IN some of our fine, dear, favorite hymns, as well as in many of the modern baubles of spiritual cotton candy that go by the name of children's songs, we hear one repeated refrain. That refrain is that we love Jesus. We sing it without thinking, and teach our children to sing it without thinking. So if I were to go around asking you, "Do you love Jesus?" you would probably answer "Yes," although you wouldn't really think about what it meant. Well, let's suppose that I ask it again, this time in the form of a leading question, "Do you really love Jesus?" Now you have to think about it. This is Pastor; he wants me to answer in the affirmative, I don't want to upset him, but within I have my doubts. Then suppose I ask you a third time, the way Jesus asked Peter. "Simon, do you love me?" Peter was sad, we are told, because Jesus asked him the third time. Now you stand in Peter's place, I’m asking you the third time. You realize that you cannot be glib. In fact, you probably feel trapped. A "Yes" answer sounds presumptuous, while a "No" sounds apathetic and ungrateful. You probably really do appreciate what Jesus did for you. Is that loving Him?
I did not ask that to put you on the spot. The question is no easier for me than it is for you. How do you love Someone who doesn't need anything? What could you possibly sacrifice for Jesus that would help Him in any way? He does have some words for us on the subject. For example in Matthew 25, in the sermon about the sheep and the goats, He told us, "Whatever you have done for the least of my brethren, you have done it for me." So this is how Jesus wants to be loved, in His people. Isn't that what He told Peter as well? Once Peter had affirmed that he loved the Lord, did not Jesus point away from Himself, back to the sheep? Jesus did not tell Peter: "Say your prayers …give your offerings… sing your hymns … make your pledge…" No, He said, "Feed my sheep." He directed Peter to the household of faith, for that is where one finds Jesus' brothers. He directed Peter to the Word that would feed him first, then his flock. Peter was affirming his love in spite of what happened in the High Priest's courtyard. Peter had to first feed on the word, nourish his own soul, then he could feed the flock of Christ. So the Lord told Martha that her sister had chosen the better part. Jesus must first serve us before we can serve Him. But Jesus did not mean that the Bible class should last forever. Sooner or later He expected Mary to at least help with the dishes.
Martha was not a bad example. Once Jesus gives you His love, you can then love people.
There is a test for our love for Jesus. It is the perpetual encounter between the Haves and the Have Nots. Very seldom will they be so dramatic as the Good Samaritan, but they all make the same point. Where is our love, really? Some people say we could remove the trouble by changing the uneven distribution, but Jesus constantly refused to do anything like that. Indeed, He assured us that in heaven the eternal glory is quite uneven. No, when the Haves meet the Have Nots, the trouble is not on the outside. Rather, it is heart trouble. When Haves meet the Have Nots, something moves us to help them. Nevertheless, we often refuse. Eventually we reach the state where we are not inclined to help, but no one begins there. We begin with a conscious effort to close our heart. Eventually we can silence our conscience. The more we practice this, the easier it gets. But God demands love from us for His sake. We are here to channel His divine love to our neighbors. We have received bleeding charity, without which we would be lost forever. As we meet our neighbors, God wants to love them through us.
The Church through the ages has a very poor record of showing this kind of love. I say that in spite of all the charitable institutions she has established among us, all well-intentioned, all probably doing good things as we speak. Moreover, by being part of the group that established the institutions, we have participated in a good enterprise, but is that loving Jesus? These institutions have been far more successful at taking money from the Haves than at getting it to the Have Nots. In our time another demon has emerged, in which the Church joins political efforts at taking goods away from one person to give to another. That is not love. Jesus never told us, "Give his money to the poor." Such political actions are definitely not loving Jesus. One does not need a pure heart and a right spirit to do political things. We could show higher love by distributing the hope that is in us, the forgiveness and confidence that we have because Jesus loved us. There at least we have no question marks. We can be absolutely confident that Jesus loves us.
One thing love does not do: stay home. Love does not wall off its personality in a little corner. It gets involved with the world around it, not all the time of course, no one could keep that up, but in a regular way, and with devotion. Love does not pass up opportunities to join a neighborhood improvement group, to send a student back to college with Christian assurance, to be patient during labor-management negotiations, or to visit with the grieving. The city over which Jesus wept was filled with people who were so self-satisfied that other peoples' misery bounced off. It was filled with Have Nots who cursed God for not making them Haves.
Look at those tears! Look at the Perfect Redeemer shedding them! From eternity He was a Have, as He enjoyed the glory of the Father, but He humbled Himself to become a Have Not for our sakes. That same Son of God became obedient unto death. Was there anything that He lacked? Only this - that our souls might be in heaven with Him. Spiritually we were all Have Nots. The Incarnate Savior gave His own flesh and blood to cleanse us from sin, and to make us Haves with Him in the world to come. He did not hold back His own flesh and blood. That is love. His resurrection proves that He did not die for Himself, but for all of us. We cannot love until He cleanses us and feeds us. Do we love Jesus? We do because He acts out love itself.
Sometimes His love has to be tough because we have a tendency to harden our hearts. He has to step in and chase out the money changers every so often. He does that to make us instruments of His mercy. So Peter could feed his sheep, Martha could make dinner, the Good Samaritan took care of the mugging victim, we can also be the agents of His mercy. St. John calls that loving Him in deed and in truth. AMEN.
Rev. Lloyd E. Gross