The Core - Week Four: "Unconditional Love"
This week we'll be continuing our sermon series entitled, "The Core"--a re-exploration of the core values of our church. We call our core values, "The Five Things."
These core values are the "how" that enables us to accomplish the "why," which is a simple way to describe how our values both form and inform our vision as a church. The "why" (our vision) is "To Reflect and Reveal the Unselfish Love of Christ To The World."
We like to say that when "You Know Jesus, You Show Jesus." And we've discovered that the best way for us to become the kind of congregation that not only knows Jesus, but shows Jesus to the world is to not only have very real, very tangible values, but also to stick to them.
It's not enough to simply say that you value something---you have to show it.
The overarching theme of this particular sermon series is this simple fact: We are made of what we value. And, as we've mentioned before, this is more than just a statement--it's a fact. At our very core there are trillions of atoms that make us us and these atoms are being exchanged with the world and people around us to the tune of billions per second.
And these atoms that make us us used to be other things like celery, a sea bass and Oprah--but despite all of the energy being exchanged and the fact that these atoms used to be other things... they still remember to be us.
We are fearfully and wonderfully made as an ancient Hebrew poet once wrote.
We've also talked about how this energy exchange that is constantly going on between us and everything is fueled, energized and enabled by what Christians would call the Holy Spirit of God.
For those of us who believe in God, this is pretty significant. You see, we believe that the God who spoke all of this into existence also imprinted all of these trillions of atoms that make us us with God's very DNA.
But this God didn't just do all of this without some commentary, without a bit of instruction. This God took on human form in an incredible way through the Jesus Christ--who the writer of the Gospel of John called the Eternal Creative Word of God. And through Jesus Christ, we have an incredible view of what God is like, what God desires, and the world God is creating even now.
We also have something else.
Jesus demonstrated the unconditional love that God has for God's children. Christians believe that Jesus died, was buried and was raised from the dead. This act of sacrifice and triumph over death means that we don't have to live in fear of sin and death any longer. We are free to live expansive lives--to be the people we were always meant to be.
And as Jesus taught--the expansive, abundant lives that we are free to lead are the beginnings of what some might call "eternal life." Jesus didn't teach that the purpose for following him was to go to heaven when you die. Jesus wanted his followers to start living eternally right here, right now.
The unconditional love that Jesus expressed through his life, death and resurrection is a love without boundaries and limits. It's for everyone in all places and times. We might very well say this about the love Jesus expressed: "Unconditional love has unconditional boundaries."
I don't know about you, but that sounds pretty awesome.
Jesus once said, "Come unto me all you who are weary and over burdened and I will give you rest..." He also said that God had not sent him into the world "to condemn the world," but that through him the world would be saved.
Unconditional love with unconditional boundaries...
The problem is that we often place our own boundaries and limits on this kind of unconditional love. Who are we kidding? We place boundaries and limits on most things.
Take time for example. Time has become perhaps the most precious commodity in our overly scheduled culture. We want to harness Time, control it---but mostly we seem to want to speed it up so we can move on to the next thing.
I remember when I was a kid and couldn't wait until I was old enough to drive by myself. I got my learner's permit literally the day I turned 15 and began counting down the days until I was able to drive solo. I remember I took one illegal joyride with my friend Scott one night when my parents left me home alone. We took a carton of eggs, drove to my ex-girlfriend's house and through the whole dozen at it.
This is a good argument why the legal driving age should be 18, I suppose.
When I took that first solo ride by myself, though, it was incredible. I cruised around the neighborhood, drove by some girls I wanted to impress, and felt like I was on top of the world. Then I started thinking--"I can't wait until I'm 18. When I'm 18 I'll be an adult. I can vote and buy cigarettes and no one will be able to tell me what to do ever again..." Then I when I turned 18, I couldn't wait until I was 21...
You can see where this is going...
I could keep going about all of the things in life that I kept wishing would hurry up and arrive--and then as soon as they arrived I couldn't wait until the next thing.
Something tells me that I am not the only person to ever experience this.
Time is funny.
It crawls when you are waiting for the next thing. But it seems to fly when you aren't paying all that much attention to it.
Remember what it felt like to watch the clock in your elementary school classroom as it inched toward 3 o'clock or whenever your school let out for the day? It felt like time had very nearly come to a halt, didn't it?
And there are days when you are raising children, or working hard that seem like they last forever. You collapse into the couch at the end of the evening when the kids are all in bed and you wonder if you will have the energy to do it all again the next day.
But then you blink your eyes and the kids are grown. My wife and I often say about these times of our lives that "the days are long, but the years are short."
Time is funny.
Did you know that time is not really linear? There is not really a straight line from point "A" or a point "B" when it comes to Time. Time is actually curved, if that makes sense.
For example, a person floating in the space station above earth will experience time at a faster rate than those of us on terra firma. This is because time will bend due to differences in gravity and velocity. When Einstein figured this out it essentially turned the scientific world on its ear.
So why does any of this matter? And what exactly does it have to do with unconditional love?
I'll answer your questions with a question: "Did you know that unconditional love is a time traveling exercise?" It's true. Let me explain by reading a passage of Scripture from the New Testament. 1 John 2:3-11
3 Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. 4 Whoever says, “I have come to know him,” but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; 5 but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him: 6 whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked.Okay, this seems pretty straightforward. But what exactly does the author mean by "commandments?"
7 Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word that you have heard. 8 Yet I am writing you a new commandment that is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. 9 Whoever says, “I am in the light,” while hating a brother or sister,is still in the darkness. 10 Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling. 11 But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness.First things first... In verse six the person who is being described--the one who says, "I abide in him" is exhorted to be a "follower" the kind of person who walks around living, breathing, teaching, discoursing the commandments of the Master.
And the commandment--the one that is old yet new--is to love as Jesus loved, which according to the author of 1 John results in the follower being the kind of person who doesn't cause difficulties or offense or is a stumbling block that trips up other people.
So... the person who says they are following Jesus shows love to others--and lives in such a way that people are actually drawn to Jesus rather than away from him, and these people are then able to walk beside the follower without being tripped up.
Which brings me to the word "brother"--which we find in verse 11. The Greek word is ton adelphon which was used in the first century to describe a disciple in early Judaism, pagan religions and the like, as well as in Christianity. While it seems as though the author of John is telling followers of Jesus that they should love each other, limiting the scope of their love to fellow Christians--he leaves the door open to something else.
There is a way to see this passage in light of the expansive nature of the Gospel that broadens the meaning of the word "brother" to include all those who possibly might become one's brother in Christ.
More on that later...
Here's where things get really awesome. Awesomer, if I may be so bold.
The author indicates that this is an old command, but it's also a new command. It's old not just because it was part of the Commandments related to Moses during the Exodus---the author seems to feel that this command was even older than that. This command to love unconditionally was part of the primal testimony of Jesus---the eternal creative Word of God.
In other words---this command to love originates outside of any kind of time in the way we understand time. It's part of the very essence of the Word of God, and subsequently God himself.
And the command is also "new" in that it crystalizes a new era imagined by God. Jesus often talked about the kingdom of God that "is coming" and "is now." The now and not yet aspect of the coming kingdom of God seems kind of odd to us, but here's a way to understand it better...
When God entered human history through Jesus, he did so from outside of time--outside of our reality from a place that we understand only as "heaven."
Jesus spent his entire ministry healing, preaching, teaching, showing by example what it looks like when human beings live as though "heaven" has come to "earth."
Then Jesus was crucified, died, was buried and rose again--defeating death and initiating a new age---an age that is constantly breaking into our time, moments where things are as they ought to be---not as they actually are.
And love is the foundation of this new reality. Unconditional love without boundaries--the kind that Jesus showed through his life, death and resurrection, and the kind that he wanted his followers to show to the world. And where this unconditional love exists, the kingdom of God exists--a kingdom that is not of this world.
Which enables us to say something kind of strange and awesome: "When you are in God's love--you are already living in a new realm, in a new time..." The kind of time where everyone---literally everyone we meet has the potential to be our brother.
I know what you need. You need some proof that demonstrates all of this time travel, time bending talk that I've been sharing with you is actually based on something "real." At first blush this all seems kind of hard to believe.
We view the world in three dimensions. The level of our perception is sort of stuck in three-d mode. But at the core of our being--where all of the trillions of atoms that make us us are exchanging energy with everything and everyone around us---there is a universe that is filled with spaces...
This is a universe that these atomic particles that make us us and the sub atomic particles that make up the atomic particles and the sub-sub atomic particles that make up those... travel back and forth between the spaces to more than three dimensions. There could be four, five or even way more than that.
Remember how I said that Time wasn't linear---that it was curved and is affected by gravity and velocity and doesn't act at all like it's supposed to?
Well, if we can't really measure or understand Time---if we can't fully understand what is happening at the sub-sub atomic levels of our own selves... Why is it so hard to believe that when we act in ways that demonstrate the unconditional love of God and God's kingdom breaks through in those moments---that we aren't actually traveling through time to where that kingdom and that love is happening everywhere?
Is your mind blown?
Here's the thing---you know this is true in your very heart of hearts.
Go to this website and look at the photos you find there. The tagline is "35 Heartwarming Photos That Will Restore Your Faith In Humanity." Some of them will make your lip quiver and your heart soar.
I have a question or two.... Why do images like this resonate so much with us? Why did the people who set up that site describe it as photos that "will restore your faith in humanity?" It's because when we see the way the world should be we know it.
Listen... There's something deep inside of us that is already living where those images are the rule and not the exception. And when we love unconditionally without boundaries---we are simply syncing up with our real selves---the selves that God created us to be.
We are created with the ability to transcend time and embrace a world that does not yet exist--a world that is breaking through all of the time---a world that we recognize when we see it because it's where.... we.... are.... from and where... we... are.... going...
A world that was initiated with the Big Bang of Jesus' feet hitting the stone floor of a tomb that has been empty for two thousand years.
A world where our "brother" is all around us.
So if you understand that the "brother" that is mentioned in 1 John might actually be interpreted as anyone who has the potential to be your "brother" or your "sister" then how many people would that include? What kinds of people would that include?
Could it include people who you consider to be adversaries?
Could it be the person who has wounded you beyond belief?
Could it be those people who come from that neighborhood?
Could it be a young Muslim man who has been radicalized and wants nothing more than to kill Christians?
Because in that other world---where the kingdom of God has already arrived--they are all your brothers and your sisters... Because each of them has the potential to also become a follower of Jesus.
What would it look like if we practiced this?
In May 1987, 39 American seamen were killed in the Persian Gulf when an Iraqi pilot hit their ship, the USS Stark, with a missile. Newspapers carried a picture of the son of one of these seamen, a shy five-year-old boy, John Kiser. He was standing with his hand on his heart as his father's coffin was loaded onto a plane to take him back to the U.S.A.
His mother said, "I don't have to mourn or wear black, because I know my husband is in heaven. I am happy, because I know he is better off." Later on, she and young John sent a letter and an Arabic New Testament to the pilot of the Iraqi plane, addressed to: "The man who attacked the Stark, Dad's ship, in the hope that it will show that even the son and the wife do not hold any grudge and are at the same time praying for the one who took the life of our father."
Imagine a world where the default response to hate was love. Imagine a world where the default response to violence was peace.
Another world is possible. In a very real sense it is present each and every time that one of Jesus' followers keeps his commandment to love unconditionally.
Because unconditional love has unconditional boundaries.