Love Under Pressure

May 24, 2020 – Rev. Donnell Wyche

Today, we consider the theme of love.

Talking about love can be tricky. Especially when you discuss love in the abstract.

We’re supposed to:

Love God.

Love our neighbors.

Love our enemies.

And love ourselves.

At one level, we may begin to lose track of what love really is.

Is love a feeling, an action, or an emotion, or is it all three?

In some ways love has been so mishandled, minimized, over-emphasized, misinterpreted, and misunderstood by preachers, poets, novelists, and advertisers that we are often at a loss when we talk about love.

Try explaining love to a 4 year old. You might start by saying something along the lines of, love is a feeling you have when you care deeply for someone or something. The child might start to poke around the edges of your definition, all in their attempt to grasp your meaning.

They might start by asking,

“Is love what I feel when I get to pick what I want for breakfast?”

How do you respond?

“Yes, you might love the feeling you get when you get to eat your favorite cereal, but love really is more the feeling you have for that preference.”

“Oh, you mean that love is what I feel when I win at Connect Four and you lose?” your four-year old responds.

“Well, sure, the feeling of triumph you get when you win a game is sorta like love, but really, love is more than the feel you get from winning a game.”

“Well,” the child asks, “Then what is love?”

Here you may have deviate from your original plan of describing love as a feeling, you might have to go deeper because in the child’s questioning of your definition, and you come to realize for yourself that love is more than just a feeling. You might have feelings of love for someone or for the experience of something, but you start to realize that love is more than an emotion, while it is often felt first, it’s also more than feelings. Love, when we consider it, acts. Love is, in this sense, a verb. Love does something. Love is found in the embrace of another; the care for another; the space we create for another. Love is getting up in the middle of the night, sleep-deprived to care for the crying four-year. Love, it seems, is caught up in the things we do.

Love Always Does

John, the Gospel writer puts it this way,

16For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16–17)

God has loved us from the very first moment he first thought us up, but you could say we have been in a rocky relationship with God.

Let me give you a brief recap of the story of humanity, in the beginning God created the humanity and placed the humanity in a garden–a garden of enough because this garden had everything we needed. God gave us everything and hoped everything would be enough; but we wanted more than everything – we wanted what God had too (knowledge and independence) – so we had to leave the Garden.

God tried something more concrete – an agreement, a contract, what the Bible calls a covenant: “I will be your God and you will be my people. You be faithful to me and I will be faithful to you.” But we weren’t faithful.

Next God gave us some guidelines, some commandments. Coming towards us, God even wrote them down on rocks so we wouldn’t lose or misplace them, but we broke the commandments and the rocks too.

So God took another step in love in our direction. “Let me simplify the covenant,” God said. “Love me and love your neighbor, just those two, and never mind the rocks. I’ll write these two commandments on your hearts, so they aren’t so hard to carry around.” But even that was too much for us.

So God took the ultimate step toward us. God said, “From now on you don’t have to come to where I am, however much I’d like you to. I’m so crazy in love with you that I will come all the way to where you are, to be bone of your bone and flesh of your flesh. I will do it all, and all you have to do is believe me – that I love you the way you are, love you enough to become one of you, and that I love you that much, even unto death.”

This love compelled him to join us, not as a ruling warrior King, but as a defenseless baby:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given (Isaiah 9:6)

Jesus reveals God’s perfect love to us. Love that sees us. Love that accepts us. Love that loves us. This love isn’t indifferent. This love acts, this love does.

Let’s take some time to really ponder the vulnerability of God’s love for us; to really meditate on what love come to us really means– that the Creator of the universe loves us so much that he was willing to subject himself to everything we go through, from birth to death, so we’d know how much we are loved. Full stop.

We can only make sense of love through its action.

Think of it this way, when we are told to forgive others when they sin against us, we can see this just as a command from God. Do this because I said so! But there’s another way in here, maybe a more holistic way of understanding what God is doing in us. Maybe our forgiveness of others can be understood as a sign of whether or not we have properly understood, accepted, and appropriated God’s love and forgiveness of us. When we don’t forgive each other, it can be an indication that we haven’t gotten in touch with our own sinfulness and need for God’s forgiveness of us and our sins. What if our forgiving of each other is a recognition of our acceptance of God’s love for us because he also loves everyone else too. What if the love that God has for us is linked to and tied up in the love that God has for all of us. Maybe this is why Jesus says, you will not be forgiven if you don’t forgive others. This isn’t some cosmic game of “tit for tat,” it’s more like, if you are refusing to forgive others, you are also refusing to accept God’s forgiveness of you because if you are forgiven, so are they.

Every act of self-denial in service for another is an act of love. It’s a way of living life that allows us to enthrone love in our lives, in the lives of those we are loving, and in a world that’s desperate for love.

See,

It’s hard to be cruel to someone your loving.

It’s hard to cheat on someone you loving.

It’s hard to misuse, abuse, and take advantage of someone you loving.

At our core we are “biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired for love, to be loved, and to belong.”

When we aren’t loved, when we don’t belong, when our needs aren’t met, well, we don’t function as we are meant to function. In one sense, you could say we break, often we break down. We start to fall apart. We can grow numb, starting to ache. When we aren’t loved, we can hurt and harm others. We get sick. This absence and lack of love always leads to suffering.

This may be why Jesus said that the greatest commands are loving God and loving others.

37Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

Jesus knows that our ability to love others flows from the overflow of love that is experienced in our loving God with our whole heart, soul, and strength.

John puts this way,

18There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 19We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:18–19)

When we are settled and secure in God’s love for us, it enables and fuels our love of others. In coming in the person of Jesus, God teaches us that it is through sacrificial, selfless love that we conqueror the enemies in our lives. We can only do this with God’s help.

In order for us to know, experience, and give love, we start with surrendering our fears that we aren’t loved as we are, and trust that what John says in John 3:17 is actually true, that God didn’t send Jesus to condemn the world but to save us.

As we wait on our King to appear, let’s heed the invitation in front of us, let’s figure out how to trust God’s love for us as we learn to love more.

Let’s experiment!

Trying loving someone.

Reflect on a person that you feel like you have been forgetting to show love to or who hasn’t been showing you much love. Take time to break it down, think about them in the presence of God, forgiven, and loved by God.

Then think about their interests, needs, personality, how they are wired, consider what’s happening in their life.

Now consider one small action that you can take to show them love. Then consider what’s in the way of you doing it. Consider overcoming what is in the way so that you can love them. Don’t put it off. Make sure it happens this week. Consider the power of self-denial as you attempt to enthrone love by planting this seed in someone’e life. Watch out because as you water and tend to the seeds you plant, you may reap a harvest!