Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A story of love that goes beyond self-preservation

LOVE STORY

By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But if any one has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? 1 John 3:16-18

Throughout scripture we learn that love is the fruit of faith, but St. John tells us that it is also the test of faith. It makes perfect sense of course, because divine love is never only received but always given away as well. But first things first.

The most important article of faith in the Christian religion is that Christ loved us and laid down His life for us -- that He died so we might live! Became poor, that we might become rich! But such a thing makes no sense unless we first comprehend the jeopardy sin places us in. The thought of God’s judgment is so frightening that ever since the first transgression humanity has tried all within its power to be rid of it, but we are still afraid to die; afraid because we know that at the final judgment the secrets of our hearts will be revealed. Sin has painted us into a corner and every hour that ticks away brings us closer to the dreadful day.

Now it may seem cruel for God to frighten us like this, but it is not. Indeed it is a good thing because His Law prepares us to accept the truth of the Gospel. It crushes our self-righteousness and eliminates every excuse. And only when we are at the end of our spiritual rope does the glad message that Christ died for our sins eliminate fear and flood our senses with the joy of Salvation.

But the love of Christ is not a one way street. God has so constructed us and so fashioned His love that it cannot be contained, so any version of the Christian faith that wishes only to receive is counterfeit and will lead us to hell. So please hear John’s words carefully. He wants us to be sure that those who know the love of Christ express the same to others, not because we are compelled, but because this is how divine love operates. Though we can hardly understand it, the kind of love that Christ pours out so liberally on us, sacrifices itself without seeking anything in return. Its single objective is the well-being of the person loved, and it never counts the cost. Such a love cannot originate from within because we have been compromised by sin, but its source is Christ and Christ alone. The closest comparison we have is the tender love of parents for their children; the love that several years ago sent a man into a burning building on Lakewood Heights Boulevard to save his trapped children. He failed in his mission, and died three horrendous weeks later in the Metro burn unit, but love was not dead. A fireman whose faith and compassion were aroused took some of the pooled up water that was used to extinguish the flames and baptized each of the children, commending them to the love of God.

How do we express this love on a daily basis? The call to sacrifice our lives is rare, so St. John gives us this simple rule that whoever has this world’s possessions and sees his brother in need but shows no compassion to him, how can the love of God dwell in him? He teaches us here that the way we imitate Christ is by responding to the need of others. Though it’s not as dramatic as running into a burning building, whenever we give to others we are giving away a part of ourselves, because to obtain the things we give we must expend the very restricted resources of our energy and our time. In that sense when we give to others we are giving them a piece of ourselves.

And who are the brethren John speaks of? It doesn’t take a theological degree to know that charity must begin at home. That should be obvious, but modern social theory confuses us. The world’s catechism tells us to think globally but please don’t do that because you are not responsible for the world, nor the world for you. Instead scripture teaches that each husband should care for his wife, and each wife for her husband, that parents should love their children and children their parents. The home, according to St. John Chrysostom, is the little church and this is the best place to exercise love. Here we know what the true needs are and what it will take to satisfy them. If we never do anything more than lay down our lives for our families by hard work, self-denial, and all the other needed sacrifices we have fulfilled the law of love.

If we are able to do more then charity extends next to the church, to those who are our brothers in Christ. Not by ecclesiastical welfare programs, but by each person looking to see where need exists and fulfilling it as best he can. Next we impart the love of Christ to others as the duty is impressed upon us each day. Do you ignore the beggar on the freeway exit ramp because you are afraid he will only drink it away? Don’t worry what he will do with it, just give it if you are able. True, the farther we get from home the harder it is to know if we are making the right decision, but God gives wisdom to those who ask. (James 1:5) The most questionable expression of love is large scale charity. The corruption is so great and the transparency so poor that we are best to stay away from it altogether. True, we may be forced to partake in it through taxation, but we should never think of it as Christian love.

So if love is the test of faith, how are we doing? Not so well? No surprise. Trying to love self-centered and greedy sinners like us is like running the Boston Marathon with a ball and chain around each leg, and a sack of potatoes on our back. But however bad our record has been, remember that Christ laid down His life for our sins; all of them. He forgives not only our past transgressions but the ongoing ones as well. He continues to call us out of the highways and by-ways of selfishness, and bring us into the banquet hall of the church where we receive more love than we could ever give away. So with these words of St. John in mind, may the love of Christ continue to flow to us, and through us! God grant it. Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

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