“Love One Another” - Any Objections?
What’s the best we can do? The Best says “love one another,” not as one of five key traits of discipleship with Jesus, but as Love itself saying: “as I have loved you.” Based on Acts 11:1-18 we learn to “Love One Another” - Any Objections? May 19, 2019.
Christ is risen!
God is open for business. It’s always been that way - God was open to Adam and Eve even after - his own Son is in your arms, his own suffering for your sins, his own empty tomb is your guarantee! Extra, extra read all about it!
You know, if the church is open for business, the least thing we could do is unlock the church doors and turn the lights on. Bonus for a sign on the sidewalk, a postcard in the mail to community events and the smiling face of a greeter in the entryway that all say “we are open for you - come and know the one true God!”
What’s the best we can do? Something like paying closest attention to as many needs the people around me have, no matter how little or small or undeserving, a meeting them with all of the energy and help God’s love puts inside us.
- Becoming a friend to someone for Christ’s sake to listen as long as it takes, to serve until the need is supplied, a friend when all others bully you over appearance or lack of ability or embarrassing moment - “I don’t shut you out - I won’t, always open to you because God is so always open to you”
- a spouse who is insistent to view husband and wife not just as my own - “they are the Lord’s and yet here we are married -given to each other to love with God’s love”, which is always open for business, no closed, not keeping record of wrongs making you pay your debts first.
Open for God’s business is the person who never considers your behavior the determining factor for my behavior, only the unique opportunity, the unique need to give you what God gives in abundance and to the full and often, amazingly, he deigns to give to you through me. So a new friend is surprised that I’d walk a thousand miles or take the cloak off my back for them, but so is the long-time work partner who under normal circumstances had long burned every relational bridge between us, but her need called to me as if for the first time - still open for business, “How can I help you”
What’s the best we can do? The Best is staring at us today in the Gospel and says “love one another”, not as one of five key traits of discipleship with Jesus, but as Love itself saying: “as I have loved you”.
How could you see it any other way than “open for business” … persistently, selflessly, kindly, generously, intentionally “open for business”?
Acts 11 shows us when Christ and Christians were not on the same page when it comes to love, God by special intervention had to play ministry matchmaker to bring these two, Peter and Cornelius together, so that they would be at the same table, in the same house, which otherwise wasn’t going to happen? There was such a barrier to their meeting, do you hear what God did to make it happen?
- A vision and a voice from heaven - not just once, but three times?
- And before Peter was even thinking about it, the day before an angel appeared to Cornelius in Caesarea telling to send for a guy named Peter in Joppa, and his messengers arrived immediately after Peter’s vision of the sheet. A voice, an angel, perfect timing….so far, amazing!
- And along with Peter’s message of Easter, the certainty of Jesus Christ as the verified Savior of the world, the Holy Spirit came on Cornelius and others just like Pentecost, an all-out banquet of God’s power that said, “Welcome to the family of believers: one faith, one hope, one Lord.”
Why wasn’t this kind of love obvious and happening all along? First off, God’s laws were given in the Old Testament to the Israelites to communicate holiness and sin and need for a Savior, not as an excuse for them to be open to some and closed to others. Don’t you remember, Jesus says, that in the time of famine, there were many widows in Israel to whom Elijah could’ve been sent, but God sent his prophet to an Assyrian widow, to live in her home and eat at her table as God provided for her and not the others? Was Jonah sent to a Nineveh that was crowded with saints and angels, or with those who didn’t care at all about God?
But they turned into legal-minded watch dogs - if you did what we did, ate what we ate, got circumcised like one of us, then you could participate in our people of God community. And many became religious snobs who refused to get to know, associate with, or eat with foreigners.
Here, they even turned on one of “their own” as they rebuke Peter without even showing him the love that would first ask: “tell us what happened in Caesarea?” Why can’t we just skip from verse 1 to 18 - they heard the Gentiles received the Word of God … and they praised God! Instead, they hit the brakes, and focus on Peter’s behavior, ready to call him to account, and they criticized him and said, “You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.”
All this is love with limits! Love that labels some as unclean and unworthy and leaves them out. God is making it clear he does not allow bias or prejudice, he does not play favorites or love with borders, where there is a place for love to stop, some inside as objects of my love and others outside and unwanted.
When does your love flinch or waver? With whom would you hesitate and the Holy Spirit would have to say - “don’t!”? When does your heart weigh someone’s worthiness? Did you grow up hearing a relative express racism? Did you join in a peer pressure moment to gossip about a classmate, joke about their clothes, or make fun of their embarrassing moments?
With whatever measure you use, it will be measured to you. What’s the measuring line for your love? If you gave it to Jesus, and he measured you, would he be warm to any of us? How are these questions different or related - “What must I do to be saved?” (Nothing.) “What must I do for God to love me?” (Nothing.) “What must I do for you to love me as God does?” Why is there suddenly a list? Are we making it harder for people to be loved by us that God does to be loved by him? Absolutely and all the time!
That’s what makes your love a personal matter to God. He loves you that when you are love-sick in your heart like Peter, he gives a vision and makes a ministry match for you to hear what you don’t expect: you too are forgiven in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. What Peter quickly realized, and also some of these circumcised believers, was that their pride and prejudice was getting in God’s way, the way of his most important message we need and value: it was not the way God loved them! God had me love Cornelius like that, or I never would’ve been in that house. But who am I - who are we! - to do otherwise?
Here it is - God loved us all through his Son - God loved Cornelius from Caesarea, God loved this Peter, his apostle still plagued by prejudice. God loved circumcised believers who were critical. You see God with his love moving through this entire account! A love by which we are treated and called in ways we don’t deserve, but also a love that is a sanctifying influence - create in my a new spirit, and my heart is stirred by the Spirit to see people differently and flee all self-gratifying thoughts and desires that do nothing for God’s Church, but to harm it.
This love isn’t far away. Not lifted up and dropped into an obvious evangelism call on someone far off and distant. Your spouse too. The people at your table meals. Your old friends and their new families. And new person at your work, on your apartment floor or moving in down the street. The sheet from heaven falls for the fourth time before us not with those you love, but with those God loves and puts into your life. All of them - not one is missing.
The research says you can have 250 or fewer meaningful relationships. Why not make the list and see your calling, (always leaving blanks for new names, of course)? Get to know who’s on your sheet with room for whomever God decides to add on a day? This is the field, he says, and the harvest is ripe, he says.
What if these people knew they could talk to you without being talked down to, ask questions without being labeled for the kind of question they were asking; people could be totally addicted to sin, passionate about their homosexuality, grateful that they are atheists, eager to get back to the Deer District tonight to party, get drunk, who knows - “as long as I’m having fun!” and we were as open and warm to getting to know them as getting to the sinners and addicts next to us in the pew. If these are the ones God has put on my sheet, the ones for whom Christ died, the ones God himself has given as a ministry match for our downtown congregation or my neighborhood, school, workplace or family tree, then so let be me open to them as God is.
Before you know what their thinking, before you judge them in advance or hesitate by something you see or notice, let your love be open for business! And after you know what their thinking and after you received the harm of their sin and after you have reason to be offended and walk away, let your love be “open for business”…just, Jesus says, “as I have loved you!”
Christ is risen!
Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI on May 19, 2019