Michael F. Bailey
“Love God, Love People = Joy!”
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
Folks have all kinds of fun and hobbies around spotting things! Have you been to the coast and ever been on a dolphin or whalewatching excursion? A dorsal is spotted and everyone watches and tries to spot where the dolphin or whale will surface next. Some enjoy bird watching. I have a relative who is very attuned to this. We’ll be on a hike and he’ll hear a bird call and identify a bird that he might have spotted for the first time. I can’t really tell the difference. He also loves spotting wildflowers and while hiking can identify the tiniest little flower. Some enjoy identifying trains and others spotting aircraft. As a child, I loved spotting the new model cars. It used to be that every car company and every year brought new models that we couldn’t wait to spot them. Now, it seems to me, yeartoyear most cars are the same and even the different company’s cars look similar. I feel sorry for you folks who bought a BMW! My Hyundai Sonata looks just like your car! People have hobbies of spotting all kinds of things. And, truth be told, we do see what we’re looking for, don’t we?
Well, I have a new spotting hobby that I want to pass on to all of you. As I began studying, meditating, praying and generally ruminating on this text, God gave me a new hobby: Love Spotting! This passage, effusive with love, has led me to spot the love of God’s Kingdom all around and that’s brought me joy. Think of it:
Many of us have spotted love in the eyes of our mothers or women who have loved us like mothers. What a wonderful day, Mother’s day, to think of spotting love in a mother’s eyes.
I’ve also spotted God’s love in the face of my little granddaughter; what a gift of love she is to our family.
And, I’ve spotted God’s love in the rightful pride of parents who have young graduates in their families.
Also, I’ve spotted love all over this great congregation of Christians, Christ Church. Saturday evening a week ago, I spotted love at the graduation ceremony for Flame Builders. Flame builders are a United Methodist leadership program for young adult United Methodist laity. Each young person, stood and presented their project, designed to build up the Kingdom of God. With sincerity and relevance they realized their vocation, whether business management or teaching was an arena to share God’s love. I spotted love at the Flamebuilders event.
And one night, sitting on the back porch of the parsonage, I heard voices of adolescent glee! I looked through the woods and spotted love! It was a huge number of our youth, taking a break and playing together. They were giving up their precious evenings to organize for their yard sale: Junk for Jesus, I call it! All with the aim of funding a mission trip to repair homes among some of the poorest of the poor in our region, in South Carolina.
Then, on Thursday, I spotted love again. It was at the first UMAR banquet ever held in Greensboro, right in the Christ Church Fellowship center. We gathered to hear about this great ministry you folks make possible that has over 2 dozen residences and apartment buildings for the developmentally disabled. There we heard a mother. She spoke of how hard it was to hear that her baby; born 27 years ago had such disabilities he’d never talk. Then, one day at breakfast when he was five, he spoke: I don’t like oatmeal. From that day, with much care, love and therapy he began to communicate. Her worry though was what would happen to him if something ever happened to her.
She heard about this ministry, UMAR that we, as a denomination made possible. And, though, it was hard, Chris got a room and a band of brothers at a UMAR home. He came on the stage and thanked us. I spotted love, through teary eyes that day.
And I spotted love on Friday night! It was on the faces of our DR mission team as they humbly waited tables to support an education and medical mission to the DR. While many think of the DR in terms of beaches and golf courses, our folks are going down there in the heat of summer to work with some of the poorest folks in our hemisphere.
I’m a love spotter and it brings me joy! How about you? Our passage today outlines the melding together of love and joy.
Jesus says, “if you keep my commandments you will abide in my love...and my joy will be in you!” And love and joy are desperately needed commodities in most of our lives. The world offers and proffers momentary, circumstantial, oftenmaterialistic, temporary happiness; such pales in comparison the eternal, unshakable joy of Christ; all found in keeping his commands. You know the commands well; I’ve identified 3, all about love; two in Matthew 22:37,39 and one in today’s passage.
You see, joy is found when we love the Triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) totally, completely and without reservation! This is loving God with our heart, mind, soul and strength . And in our lives it means having our love of and for God as the le f our lives. Our love of and for God rules our heart, minds, desires, actions, our time, talent and treasure. Nothing comes before the blessed ThreeinOne if we are to love like this. And it even means worshiping differently! Worship is offering ourselves and our love for God, to God with abandonment; it means worship is giving God something, our hearts, voices, songs, prayers and praise; it means worship is all about God and not worrying “what we get out of it”, our takeaways; worship becomes all about our giveaways, of “self” to focus on the Lord.
Now of course, loving God completely and totally only is possible with God’s grace and the Holy Spirit acting upon our hearts; shaping our lives; we can’t decide ourselves into this; we can’t force ourselves to love. But we can humble ourselves and ask God to shape our lives with God coming first; our loving of God, completely and totally. So dare you pray this prayer and ask that God remove all that you would place above God in your life? If so, God will answer and love will be spotted in your life and your days and ways will be marked by Christ’s joy!
Joy is found, as well, when we keep his command given in the 12th erse of our passage: “love one another as I have loved you.” Now Jesus gave this command to his first followers, the first community of Christ, the first church, if you will. By this context, I take his words specifically as an instruction for us, in the church, in this congregation, to “love one another” as Jesus loves: unconditionally, without qualification. We’re to love those exactly like us and those who are our polar opposites; we’re to love those in the church who are older and younger; those who agree to a “T” with everything we say and those who never agree with us; we’re to love those who are healthy and those who are sick; we’re to love those who have different skin color than us and the same as us; we’re to love those in the church who speak our language and those who don’t; we’re to love those in the church of our political persuasion and those who are of another; we’re to love those in the church regardless of whom they love, their sexual orientation and those like us in orientation. If we’re to love like Jesus, it is to love without qualification and to love unconditionally. Often though, that’s easier said than done, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible; with God all things are possible. And how necessary this love is! You see nothing validates the fact that Jesus lives more than Christians, though totally different, loving one another and conversely nothing harms our witness more than the hypocrisy of claiming to be a community of love and excluding some from our loving. So again, we can’t will ourselves into such love but we can decide to humble ourselves and seek God’s help, to seek God’s Holy Spirit. And guess what? The Spirit of God will expand your capacity to love, far beyond anything you ever imagined and folks looking upon you will spot love and joy will mark your life!
You know that final love, the final command of Jesus that leads to joy; most know it very well. It’s the command to love “neighbor as self”. Now, neighbor as defined by the Good Samaritan story, is anyone in need, no matter how radically different, whose need you can meet. The joy in loving neighbor is perhaps most real to those who’ve done handson mission work and been involved in a ministry of helping meet needs. If you ask any of these folks why they do it; why they give of their time, talent and treasure to help marginalized folks, without exception they will say, “because I get far more out of it than I could ever possibly put in!” This is joy.
An amazing man earned a doctorate in theology and was one of the premiere theologians in all of Europe. More, he also had a doctorate in organ performance and played sold out concerts in the great cathedrals of Europe. Then, to top it all he received a medical doctor’s degree. Any one of his achievements could have led to fame and fortune. And yet, God’s call and claim upon his life led him to live most of his life in Africa, bringing healing to the poorest of the poor in the entire world. And Albert Schweitzer once said, “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know; the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.” Such is a life where love is spotted and joy is found.