February Sermon Series, “What Kind of Love is this?” Sermon Title, “Love Costs”February 22, 2017
By Pastor Lynn
Today I brought this olive wood carving that I got when I was in Bethlehem in November. It’s a carving of 2 people hugging each other. I got it at a store that sold all kinds of olive wood carvings and there were lots of nativities and Christmas stars and things because that’s what Bethlehem is famous for. But this was the only carving like this that I saw in the whole store. I thought it was beautiful because it shows love between 2 people. This could be 2 friends, 2 spouses, 2 siblings, a parent and child, there’s really no telling. But to me it shows 2 people loving, supporting and comforting each other. And since we are talking about love this month, I used it for inspiration for today’s sermon.
One way this carving speaks to me about love is how this is carved from one piece of wood. This started out as one block of olive wood. For it to become this figure the wood had to lose bits of itself. The artist had to carve away some of the wood to expose the 2 figures here. Then he or she had to sand away other bits of wood so that it became smooth. There are a few places where you can still see tool marks from the carving process. But when the artist was done, not only could these 2 figures be seen, but the beautiful grain of the wood that is normally hidden behind bark, could be seen. In undergoing a process of losing bits of itself, a plain lump of olive wood becomes a beautiful figure that communicates concepts of love.
Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” When iron sharpens iron, both pieces of iron lose bits of themselves. When we are in relationship with another person, whether that is a friendship, a family relationship, a romantic relationship, a work relationship, the relationship has an effect on us. It shapes us just as this wood has been shaped. That shaping can come through being influenced by the other person’s words, actions, or character. It can come through conflict as the other person challenges us. It can come about through shared experiences. But we are shaped through our relationships and the shaping costs us something. That’s what I want us to think about today. What does it cost us to love others?
When Vandy and I first got married, we were living in Germany. We had both been missionaries when we got engaged. I was living in England and he was living in Germany. When we got married I moved to Germany with him. It was hard. I didn’t know the language. I didn’t know the culture which is very different from either American or British culture. I had to learn my way around a new city. I had to get to know new people. And I had to get used to being married to someone and learning a new daily routine. One thing that was difficult was that Vandy was an early morning person and I was not. He wanted to get up at 4 or 5 in the morning and that was just obscene to me. I preferred to sleep until at least 9am. That also meant that he wanted to go to bed by 9 at night and I liked to stay up til midnight. He couldn’t understand what was so great about being up late and I couldn’t understand the point of getting up early. You know when you first start living with someone and you find out they do things differently than you do, it can be shock. How did I not know this about this person?
So during the first several months of our marriage there were a lot of things that changed in my life, more so than the normal newlywed would experience because most people aren’t also adjusting to a new culture. I felt like I was losing important bits of myself. It was costing me a great deal to be where I was. It felt like my whole identity was being challenged. I had been an American my whole life and it was working just fine for me. Now suddenly, I felt like I had to become German. What was wrong with the American part of me? Vandy and I both were having to adjust and make changes in our lifestyle to fit together and create our own rhythm of life and to fit into this new culture. Like this piece of wood, we both had to pay a cost in order to be shaped into something new.
Love costs us something. That is the point of the sermon today. When we commit ourselves to love someone we will pay a cost. Let’s look a little more closely at the parable of the Good Samaritan that Theresa read for us to explore this idea a little more. This man who is an expert in the law comes to Jesus one day and puts Jesus to the test. He asks Jesus the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He’s asking, “What deed or task do I need to perform in order to become a partaker of eternal life?” For us living 2000 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, we know that there is no task or deed that we need to perform in order to become a partaker of eternal life. It is a gift of God’s grace that is freely given to the ones who believe in Jesus. This man is asking the wrong question. If we want to partake of eternal life, the question isn’t “what” but “how”. How do I partake of eternal life? How do I get involved in eternal life?
The way the man asks his question shows that his understanding of what eternal life is is wrong. He speaks of it as an inheritance. In order to gain an inheritance, someone usually has to die. Who is going to die so this man can gain an inheritance of eternal life? Again, we know the answer to this. Jesus died so that all who believe in him can have eternal life as he says in John 3:16. This man seems to have the understanding that, as one of the chosen children of God, a descendent of Abraham, he will inherit eternal life upon his own death. Once he dies, if he does the appropriate task, God will give him eternal life. Now be honest. Many of us have the same understanding. I know we do because I heard your children express that when we talked about it during the Confession of Faith class with the Jr Youth. When we die, we will go to heaven, and live there forever. As long as we don’t mess things up with God in this life, as long as we do good things in this life, we will go to heaven forever. That’s what we think eternal life is.
But that is not all that eternal life is, according to Jesus. Think about what “eternal” means. It means without beginning or end. So eternal life is a life without a beginning or an end. If it doesn’t have a beginning then it doesn’t begin for us at death. It already is. Jesus defines eternal life in John 17:3, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” We receive eternal life when we enter into a relationship of faith in God through Jesus Christ. We who believe in Christ, who live as His disciples, are already living in eternal life. So the question this man needs to be asking Jesus is “How can I enter into eternal life?”
Jesus knows this man’s understanding is wrong so he puts the question back on him. “What is written in the Law? How do you understand it?” The man replies, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus says “Yes, you are correct. If you go and do this, you will be living in eternal life. You can be part of eternal life right now, before you die. If you love God and love others, you will be partaking of eternal life.”
But the man wanted to make himself look righteous before everyone and so he asked, “Who is my neighbor? Who is this neighbor that I’m supposed to love as I love myself?” To a Jew of Jesus’ day, and to many people today, their neighbor was any other Jew, any other person who was like them. They wouldn’t consider someone of another race or religion to be their neighbor. Jesus answers this question by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. Samaritans were not Jews. They were looked down on by Jews. They were definitely not considered neighbors. But in the story Jesus tells, the two Jewish characters, a priest and a Levite, fail to show love to their fellow Jew. The man is robbed and beaten and left on the side of the road to die and his 2 fellow Jews walk right on by. It’s the Samaritan, the stranger, the one who is different, the outsider, who comes to the man’s aid, cleans and dresses his wounds, puts him on his donkey and takes him to a safe place, cares for him and pays for his expenses and promises to come back. Jesus asks, “who was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” It was the Samaritan, the one who loved. And Jesus tells the man, “Go and do likewise.”
The message Jesus is getting across to this man is that he is to love anyone he meets who needs love. He is to love the outsider, the one who is different, the one he might name an enemy, the one who worships differently than he does, because Samaritans worshiped differently than Jews. It’s going to cost this man something to carry out the commandment to love, but if he wants to partake of eternal life, he needs to pay the cost. What will it cost him to love others as Jesus has described? It’s going to cost him his preconceived notions about others. It’s going to cost him his worldview because Jesus has just enlarged it. It’s going to cost him his religious conviction that he as a Jew enjoys a higher standing before God than a Samaritan does. It may cost him friendships and family relationships because other Jews aren’t going to understand why he has become pro-Samaritan. It may cost him status and privilege in his community. He’s an expert in Jewish religious law so it may mean he needs to re-examine everything he thinks he knows about the law and look at it again from the perspective that Jesus gives. It’s going to cost to love your neighbor. But Jesus is saying that if you want to participate in eternal life, you have to love and love costs.
We who already are participating in eternal life by being in relationship with God through Jesus Christ need to ask ourselves, what will it cost me to love. What is the price I will need to pay in order to love my family, to love my fellow church people, to love the people I work with, to love the people who live on my block, to love people who think differently than I do, who vote differently than I do, who look differently than I do, who worship differently than I do? What is the price I will have to pay? It’s an important question and Jesus told his disciples in Luke 14 to count the cost of following him. He said beginning in verse 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple. Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? …Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? …In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”
Jesus is saying it is going to cost us to be his disciple. We have to value Jesus above everything else in our lives. Or put another way, we have value everything else in our life less than we value Jesus. He has to have first priority, even above our own families or our own lives. If we decide we cannot pay the cost, we do not have the capacity to be his disciple. If we value other people, our personal success or image, our time, our possessions, anything, more than we value Jesus, we do not have the capacity to be his disciple. This is hard. Many people walked away from Jesus when they realized the cost they would have to pay. And he let them walk because love does not force itself on anyone. Think about the rich young man in Mark chapter 10 who came to Jesus and Jesus told him to sell everything he had and give it to the poor and come follow him and the young man walked away. Jesus said it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven and the disciples asked “Who then can be saved?” The cost is that of our very lives. It’s a steep price to pay. Who can pay it? Jesus said “With people this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
You see we don’t pay this price on our own. It is God at work in us who gives us the strength to pay the cost of love. It’s not easy. But the Holy Spirit is with us and will give us the strength, the wisdom, the grace to pay the cost of love. In 1 John 4 beginning in verse 7 John writes (read verses 7-21).
We love because God first loved us. We can love because the love of God is in us. If we dare to believe it, when our love is tested by that person that gets on our last nerve, we will be able to pay the cost to love that person because God’s love is within us. His love is an artesian well in our spirits that never runs out. But it costs us to keep the tap open and let His love work in us and flow out of us. There will be people who won’t understand. There will be people who will oppose us. We will lose important bits of ourselves when we chose to love. Are we willing to pay the cost?
Our country is deeply polarized right now and it’s very easy to label people as either friend or foe because everyone is doing that right now. It’s much harder to take the path that Jesus tells us to take and to go over to that stranger who would call us “enemy” and offer love instead of hate. It’s hard to go to that person who holds a different opinion than ours and offer love instead of judgement. It’s hard to go to that person who looks different, who worships in a different way, who lives a different lifestyle and offer love instead of condemnation. It costs something to do that. Are we willing to pay the cost?
In this congregation, over the next several months, there are important conversations we need to have about the same issues that our culture is talking about. It’s going to cost each one of us to be honest with each other, to listen respectfully to each other, to consider what each other has to say and to continue to offer the genuine love and affection of sisters and brothers in Christ. It’s going to cost us. We will have to be willing to look honestly at ourselves and see if there is any sin within ourselves that needs to be dealt with. We may need to move from deeply entrenched positions or at least be willing to let our guard down enough to really listen to one another and consider what each one has to say. It may be that deep hurts will be exposed and we will have to be patient with each other, offering healing words instead of hurtful ones, or even allowing each other space for healing before coming back together to continue walking in love. It may mean that we have to agree to disagree and still hold high respect for each other and honor one another. But we are covenant people. We are bound together by a covenant with each other and with God and the foundation of that covenant is Jesus Christ. Will we pay the price to stay centered in Jesus and hold together in the covenant of love?
The cost of love is higher than we can know. For the Father, the cost was his only Son. For Jesus, the cost was the cross. And this is what Paul tells us in Philippians 2 “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being likeminded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but make himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” This is the cost of love. Are we willing to pay the price?