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The Requirements of Love
INTRODUCTIONJuan Carlos Ortiz sat comfortable in his chair while the congregation finished the final stanza of a song. He looked out over the congregation he had been pasturing for many years. He reviewed once again the points of the sermon. He wanted to make sure he did not forget anything. He had labored in pray for many hours on what to say to the congregation. He had spent many hours in his study crafting each point and tailoring each illustration to support the theme of the sermon. The title of his message was rather simple, Love One Another, but he thought that the message was very important given the spiritual life of the congregation.
When the band played the final note of the song, Pastor Ortiz stood up to walk to the pulpit but as he stood, God spoke.
"Juan"From his Pentecostal background, Juan Carlos Ortiz had no problem with the idea of God communicating with an audible voice. He only questioned the timing but the conversation continued as Pastor Ortiz slowly walked to the pulpit.
"How many sermons have your preached on theme of loving one another?"The conversation with God ended the moment Pastor Ortiz positioned himself behind the pulpit. The Lord's words were ringing in his ears. He thought to himself, "I have preached dozens of sermons on love and what good have they done. This congregation still spends more time looking after their own interests more than others. They barely know one another. They are not friends with each other. They barely talk to one another after the church service." Juan Carlos stood silent in the pulpit. His congregation waited for him to begin his sermon. Pastor Ortiz began his sermon, "Love one another." He then went and sat down.
People looked at one another thinking that they had missed something. They were accustomed to sermon of nearly an hour not 3 seconds. The congregation did not know what to do. After what seemed like an eternity, Juan Carlos walked back to the pulpit. The people repositioned themselves in their pews assuming that he would now deliver his message. Juan Carlos again said, "Love one another," and then he again sat down. Heads really began to turn. Some began to murmur. No one knew what to do. Pastor Ortiz again waited and then he again walked to the pulpit. He waited for the congregation to become settled and then as before the only words he delivered were three, "Love one another" before he returned to his chair behind the pulpit.
Now a general stirring moved through the congregation. People began talking to one another, everyone asking the other if they knew what their pastor meant. Finally, an elder stood up and spoke. He said, "I think that I understand what Pastor Ortiz means. He wants me to love you." (Pointing to someone in the pew behind him) "But how can I love you, when I do not know you." With that, he introduced himself and began to meet the people behind him. Others got up from their pews and introduced themselves to people they had seen but not met. Phone numbers were exchanged. Dinner invitations extended. Arrangements were made for financial assistance. Before the service ended, someone raised enough money for bus tickets a family could return to their village. Another man arranged employment for a man out of work and someone offered an apartment a homeless family. With just three simple words he delivered his most powerful sermon.1
On the night of his betrayal and arrest, our Lord issued his farewell commandment to his disciples. Anticipating his immanent death, he wanted them to be prepared. He wanted them to know what he expected of them. Ironically, his first concern was not doctrine or theological truth but relationships. He may have known that they would one day argue about doctrinal issues. He may have known that one day certain groups would distort his message and exchange truth for a lie. He may have known that one day, people would twist his teaching to conform to their own selfish perspectives. When that day would come, rather than fight and argue amongst themselves, he wanted his disciples to be known by their love for one another.
While profound, his words are rather general and non-specific. They remind me of John Lennon and Paul Macartney's song "All you need is love?" The title contained the essence of the song. Since love was all you needed, the word love dominated the lyrics of the song. The song expresses the sentiments of much of our society. We are engrossed with the word, but short on substance. This is particularly true in the church. We spend time talking about loving others but I wonder how much practical action takes place. How do we apply our Lord's new commandment to our relationships within the church? One measuring stick of this would be the number of people who are removed from membership each year because they never felt like anyone cared. They never felt included in the life of our community.
I think that these questions are easily answered by the lifestyle of
our Lord. Throughout his life Jesus displayed his love for his disciples
in several practical ways.
LOVE REQUIRES INITIATIVEShortly before Jesus issued this new commandment, he displayed his love by taking a basin of water and a towel and washing the feet of his disciples. He did not wait to be asked. He did not ask their permission. He took the initiative.
After I began chemo therapy, several people offered their assistance to Carol and me. They were well meaning and I really appreciated their willingness to help us. But the two people who helped me the most were Keith and Jimmy. Keith was a high-powered executive. Jimmy was a welder and handyman par excellaunt. Keith cut my grass until my strength returned. When he approached me with the offer he did not ask if I wanted his help, he asked me what day did I wanted him to do it. He did not wait for me to call him. He took the initiative. Jimmy made himself available by visiting each week. Once again, he did not wait, he would call me each week or just come over. Each man in their own way made themselves available. They made their presence known. They took the initiative.
When someone is hurting, the easy response is to say, "Give me a call."
The response transfers the responsibility from helper to the helpee. It
absolves our guilt but does nothing for the hurting person. Jesus never
waited to be asked. He reached out to healing people.
LOVE REQUIRES AN OTHERNESSThroughout his ministry, Jesus also displayed his love by having an 'other' focus to his ministry. He did not place his priorities before the needs of others. People constantly interrupted his schedule. Jairus asked him to come to his house to heal his daughter. Mary and Martha asked him to come to Bethany because their brother was sick. Jesus invited himself to dinner with the tax collector Zaccheus. When someone made a request, he did not have to consult his day planner to determine his availability. He responded to the request of the other person.
Time management consultants are constantly warning us against this style of living. They advise people to prioritize their goals and set parameters. Relationships serve to accomplish a goal. These people convey to me that I must fit into their schedule. I exist to serve their needs.
For Jesus, the relationship with another person was the goal. Friendship was not a means to an end. It was the end.
In the musical, My Fair Lady, Professor Henry Higgins takes the project of refining the uneducated flower girl Eliza Doolittle. He does not care about the young girl. Professor Higgins merely hopes to demonstrate his superior teaching skills. In the final scene, however, he reveals that he has moved beyond seeing her as a project to seeing her as a person and someone for whom he truly cares through the song, I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face.
Some people are so hurting, so needy that we tend to see them as projects
that need our help. We may even believe that we have a duty to help them,
to shape them into the kind of person we think they should be. But love
is having an "other" orientation that values the person for who they are
not who they will become. It values the friendship for what it means for
the other person not how it will accomplish your goals.
LOVE REQUIRES TIME
NOT IN WORDS BUT IN DEEDSIn the science fiction story, War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells, a well meaning but naïve preacher walks bravely towards a spaceship that has landed from another planet. The preacher mumbles something about love, expecting to convince the aliens to forsake their plans for mass destruction. Rather than convert the aliens, the preacher is killed by a burst of fire from a weapon mounted on one of the ships.2
In his cynical treatment, Wells reveals the trap into which we can easily
fall when we assume that we are loving others merely because we are using
the words. As the poets have said, love is the greatest force in the universe.
It can break down the strongest barriers. It can overcome the greatest
obstacles. It can change hearts and transforms lives but only if it is
demonstrated through specific and practical ways.
1 Juan Carlos Ortiz, from a lecture delivered at St. Paul's Presbyterian Church, Mentor, OH, November, 1981.
2 H.G. Wells, War of the Worlds, quoted in "Love: You Just Cannot Explain it," Pulpit Resource, Vol. 17, No. 1.
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