Readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter: http://lectionarypage.net/YearB_RCL/Easter/BEaster5_RCL.html
Most of the time in these Living Sunday School posts, I focus on the Gospel reading for the particular Sunday. We are, after all, to proclaim the good news of Jesus because we ourselves are recipients of the good news that God loves us and invites us into the Kingdom to be in relationship with God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Today, however, I’d like us to take a look at the bit we have from John’s first letter. The letters we have in what we call the New Testament are written by the apostles to the earliest Christians to help them all work out what this new Way looked like in their 1st century, day-to-day, ordinary lives. Just as we are trying to work it out for ourselves what it looks like in the 21st century. Following Jesus will necessarily look differently not just across cultures and history but through the ongoing changes of our lives as we grow and mature from childhood to adolescence to early adulthood to middle age and beyond. People are different from one culture to the next, from one neighborhood to the next, from one individual to the next. God did not create us to be cookie-cutter, preprogrammed androids, all exactly the same. God created each of us uniquely with specific gifts and ways of viewing and responding to the world so that when we all come together, we are a beautifully woven tapestry that would be lacking if even one thread were missing.
And, at the core of all of our individual uniqueness, we are all created in the image of the changeless God who is Love.
This is the foundation for what John writes to a group of Jesus-followers who apparently were acting out in hateful, hurtful ways toward each other. He writes to remind them of why they are all hanging out together in the first place, to be The Church that reveals God’s love and light to the world and the only way to do that is to start with God’s love for everyone and then loving each other as God loves each of us.
God’s Love is self-giving love, unconditional love, unrelenting love. This Love is not an emotion but the life source from which we all are created and the life we are called to live as we follow Jesus.
John gives us a 2 point test of sorts to determine if the love we are learning to live in is God’s Love: are we afraid and do we hate others. Trusting in God’s love for us means that even when we face uncertainty and/or hardships – even the most devastating things we can imagine – we do not let fear govern our behavior and responses. When we live from the source of God’s Love within us, we know that even if by the world’s standards we have lost ‘everything’ we still have the most precious and valuable thing of all: our identity as God’s beloved.
Fear tells us that we have to earn God’s approval, to prove ourselves good enough. Fear grounds our relationship with God in avoiding punishment rather than receiving love. Fear causes us to be in competition with others in receiving God’s approval and good-will because there just might not be enough to go around. Fear causes scarcity based thinking and living, leading us to be self-preserving and self-focused rather than self-giving and other-focused.
God’s Love is abundant, not ‘over indulgent excess’ but a never ending supply. In learning to love as God loves, we learn that the more love we give the more we have. God’s Love is focused on giving not getting. We are enabled to love because God first loved us. And there is absolutely nothing we can do to make God love us any more or less. Our choices to not love others doesn’t dissolve God’s love for us, it damages our love for God. Our choices separate us from God, or to put it in Jesus’ words (you knew I’d work the Gospel reading in somehow):
“I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire.”John 15:5-6, The Message
Beloved, let us love one another because God loves us.