can never repay God or equal his grace, we are nevertheless provoked by God' generosity to live like people who can never give enough back to God, who can never reach a point where they can say "I've given back to God as God has given to me; I can start living for myself again now."
For John, such a response can only be up close and personal. It is not sufficient to tell others how to love in our place, and it is woefully inadequate to berate others on Facebook who have views we think are less than loving without asking ourselves what we are doing up close and personal to sacrificially love others in Jesus' name.

Yes, it's easy to love in theory, but disciples of Jesus Christ are not called to the easy journey. We are called to travel with the one who demonstrates his love and shows us how we are to love, not in a social media meme, but on a cross.

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