This sermon was preached by Rev. Mark Peterson at Christ the King Lutheran church on Sunday, April 26, 2015.
Second Reading: 1 John 3:16–24
16We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17How 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?
18Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.
23And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.
Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
Ok, it’s word association time.
I’m going to say a word, and I want you to pay attention to what image comes into your mind when I say.
The word, is skittles…just kidding.
Now, let’s refocus, and take our minds off of those little balls of artificial flavored deliciousness. The actual word I want you to pay attention to, is love. What image comes to mind?
As you think about this, I’ll tell you about my image. It’s an image that came to me as I read and prayed about our reading from 1 John today, and verse 16, which says, “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us-and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”
So, the image of love that comes to mind for me, is a doormat. Perhaps you thought I was going to say the cross, but no, it’s a doormat.
Doesn’t it seem that a doormat might be the perfect image of the kind of love that Christians are supposed to have? You know, Jesus calls us to love one another, no matter what. To give ourselves to others, to sacrifice for them, to lay down our lives like a doormat that someone can walk all over. People can clean their feet on us, leave their shoes on us, and even put a nice message on us, like welcome!
In all seriousness, being doormats, isn’t our calling as Christians, and yet, I think that when it comes to trying to embody Christian love, it’s what we often become. In fact, this image comes to my mind from a real-life conversation I overheard once. One person was talking about her spouse, and after talking about the way he mistreated her, and she said she put up with it because that was what she was supposed to do as a Christian. The other party, who happened to be a Pastor, and probably a pretty good one, said, being loving and obeying God doesn’t mean that you’re a doormat for Christ.
Laying down our lives for one another does not mean that we allow others, much less welcome them, to walk all over us. Being merciful and forgiving, like Christ was doesn’t mean we say, “that’s ok” when someone mistreats us. Loving someone, sacrificing ourselves for others doesn’t mean that we are really nice to them no matter what, hoping that at some point they’ll see what they are doing and all of a sudden be nice back.
The biggest problem with being a doormat for Christ, is the hope that through their passiveness, the other person will change. But a doormat doesn’t wear down the shoes of others, it gets worn down, and eventually tossed out. It is true that our calling to love can cause us to suffer, it can even cause us to be crucified, but this love, this Christian love, is a love of truth and action that transforms the world, not simply accept it as it is.
But before we get out there and change the world, we remember that love is not just action, it is truth and action. If we leave the truth out of our active love, we may change the world, but it will ultimately be in our, human image of what that change should look like. Without the truth, changing the world by helping our sisters and brothers in need means trying to create a place where one day, the path of upward social mobility will be so great, that no one will ever need anything. In such active good works, we are willing to invest time, money, and energy to create a better, human product, and show some measurable signs of human success. We humans often try to create a better world by appealing to things like people’s universal greed, and like the “doormat for Christ” the goal of our misguided “love” is in trying to change the other person. What we humans aren’t real willing to do, is consider that perhaps the people who need their circumstances changed are not the ones we try to help, but the ones doing the helping.
The love of Christ, the love that has been laid down for us, and the love that we are called to share with each other is full of both truth and action. This love includes the truth that commands us to love our enemies, turn the other cheek, see the worthiness of the poor, the poverty of the rich, and the futility of our own human ambitions and desire for permanence. This is the love that transforms and changes us with the truth of who God is and what God has done.
When we love in truth and action, we love both by saying no the sin of this world, especially our own, and yes to the people, the creatures, and the abundance that God has created it with.
So love, is not about being a doormat and letting people walk all over us. Nor is love simply about trying to raise the ones who our world walks all over from doormat into walker. Love, is Jesus Christ, and the truth that he put into action. Love is having the truth that caring for someone is different than controlling them. Love is having the truth that DNA, ethnicity, and social class do not make us brothers and sisters, but being human does. Love is having the truth that our sisters and brothers are not a cause, but our flesh and blood, who we suffer with, rejoice with, and live with, whether they are near or far.
Love is Jesus Christ, who has been risen from the dead not so that we can walk all over him all over again, but so that he can pour out his life for us. Love is Jesus Christ, coming to us, in human form, on this earthly planet, to live with us, to abide with us here at Christ the King, and be our loving brother in all things. Love is Jesus Christ, making a home in this world, abiding in it, so that we may receive his truth, join in his action, live in his Holy Spirit, and lay down our lives for our human family and the home God has created for us, for no other reason that we love them.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,