When I was a college student, I had an RA- Resident Assistant. If you don’t know, RA’s are responsible for a portion of a college dorm- usually one floor. They are kind of a blend between the “University police” and a parental figure- watching over their flock. This particular RA? We’ll call him “Ron”. (Sometimes the “we’ll call him…” is code for “that is his REAL name” and sometimes it’s not. Today, it’s NOT.) Ron was a perfect decent human and…a fairly terrible RA.
One day, at dinner in The Commons, a couple of guys at my table starting talking smack about Ron. I, unfortunately, joined in and soon, I was regaling the table with stories of Ron’s ineptitude as an RA. (Not even a LITTLE proud of it, looking back.) I had been riffing, holding the table right in the palm of my hand and, metaphorically, holding Ron at the same time…by the throat.
Then, it happened. I was right in the middle of my free-form rant when I happened to look over. Ron was sitting at the NEXT table over and clearly heard the whole thing. The look on his face was devastating. I tried to recover by pretending that I was joking and he wasn’t even paying attention…but he wasn’t buying what I was selling. In the end, back in the dorm, I apologized but it was really too little, too late. My interaction with him was never the same for the rest of the year. There is a fine line between love and hatred- finer than we would care to admit.
Our new sermon series- John’s 3 Letters- focuses on the 3 letters of John (Makes sense!) found near the tail end of the New Testament. They’re rarely read, rarely referenced, but have a lot packed into their short length. Three different letters, written at three different times, to three different people- yet they’re all tied together by the same ideas. Here is today’s Scripture:
1John 2 :7-11 Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.
As I said, we have three different letters, written at three different times, to three different people. Yet they’re all loosely tied together by the same ideas. Oh, and written by the same author: a guy who only calls himself “the elder.”
In this first letter, the elder encourages the Christians in his community to stay together. See, there are some naysayers who’ve been spreading lies about Jesus, and the elder really wants to set things straight.
First, Christians need to believe that Jesus was a for real a human being, not just some divine deity walking around on water. Second, Christians have to love each other. God IS love- it’s His favorite thing- and He really wants us believers to love our little hearts out.
Agape is a word that John will use in various forms many times as this letter continues, and he will define its meaning by the way he makes use of the word. The use of this word is extremely rare in classical Greek. Its extensive use in the New Testament is the result of the fact that the Septuagint translators of the Old Testament employed it consistently to express the love vocabulary of the Old Testament. It is with a form of that word- agape- that John addresses his readers. He acknowledges that they are loved. The question is- is John expressing HIS love for them or the larger truth of God’s love for them? I would like to think both.
Did you notice what Jesus says in the quote we heard? The commandment he’s writes is not new and yet it is new. How can it be old and new at the same time? It becomes clear what he means from what he writes next. The will of God has remained steady and unchanging. He is from the beginning and doesn’t change in that respect. The will of God is permanent.
Then what’s new, Pussycat? The new part has to do with us and the fulfillment of God’s will. Because of Jesus, there’s a radical newness, not in GOD’S character, but in OURS- new because we’ve been forgiven and therefore should obey God’s commandments with a fresh perspective. Look at it this way- we love out of fullness. We follow God’s will because of His prior acts- His prevenient grace as United Methodist founder John Wesley would call it- on our behalf. Evil is powerful, but its power is bounded by a greater authority. God’s love is more permanent, more powerful than the power of hatred.
So, what do you hate? Better still WHOM do you hate? What person or group of people do you have genuine hatred for? Now, sitting here in church, all scrubbed clean and sitting properly, it’s EASY to say, “I don’t hate ANYBODY!!” But I’m not asking about NOW. I’m asking about when you are at Wal-Mart. When you are at the grocery store, or restaurant or a movie theater. Whom do you hate? I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that, even though you are trying to say, No One”, you HAVE someone or a group of someones who keeps creeping, uninvited, into the back of your consciousness. That person or group that makes yo honestly stop and assess whether or not you hate.
I can’t tell you what to do. Well, I COULD tell you until I’m blue in the face what to do. But I can’t actually make you do it. I can only give you some advice. Take it for what it’s worth. (At McDonalds, my advice and one dollar will buy you any size drink!) When you insist on hating someone or a group of someones, you aren’t hurting them at all. (If you ACT upon that hatred, that’s a different story!) Instead, they probably…ready for a shocking truth?…don’t care. They could care less. They probably don’t even know.
So, you are fuming and stewing over them and they sleeping like babies at night. You are letting them live rent-free in your head. You are wasting valuable “brain space” and a LOT of time and energy that only hurts YOU! Yep, offering forgiveness is as much, or more, about you than about the other person.
So, again- whom do you hate? My advice? Stop it! “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.
Don’t be blinded by the darkness. Instead, be blinded by the light- not the light of hatred. Not the light of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. No, be blinded by the light of Jesus Christ. The Light that never dims. The light that is SO bright, Heaven needs no sun or moon- Jesus is the light 24/7/365.
I said a few minutes ago- there is a fine line between love and hatred. I think that’s why married couples get in trouble. The love that they had sours and turns to hatred. I think that’s why parents and adult children have problems. I think that’s why the world has problems. But deep in your heart, you know two things: 1. You know what love is. It was that great theologian Forrest Gump who said, “I may not be a smart man, but I KNOW what love is.” And 2. You also know that hatred is the wide and easy path while love can be the difficult, narrow road. Love takes work- especially that sacrificial agape love we talked about earlier. But we are called to love each other with a agape love- not expecting anything in return but to simply love our neighbor as we walk in the Light of Jesus Christ. Everything old is new again.