Over 100 years ago, the Christian philosopher Soren Kierkegaard pointed out that Jesus was looking for followers, not admirers.
Jesus invites people to go with him into the world and to serve others in his name. Jesus calls people to an active form of believing, not a set of propositions. Jesus challenges people to believe in the power of God to repair what is broken in the world.
We encounter problems when we think that being Christian means believing a hundred impossible things before breakfast! Furthermore, we begin to think that perhaps we are not real Christians, never were, and cannot ever hope to be.
As First John states this dilemma, there are days when “our hearts condemn us” (3:20). There are days when we wonder if we are good enough to call ourselves Christian.
Thankfully, by a miracle of God’s grace, our hearts do not have the last word. As John says, “God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.”
God sees with a Father’s eyes of unconditional love the goodness that resides within our hearts, yearning to break free. God sees with a Mother’s eyes of unmerited grace the blessing we are when we are able to embrace the truth about ourselves. For in the end, it is truth, and only truth, that sets us free.
In his book Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller writes, “There is a lie floating around that says I am supposed to be able to do life alone, without any help, without stopping to worship something bigger than myself. But I actually believe there is something bigger than me, and I need for there to be something bigger than me. I need someone to put awe inside me; I need to come second to someone who has everything figured out.”
That someone is Christ … the very One who meets us in worship and in life … the very One who invites sinners and outcasts to the banquet table … the very One who ushers us into the company of God.
Our best response to Christ is to live in the awareness of God’s Presence, to give thanks for the blessedness that follows us all the days of our lives, and to “love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action” (1 John 3:18).
We needn’t worry about whether we’re doing it right or not. We needn’t become self-critical about how we feel toward others – that we’re not getting that warm, fuzzy feeling. We just need to act in loving ways, leaving the feelings to sort themselves out.
John says we do this by laying down our life – that is, laying down our normal human inclination to live for ourselves only, laying it down at Christ’s feet, and then allowing God’s love to reorient us toward the needs of others.
Someone has called this our core competency as Christians … loving one another. Clarence Jordan captures the concrete practicality of this everyday love in his Cotton Patch Version of 1 John 3:18: “My little ones, let’s not talk about love. Let’s not sing about love. Let’s put love into action and make it real.”
Father Thomas Keating, in his book Invitation to Love, writes, “To love one another as Jesus loves us is to love one another in our humanness—in our individuality and opinionatedness, in personality conflicts and in unbearable situations. It is to continue to show love, no matter what the provocation may be to act otherwise.”
Jesus responded to human need around every corner, and expects his disciples to do the same – feeding the hungry, healing the sick, forgiving the sinner, loving the despised and forgotten ones of the world.
So, we throw our lot in with Jesus, the crucified and risen One! We see in his self-giving life and death, what love truly is. We practice that love through lives of integrity and grace. Most of all, we let Christ’s love grow within us so that our love is tangible and healing, and is true to the love Christ has for all people.
We move from admiration of Jesus to following him on the Way. We don’t merely talk about love, or sing about love. We put love into action, and make it real.
Words (c) 2012 Mark Lloyd Richardson
Photos of Sierra Service Project the summer of 2011 with sixty high school youth