“Congratulations! You’ve already won!”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Acts 11:19-30
1 John 4:1-11
John 15:9-17

For the third week in a row, two of Sunday’s Lessons come from New Testament books with the name John in the titles, and both lessons talk about abiding in the love of Jesus. In the Gospel lesson, Jesus uses some form of the word “love” nine times in nine verses. In comparison to the Epistle lesson, Jesus’ use of the word seems almost conservative, or sparing. In the lesson from First John, some form of “love” appears 13 times in the last five verses and, as if emphasis were needed, two more times in the very next verse. It is safe to say that love is a major theme of these two lessons. At the same time, we need to remember the urging from last week’s Epistle that love is not something to talk about, but to do.

That puts me into a sort of dilemma. I am sharing words. I hesitate to say “just” words, because my goal is to share The Word with you, but it is not easy for me to put deeds or actions into print. Hey, I can do it. I have Help!

At weddings, I urge couples to make God’s love an integral part of their love for each other. The best we can muster on our own is still only second best. That thought is stated even more bluntly in the lesson from First John: “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” I will not go into detail about the different Greek words for love, but I will say that the love that is mentioned in Sunday’s two lessons is not romantic, erotic or brotherly love. It is totally other-directed love, without prior motivation and without expectation of a return.

It would be against the laws of logic to turn the words of First John around to say, “Whoever does not know God does not love.” Logic or not, I don’t think it would be against the truth to say that if you have never received totally other-directed love, you cannot give it. The title character of The Millionaire may have been able to give away a million dollars, but I can’t–I don’t have it, so I can’t give it.

I have love. I am loved with the very best of all that love is. Someone once told me, “If I win the lottery, I’m going to give half of it to the church.” My unspoken thought was: “No, you won’t. If you aren’t giving even 10 percent of what you have now, there is no reason to believe you will give 50 percent of what you have later.”

The message of First John is: “Congratulations! You are the winner of the Love Lottery!” And there is no small print that says: “If the enclosed numbers match….” In fact, there are no qualifications. It’s just plain and simple–you have already won. If there is an accompanying message in First John, it is: “Okay, now put your love where your mouth is.”

Three of the most powerful words in the Bible can slip by unnoticed in this lesson: “God is love.” Feddersen’s Fables has the story of the little boy who was caught leaving a store with an “unpurchased” candy bar in his pocket. The store owner informed his parents of the theft, and they asked their son, “Why did you do it?” He wept every word of his answer: “I couldn’t help it. I’m just a kid.”

Ask Jesus why He gave up omnipotence and immortality to become a dependent, mortal, human child. Ask Him why He died when He had every right and ability to kill–why He suffered at all when He could have just walked away–why He loved the unlovely, unlovable, even hateful, and gave to those who only took. His answer is always the same: “I couldn’t help it. I’m God. I am love.”

Jesus probably never answered that question. As far as I know, He was never actually asked. But then, love is not just something to be talked about. It is to be done and Jesus did do it. He made one comparative statement about love that appears in the Gospel lesson: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” This greatest of love was not just an action of Jesus. Thevery best love is not an attribute or characteristic of God. He is not just the best loving, most lovely or lovable. He is love. Just as boys will be boys and girls will be girls, God will be God and God will be Love.

When Jesus made His statement about the greatest love, it was more than a hypothetical observation. It was not about someone dying, meaning anyone at all. It was about Himself. He said it the night before it happened. It is interesting that Jesus called His disciples (and us) “friends.” He went on to say, “You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”

The phrase, “love commandment,” which we sometimes see and hear, can seem like a contradiction in terms. But in the context of friendship the very giving of the commandment is an act of love. By its very nature, genuine friendship implies responsibility. Just as “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk,” so our Friend doesn’t want us to be hateful to each other. A psychiatrist may see love as an emotion, and say that love and hate are opposite sides of the same coin, but our Friend knows that on a value scale of one to ten there are eight empty slots between love and hate!

It has happened several times now that when a young boy or girl received cancer therapy and its subsequent hair loss, several close friends have shaved their heads in commonality. I haven’t shaved my head for you, but I am your friend. You may not know me–there are many of you that I have never met, but I say with confidence that I am your friend. My friendship, in and of itself, probably makes no real difference to you, but the reason for my confidence does. I am your friend because every week I spend a considerable amount of time and effort to tell you that you have a Friend, and He makes all the difference!

In more ways than one, it is my fault that Jesus became a human being, suffered and died. He couldn’t help it. He loves me. It is also your fault. He loves you that much. Jesus came to our world, became one of us, suffered and died, because He loves us and we didn’t have a prayer without Him. Because I believe that, my life and my own love are changed forever. I don’t want you or anyone else to miss out on that. Neither does Jesus. I’m telling you … together, it is our mission to tell the rest of the world.

Years ago, in a different context, my father put it this way: “If a friend and I were walking together down a sidewalk and he was about to step into an open manhole, I wouldn’t be much of a friend if I didn’t tell him.” This time, the opposite is perfect logic. If you have won the Love Lottery and I don’t tell you, I’m not much of a friend. Well, you’ve won! No one can love you more than Jesus does right now. Your Friend laid down His life for you–that all your sins might be forgiven, that you might have eternal life, that you might have no question about the extent of His love, and that you might have that love within you to give to others. It is the greatest and the most and the best, and even the most peculiar love because the more you give away the more you have.

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