By Rev. German Novelli-Oliveros
Text: 1 John 3:16-24 / 16 We know love by this, that Jesus Christ laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? 18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.
The truth is that there is a huge difference between loving God, and loving others, with words and speech, and loving God and one another in “truth and actions.” (1 John 3:18)
This reminds me of the story of Jose Alberto Gamboa. He was the character in my favorite TV drama. Gamboa (as everyone called him) had three women in his life. The first one was his wife, the official, beautiful woman, whom he kindly called “the number one.” With her, he had two kids, and he loved her (at least he said so). The second was his mistress, his lover, who had a relationship with him for about 10 years, to whom he really adored, and to whom he lovingly called “number two.” And he also had always a third woman, whom he changed every other month. It was a woman to have a brief affair, but not something serious. He called this one “the number three.” Obviously none of these women knew about their nicknames.
Gamboa was a special character, and what kind of character! The story became very funny when the three women, for different reasons, met and became friends, and then Gamboa was always trying to hide his double . . . or triple life.!
However, this sermon will not be about infidelity or unfaithfulness, nor about how dangerous it is to have three women. This message is about the difference between love, in just words and speech, and LOVE in truth, and actions . . . about loving with a sincere LOVE.
Gamboa always said that he loved them all. And I believed him. He cried for them, and with them; he was always there for them, and he just wanted to make them happy.
However, having a wife, and two lovers, and living a life of lies, is diametrically opposed to true love.
This certainly was a love of just words, pretty nice speeches, roses and poems, but not a true love, nor a love of heart, a love that gives everything, or a sincere love; as truly as God’s love is for us, or the love we are called to have among us.
Jesus’ love, a true love
However, you cannot love God or others, if you first do not understand what love is, and if you don’t discover first the greatness, beauty, and power of God’s love for us.
John, in his Gospel, and also in his letters, does an extraordinary job, inspired by the Holy Spirit, revealing to us the wonderful love of God, the love of Christ, who is the Good Shepherd who loves us so much, that He gave his life for his sheep (John 10:11).
We know love by this, that Jesus Christ laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.
On the cross, the pure and spotless Lamb, was crucified as an act of love. In love, God sent Jesus into the world. In love, He taught us to live and to love. In love, He saved us, and paid the price of our condemnation, and suffered the punishment we deserved. In love, He did what love demanded: sacrificing Himself! Because love is sacrifice, love is putting the one we love first.
In the same way, in faith, we know that He is love, and we love just because He first loved us.
And Jesus is the greatest example of love for others that we can follow, imitate, or have.
He loved those who persecuted him. He loved those who hated him. He loved those who were different or foreign. He loved all of them, and therefore died for all of them.
His love was not only simple words, sermons, or great speech. His love was a love of actions, works, truths, and what a work of love it was to lay down his life for us on the cross.
This is the same Jesus who invited his disciples to love, to forgive, to live for others, to help others, and to do good works for others, so others may see his love through our love for everyone.
This is Jesus, the good shepherd who laid down his own life for his sheep, for you, and for me.
But… how are we loving others?
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
When we see, and discover, Jesus’ love, we realize how difficult it is to love in that way. I think that -for us- it is easier to love as Gamboa did, and very difficult to love as Jesus does.
First, because we like to love many things at the same time, and sometimes we don’t love the right things.
And second, because we love a lot in word and speech, and we almost never love in truth and action.
Dear friends, brothers and sisters, visitors and guests, my dear family of this congregation, how difficult it is to love as Jesus, did and does, and how easy it is to love as the world does.
Key: It is difficult and down right impossible to love as Jesus loved. Only the Holy Spirit can work this real love in our hearts.
But, my invitation for you is the same as John’s: “Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”
And let’s love everyone as Jesus did, who loved his friends, and also his enemies; those who hurt others; those who make mistakes; and also those who are different.
For this reason, as children of God, as Jesus’ followers, we are called to:
LOVE, BY FORGIVING OTHERS. We are called to forgive and to forget. To turn the page. I want you, at this very moment, to think –together- of those people who for different reasons, have hurt us, and let’s say together, each one of us from our place: I love you…(and Jesus loves you through me) and because I love you, I forgive you.
LOVE, BY ACCEPTING OTHERS. To love is also an exercise of tolerance. When we love, especially when we love those who are different than us, we do it because we understand that we are different human beings, and we cannot think in the same way, and that we cannot act –all of us- in the same way. We are called to accept all people, and their ideas, or their preferences. It does not mean that we will support them, or we will share their ideas, or we will try to always please them . . . no! It does mean that we love them, and because we love them, we accept them. Now, say it with me: I love you…(and Jesus loves you through me) and because I love you, I respect you and accept you just as you are.
LOVE, BY HELPING OTHERS. John tells us: How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
Outside of the church, there are a lot of people, and a lot of needs. In your family, in your job, in your school, there are people that need you, and especially they need God. What are you waiting for to give your friendly hand to those who really need it. What are you waiting for to love others and help others, as God loves you and helps you. Now, say it with me: I love my neighbor…(and Jesus loves them through me) and because I love them, I will help as many people as I can in my daily life. And to those that I cannot help, I promise to pray for them.
LOVE, WITH A MISSIONAL SENSE. We cannot forget that we are God’s mission on this planet. We are called to preach Christ to our families, our community, our country, and to all nations. As the Church of Christ, we must love others by working, supporting, and helping in the work of the Church. It is not only about coming here every Sunday, or placing a white envelope in the plate every morning. We must love our neighbors, being worried about their faith, for their spiritual life, and doing whatever we can, so in their hearts may continue flaming the fire of the faith in Jesus. Now say it with me: I love my neighbor…(and Jesus loves them through me) and because I love them, I will help the church so they may believe, and be saved through the power of God and the saving work of Jesus.
In this way, we love in Jesus’ way, not in word or speech, but in truth, actions, and in the power of God. Not like Gamboa and his three women, but like God does, who loves us in his three persons: FATHER, SON AND HOLY SPIRIT.
Remember, my little children, that Christ is our good shepherd, who laid down his life for us his sheep, who rose from death, and who daily invites us to love, to make peace, to be reconciled, and to the transformation of our lives through his Word and Sacraments. Don’t doubt, or don’t be afraid, of loving others, but –with the love and power of the Holy Spirit in your life- love, forgive, help, and serve in your congregation, because God loves you, forgives you, helps you, and serves you.
Christ is risen, He is risen indeed, Alleluia . . .!
Soli Deo Gloria, Amen.