sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 08/14/2011
MLK, jr. “We believe as Christians that the end is pre-existent in the means.”
Kindness to kids vs. harshness, Sabbath rhythms vs. crazy schedules, love vs. hate especially.
3By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: 6 the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.
7Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. 8 On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining. 9 The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. 10 The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
1 John 2:1-11 NASB
Recap “guarding the commandments” with respect to Jesus’ command to love one another…
By this we know that we have come to know him, if we guard his commandments to love each other. 3 By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we guard His commandments to love one another. 4 The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not guard His commandments to love one another as he has loved us, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever keeps His word to love each other, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: 6 the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to wash others’ dirty feet and lay down his life for his friends in the same manner as Jesus washed our dirty feet and laid down his life for us.
Today unpacking the next paragraph. Why is loving one another so important? Why does hate blind us so effectively?
Love is what we do when we can see reality clearly, as it really is, and when we love, our eyes are kept bright and clear. Hate, on the other hand, is a natural byproduct of living in shadow, and when we hate, we develop blinding cataracts.
[native American grandfather parable / two wolves…]
Before we explore those ideas in more explicitly, let’s just work through this paragraph to get a sense of what it’s basically saying.
7Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard.
In other words, when John commands us to guard Jesus’ command to love one another, to never let the Love stop placing her demands on us, to attend carefully to Jesus’ instructions to love each other as he first loved us, John isn’t saying something we’ve never heard before. John is saying that we’ve been under instruction to do this for a long, long time – from the beginning, in fact.
The word “heard” here perhaps is a hint to us as to what John is driving at. The word “heard” brings to mind the “Shema,” a prayer prayed daily by every Jewish person. The word “Shema” means “Hear” and it comes from the first word of the prayer, a prayer based on Deuteronomy 6. The people of Israel, when they first were rescued from slavery and were being formed into a nation of free people, were commanded this by Moses:
4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
On your hearts, impressed on your children, talk about them at home, when you walk, when you lie down, when you wake up, tie them on your hands, put them on your foreheads, doorframes, gates…? This is a picture of guarding these commandments, isn’t it?
In fact, this is the commandment referenced by Jesus in Matthew’s gospel, when Jesus says that the first and greatest commandment is this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart…” Which Jesus then follows with, “And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” This is the new commandment that John writes about when he says:
On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining.
In other words, Loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength, although it’s very old commandment, has been cast in a whole new light by Jesus. When Jesus says to love your neighbor as yourself, to love one another as he has loved us, he’s showing us that loving God and loving others are inseparable. You can’t have one without the other, and they are in fact, the same commandments seen in fresh, resurrection light. Because God is love, and because God’s image is stamped on every human being on the planet.
John is saying that this commandment to love others is being truly expressed in Jesus, and his church – that’s the “in you” bit. Because the way Jesus kept the command to love God was by becoming our brother and loving us. Because Jesus said that others will know we are his students, his disciples, by our love for each other.
And then John goes on this riff about light and darkness and loving and hating, because he wants to flesh out what he’s saying in the most practical and powerful of terms.
Remember, John uses light and darkness as a way of talking about seeing reality as it really it vs. living under illusion, because he understands Jesus as someone who came to shine a light in dark places, to help us see the world and the kingdom of God as it really is, so that we wouldn’t be living in a false illusion that comes from the enemy of our souls about how the world works, about who God is, about who we are.
So we might paraphrase the paragraph this way:
7Beloved, this isn’t anything new, but the same thing you’ve been trying to live out and understand your whole lives, even though maybe you couldn’t see it as clearly as you can now. 8 On the other hand, now that Jesus has shown us what loving God really looks like in action, and now that we’re starting to gets hints of it in our relationships with each other, it’s as if a brand new thing is happening. Because the false illusions about the world being a place where only the strong and powerful and religious superstars succeed, where evil wins in the end, and the false illusions about God being aloof and distant, or only loving the ones who have what it takes to impress him, and the false illusions about us being worthless unless we can achieve something valuable have been shattered by Jesus – God’s own Son – coming into the world announcing good news about how the world is really a place where blessings are poured out on rich and poor, strong and weak alike, where humility and vulnerability and love defeat evil in the end, the good news that God loves even his enemies and is pouring out forgiveness like it’s going out of style, the good news that God is getting involved in our mess because he cares about us so much, overcoming evil not with stronger evil, but with good, and with kindness, and with mercy, and by sacrificing himself, the good news that the only thing that gives us worth is that he loves us because we are his children, and there is no way to earn his love, but rather simply something to be received and generously given away. 9 The one who says that he sees the world, and God, and people as they really are and yet hates his brother is still living in the grip of false illusions. 10 The one who loves everyone he sees has his feet firmly planted in the reality of the world as it really is, and is seeing God as he truly is, and is seeing himself the way God sees him and others the way God sees them, and there are no invisible stumbling blocks about to catch his feet unawares and make him come crashing down to unreality. 11But the one who hates anyone for any reason is somehow stuck in a false illusion about how the world works, or who God is, or who people are, himself included, and lives as if that illusion is true, and can’t see where his steps are going to lead because straining his eyes trying to see in those illusions has caused them to be filled with blinding cataracts.
Consider for a moment what’s going on when you hate someone.
Usually they have done, or are doing, or you expect they might someday do something that threatens your well-being. Anything from making you feel less than to working against your goals to injuring you to taking something valuable from you.
As a result, you lose all goodwill toward them. In hate’s embryonic form, you lose the desire to participate in blessing them. And hate has two full-grown forms. The most obvious is when you are filled with the desire to participate in cursing them. And the second, and slightly less obvious, is to become indifferent. What we might call disdain, scorn, or contempt. Perhaps saying, “You’re dead to me.”
Why does John say that if you hate anyone in any of these ways that you are walking in darkness, that darkness has blinded your eyes?
Because, for one, our well-being can only be threatened if we accept the illusion that the way the world works is that success and blessing only come to those who can secure it for themselves. If we accept the illusion that God is distant and aloof, unconcerned with or incompetent to provide for our well-being. If we accept the illusion that there is some possibility evil will win out in the end.
And secondly, because every form of hate towards a person requires us to stand in judgment above another person. And as soon as we stand up above another person – determining whether or not they deserve blessing – we have taken God’s place in the world. And we only try to take God’s place when we accept the illusion that this world needs a new god to work properly, the illusion that God’s throne is empty, the illusion that some of us human beings are fit to sit in it.
And the danger is that if we accept any of these illusions and embrace hate towards even one other person – even if we love everybody else really well – a cataract begins to form in our eyes. And soon enough, because we are blinded to reality as it really is, our love starts to be based in illusion as well, and it ceases to be connected to God’s love. Our love becomes conditional; everyone at risk of our hate…
On the other hand…
10 The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him.
The Greek word that gets translated “cause for stumbling” is skandalon, the word from which we get “scandal.” It’s more literal meaning is the moveable stick or trigger of a trap or a snare, and it was often used to refer to a rock that would cause someone to stumble – a stumbling block.
In other words, when you have unconditional goodwill towards others, you are seeing reality as it really is, and you can walk forward with confidence, knowing that if anything comes in your path to trip you up, you’ll be able to see it. When you love others, you are firmly grounded in reality. You can see that this world is a place in which no one can threaten your well-being, because Jesus has shown us that the world is God-breathed and God-drenched, and forgiveness and favor are flooding over the face of the earth, and with God’s coming kingdom is coming justice and the setting right of all things, and every person is a brother or sister, an image-bearer of the loving God waiting to be rescued and revealed. You can see God’s goodwill toward you, and see that the goodwill he has toward you is the same as the goodwill he has towards the people you were hating, and you can see that the only way to welcome the love he has towards you is to welcome the love he has towards them, too.
With respect to a person you hate:
1. Admit that you are blind to some aspect of reality and ask Jesus to show you what that is. Maybe you feel threatened. Maybe you think God hates them too. Maybe you can’t see anything good in them.
2. FROM MLK, JR: A second thing that an individual must do in seeking to love his enemy is to discover the element of good in his enemy, and everytime you begin to hate that person and think of hating that person, realize that there is some good there and look at those good points which will over-balance the bad points… That within the best of us, there is some evil, and within the worst of us, there is some good. When we come to see this, we take a different attitude toward individuals. The person who hates you most has some good in him; even the nation that hates you most has some good in it; even the race that hates you most has some good in it. And when you come to the point that you look in the face of every man and see deep down within him what religion calls "the image of God," you begin to love him in spite of. No matter what he does, you see God’s image there. There is an element of goodness that he can never sluff off. Discover the element of good in your enemy. And as you seek to hate him, find the center of goodness and place your attention there and you will take a new attitude.
3. FROM MLK, JR: Another way that you love your enemy is this: When the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it. There will come a time, in many instances, when the person who hates you most, the person who has misused you most, the person who has gossiped about you most, the person who has spread false rumors about you most, there will come a time when you will have an opportunity to defeat that person. It might be in terms of a recommendation for a job; it might be in terms of helping that person to make some move in life. That’s the time you must not do it. That is the meaning of love. In the final analysis, love is not this sentimental something that we talk about. It’s not merely an emotional something. Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.
With respect to those you are loving:
1. Guard your love against becoming conditional… Your love for your family, your friends, the people you serve in ministry. Conditional love is the beginning of the cataract. Ask yourself this question: what could they do or not do to cause me to no longer desire to rejoice if they rejoice, or to mourn if they mourn?
2. Guard your loving actions against becoming disconnected from your love for God or your love for people.