Editor’s note: “Matters of faith” is a column that provides local religious leaders a place to write about how their respective faiths provide hope, courage and strength in these modern times.
The musician Huey Lewis said this about the power of love.
“The power of love is a curious thing,
Make a one man weep, make another man sing.
Change a hawk to a little white dove,
More than a feeling that’s the power of love.”
Jesus commanded his disciples and us to love each other. For Jesus, love is a choice that is, in action, actively putting one’s love into real world activities.
In the Gospel of John, after Jesus had washed the feet of His disciples, including Judas, and Judas had departed to betray Him and left the disciples in a state of confusion, in that moment of drama and tension Jesus’ said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another because this is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
This new commandment came as part of a farewell address to His followers; He left them with words of tenderness and mercy as He shared what was going to happen to Him in the next few hours. And He gave them their marching orders. He told them what He expects of them, what He needs them to do after He is no longer with them in order to continue the work He has started on building God’s kingdom on Earth as in heaven.
They are to love one another, and He told them how (“as I have loved you”) and he told them why (“by this everyone will know that you are my disciples”) because this is how others will be able to see for themselves the power of God’s love.
This tells us a great deal about the kind of love Jesus talked about. This surely isn’t romantic love, nor is it simply acceptance and tolerance. Jesus never said tolerate each other. Jesus sandwiched this commandment to love each other after He washed the disciples’ feet and His death on the cross.
What a difference it would make in the way the world sees us who call ourselves Christians, if we really loved each other as Jesus loves us? Across denominations what does that look like? Will they know we are Christians by our sermons and our gun laws? Will they know we are Christians by our buildings and our crosses? Will they know we are Christians by our family values? No, they won’t. They will know we are Christians by our love!
In my experience, the more deeply members get involved in the church, the more they know how difficult the work of loving one another is as Christians in the community.
Sometimes when folks get more deeply involved they become disillusioned with the church community because, truth be told, we are human beings and loving others isn’t easy. Most of the time it’s really difficult to love the people we love, let alone those who are so different, those we do not understand, those other folks who have the wrong beliefs and the wrong ideas. I even had someone tell me once that they thought so and so had the wrong Holy Spirit living in them!
The problem is that when people who are looking for the love of God, who have never experienced the love of God, witness church leaders and proclaimed Christians struggling to love one another, it leaves a bad taste in their mouths. They expect us to act different. They expect us to love each other — and they expect us to love them.
One of the most profound witnesses we can offer as Jesus’ followers, and church communities, is to learn to love one another well in times of conflict. Conflict can be a good thing if you remember to love each other in it and through it. How can we as church members show others, by our behavior with one another, what it means to live by Jesus’ commandment to love one another? How can we witness to loving our enemies in ways that might be so visibly powerful to others, that when people see us, they want to know more about the God we serve?
I won’t pretend that I have all the answers. I don’t! But I think that one way is to just be honest and confess that we struggle because it is hard to love some people. We need to recognize that love is a decision; it is a choice that we are free to make and we make it every day. We choose to love or not to love.
Thomas Merton wrote:
“We do not exist for ourselves alone, and it is only when we are fully convinced of this fact that we begin to love ourselves properly and thus also love others. What do I mean by loving ourselves properly? I mean first of all, desiring to live, accepting life as a very great gift and a great good, not because of what it gives us, but because of what it enables us to give to others.”
“Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.”
God’s love in action came to us in the flesh of Jesus Christ and lived with us. He showed us what love looks like: It is active. It is feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, washing feet, and it is a harsh and dreadful death but love didn’t stay dead! The power of Love is that it destroys death and lives forever, and everlasting life is only worth having if it is a life of love.
Victor Hugo said it best with, “To love another person is to see the face of God!”
Rev. Paulsen is pastor at Tooele United Methodist Church.