Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
Fear is a perfectly normal (and often helpful) survival tool. Fear alerts us to real dangers; Take for example abuse, which can happen right inside our homes, the very place we’re supposed to feel safe. Listening to fear and responding a certain way IS a valid coping mechanism. Plenty of other real dangers exist, and I don’t believe this scripture is meant to minimize any fear that keeps us safe. The problem is, we feel FEAR in our guts for a lot of reasons, and not ALL of them should we avoid. In fact, FEAR of a stranger is one of the most universal experiences. While it served us well in our hunting and gathering days…and OCCASIONALLY even today, often it doesn’t. Fearing what we don’t yet know keeps us from the kind of relationships that will enhance our wellbeing if we’re open to meeting new people.
Okay, a little theology here…you and I weren’t made to stretch ourselves in this way- we were created to be a part of family units; tribes; people we belong to. Being a part of a tribe is a good thing, but tribal love isn’t. Tribal love says, “I will love my people, those in my orbit, the folks who think like me and believe like I do. My tribe, I’ll love them.” Tribal love is limited at its best, and at its worst, it can lead to hate, simply because its limits define who deserves love and who doesn’t.
That’s why Jesus came, to abolish tribal love in favor of true love. God saw the kind of violence that becomes possible when we humans are left to ourselves. Jesus offers us another way of orienting ourselves in this world. He frees us from our human propensity to destroy ourselves by destroying each other. The author of 1 John says we need to be saved from the thing that keeps us from love. In a word, fear.
Vs. 16 “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.” That’s the only way we can learn to love strangers; by first accepting the love God has for us. We know this love is true, because one by one, each person Jesus encountered in his life of ministry was changed. The Jesus revolution remains as necessary today as when this scripture was written. We, empowered by Christ’s love for us, CAN redeem one relationship at a time by our ability to overcome fear with love.
On World Communion Sunday, I suggest we begin to practice this kind love with those who share our faith in Christ. One of the things I love about this day is the vision: SO many colors and creeds and languages representing the body of Christ. Lord knows we have a LONG way to go learning how to overcome fear with love in the Christian community. And if we can’t figure out how to love other Christians, how in the heck are we ever gonna love God’s beloveds who practice other religions or no religion at all?
When 1 John says, “In this world we are [to be] like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear,” it’s an invitation to claim the control we DO have over our feelings. Yes, fear is a natural human response to strangers AND we don’t have to engage in it, especially when it’s not helpful. We CAN choose love. That’s the good news.
So how does it happen? What’s the secret for overcoming our fear of strangers? Getting to know them. When AJ & I lived in NJ, we were a part of a church that welcomed in a motley crew of Christians. This South Dakota farm girl was intrigued, but also intimidated. Most Sundays during coffee hour, I tried to find a table with familiar faces; I recall one Sunday, however, when I mustered up the courage to sit across the table from a family who recently moved from Indonesia. I was really nervous. I didn’t know a thing about Indonesia. Our skin didn’t look the same, our voices could hardly be recognized by one another; we ate WAY different flavors in food, and I really wasn’t sure what to say. I didn’t know if they spoke any English. After sitting a few minutes in nervous tension, I began to notice the smiles on their faces. And so I smiled too…and I don’t remember what I said or didn’t say that day, but I do know smiling together at coffee hour was enough to make us friends.
AJ & I went on to meet people from SEVERAL different countries and walks of life while in NJ. Here’s the coolest part. Not only did those relationships make it easier to keep choosing love over fear, but they also helped me gain confidence in my ability to see what I hold in common with someone else, more than what makes us different.
You wanna know a secret? Pierre, SD has SO many people from diverse backgrounds if only we have eyes to see and ears to perceive. Here’s what I find myself asking right here: Whose story have I yet to hear that will change me? How can I expand my vision of Christ’s love by engaging my fear with faith? Who might benefit from hearing my story?
Jesus’ ministry unfolded one relationship after the other, ours will too. That’s how it works. We allow faith to lead us toward love more than fear, and gradually- the knowing smiles of a shared experience will shape us into the eclectic, beautiful, gracious community God intends us to be. “Friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.”
Pick one person you’re a little afraid of- and exchange some form of loving action. It could even be anonymous, so long as it’s rooted in the love of Christ, it will be enough to change hearts…yours and theirs alike.
Rev. Emily Munger
delights in connecting sacred texts with everyday life.