1 John 4:7-21; John 15: 9-14
Where did you see love this week? Where did you experience it?
John 15:13 Greater love hath no man than this: that he will lay down his life for his friends.
“No one has greater love than the one who is willing to lay down his or her life for a friend.”
What does that mean?
We generally assume that it means a willingness to die for another person or other people. When we interpret it in that manner, it becomes something a little removed from us. However, a life of love is not one of remove. What if Jesus doesn’t mean to “die for” a friend? What if the laying down of your life means to live for. After all, the end of the story of God’s love for creation in Jesus Christ does not end in death… it is about life.
The way love is expressed is in what we are willing to live for… to demonstrate our life’s goals, values, and understanding. God’s love for us was and is demonstrated as God willing to live and die as one of us and then to be resurrected as the firstborn among the dead.
Love, true love, is about the giving of one’s life in daily action, not waiting for a someday possibility.
Therefore, demonstrating love in Christian community, the sacrifice to which we are called, means living for God by living for each other. By thinking about how each of our actions, our words, our financial decisions, our prayers affect the people around us- whom we say we love.
Perfect love… perfected love… goal (telos)…
Perfect or perfected love is not a goal we can attain through our own work or our own faith. It is what God is working out in us. It is what a life of faith is lived toward, but not what a life of faith achieves. What does living a life toward the goal of perfected love look like?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a 20th century German theologian and, possibly, one of the greatest religious thinkers of all time. During the rise of Hitler’s regime and the Third Reich, Bonhoeffer and others started underground seminaries in a movement called the Confessing Church, a Christian movement dedicated to living for Christ and, in particular, opposing the Nazi regime. In 1937, the formal seminaries were closed and government officials declared the Confessing Church illegal. Bonhoeffer still traveled to villages, teaching classes in what he called “seminary on the run.”
In 1939, Bonhoeffer received an invitation to teach at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. A committed pacificist, he was already worried about being drafted into the Nazi Army, so he left for America. However, he wrestled with that decision and, ultimately, realized he could not stay in the United States. He wrote to a friend, “I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people... Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose but I cannot make that choice from security."
Bonhoeffer left the US in 1940, returning to Germany by steamship. He dedicated his life to the German resistance, especially by communicating its existence to allies in hopes of gaining their support and of securing their help in establishing a democratic post-Hitler Germany. Bonhoeffer was hanged in Flossenburg Concentration Camp on April 9, 1945, after being arrested almost 2 years earlier, accused of being involved in a plot to kill Hitler. Bonhoeffer did not return to Germany to lay down his life by dying. He died as a by-product of being willing to live out the love he had for God, for Christian freedom, for a better Germany, for his seminary students and their future.
Laying down one’s life… being willing to live for something other than yourself, for a greater good, for healing and hope in the people around you, and in the world.
Perfect love has been demonstrated for us… in what the Son was willing to forego in order to have a body like ours. The goal of that lived love, stronger than death, was to bring us into a deeper and truer understanding of the expansive nature of God’s grace and its hold on the world.
We are called by Jesus and the writer of 1 John to lay down our lives, all we have, in love. If we live in love, we are not our own. We belong to God. We are in God. We are able to recognize the perfect love, seen through Christ, that casts out fear. Laying down our lives in the love God has poured out for us and which pours through us for others is the only way.
Anything less is, frankly, not living.