Fourth Sunday in Lent
Radical Renovation: The Radical Center
1 John 4:7-21 ; Mark 12:28-34
*I am indebted in my Lenten preaching preparations to the book Radical Renovation: Living the Cross-Shaped Life by James A. Harnish.
What do you think of when you hear love? What do you see in your mind’s eye? A couple sitting across a candlelit table. The look of a mother with a newborn baby in her arms. That tingly feeling you get when you see her. The “I can’t think about anything else” syndrome. The way our culture talks about love it is feelings between people or emotions of great intensity.
But is love more than that? Is true love more than an emotion or a feeling?
We’ve been talking about an internal radical renovation God wants to accomplish in us. We’ve been talking about turning toward the ways of God, serving as the greatest act a disciple can do, and surrendering all that we are to God.
At the center of the renovation is LOVE. Love is both the source of the renovation and love is evidence of the renovation.
The source of our renovation is love. Love born of God. God first loved us. God’s love isn’t about feeling, but about actions. Think back to the Hebrew stories of God. The rainbow after the flood is an act of love from God. Saving the people from slavery in Egypt is an act of love from God. Manna and quail in the middle of the wilderness is an act of love from God. Bringing the people home after exile is an act of love from God.
God doesn’t just speak a word of love, though God certainly does that. God acts out God’s love for God’s people. The greatest act of love is the cross, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Our ability to love is rooted in God’s act of love by the way God defined it with Jesus on the cross. We would not know what love truly is without God’s act of love in Jesus. Our ability to love has its source in God. Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God. The source of our renovation is love.
The evidence of our radical renovation is love. A scribe asks Jesus what the greatest commandment is. The two that Jesus quote are not new to him. They are a part of the long history of the Hebrew people. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. What is unique is the way Jesus bound them together. The first commandment is to love God. In Matthew’s telling of this story (Matthew 22:34-40), Jesus says, “And the second is like it” – to love others. In Mark’s telling, these are the two most important commandments. In Matthew’s telling Jesus says that “all the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.” Jesus is really summing up the faith life here. The greatest commandment is to act on our love for God by acting out our love for others.
When we act on our love for God by acting out our love for others, there is evidence that we let God into the house of our souls, there is evidence that we are content to let God do more than a little fix up work, there is the evidence that God is working that radical renovation in us.
George was a young man who enlisted in the military during WWII. He was injured twice shortly after arriving in Europe, then he was taken prisoner in Germany. As was the case in those days, he was forced to march from one POW camp to another. His daily rations was a small piece of bread and a water soup. Without much nutrition, and the physical exertion of the marches, he lost nearly 60 pounds in those days. One day on their march, a German woman approached George. Without a word, she thrust a warm loaf of bread into George’s hand, and walked away. There is evidence that the radical renovation was happening in that German woman’s life. Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
Evidence of God’s radical renovation in our lives is… demonstrated in our ability to love and measured by God’s act of love in Jesus Christ.
Love shaped by the cross is love in action. Love is not a look, a feeling, an emotion… Love is an action. Love is pouring fresh water for the one sitting across the candlelit table. Love is walking that crying baby back and forth in the wee hours of the morning while teeth are coming in.
Here’s the really good news about love. Every act of love undermines the power of evil, violence, hatred and sin. That is the work Christ came to do. Perhaps that is why these two commandments rise to the surface as most important, because when we love God in our actions of love toward others, the work of Christ is happening.
In the movie Dead Man Walking, Sister Helen has been building a relationship with a man on death row and building a relationship with his victim’s family. The relationship with the condemned man is a difficult one, especially as she takes in the heinousness of his crime, and as she begins to know the victim’s family. Still, at one point in the movie, Sister Helen says to the man condemned to death: I want the last face you see in this world to be the face of love, so you look at me when they do this thing. I’ll be your face of love.” The power of acted out love has the capacity to undermine evil, violence, hatred and sin
When Jesus hung on the cross he offered forgiveness for a criminal. He asked God’s forgiveness for those who were part of the machine of death that would take his life. He demonstrated on both this and the other side of life the power of a love acted out. Jesus’ act of love on the cross undermined evil, violence, hatred and sin for all times.
Look at his face, and you see the face of love. Thanks be to God!
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
Rev. Becky Jo Thilges, Lead Pastor
Homestead UMC, Rochester, MN