Pastor Mark Anderson, Lutheran Church of the Master, Corona del Mar, California
The little letter of 1st John has a lot to say about love. Some of what it tells us is pure Gospel. It tells us that God is love. It points to Jesus Christ as the great expression of that love for us. It tells us that before we loved God, God loved us and that we may love only because God first loved us. This kind of talk can get the faithful heart to skipping!
But… and there is a but… 1st John also lays down the law. “… if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” Or this, “And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also.” ‘Ought’ and ‘should’, the very essence of law language. And then there is that section that titles this piece for today,“…perfect love casts out fear…he who fears is not perfected in love”. That one pretty much puts the nail in the coffin for me. If the absence of fear means loving perfectly, and if perfected love is to be my project in this life, that is a mountain I am not prepared to
Speaking for myself, fear to one degree or another has been an unwelcome companion on my life’s journey as far back as I can remember. And I suspect you are not much different. If I am to measure how loving I am by the absence of fear, well that seems to me to be a prescription for never quite arriving. So when John starts in about perfect love casting out fear and being perfected in love we need to do some thinking about what this actually means. We need to distinguish law and gospel.
Should we, ought we be more loving? Of course! To love God and the neighbor as the self fulfills the entire law. If we were all perfected lovers this place would be the Garden of Eden. But I know of only one perfect love and that, of course, is God’s love.
If we are speaking of God’s love casting out fear so that faith may abide, that is something I can get behind. The pressures and demands of the moment, my shortsightedness in the face of the daily distresses of life, churn up fears like a blender at times. This is to be expected in this life. At the same time, there is a calm, a patience that faith gives which the Pandora’s box of the world’s fears cannot effect. At the heart of that faith is the love of God, that grace and mercy in Jesus Christ that we often
like to summarize as the ‘peace that passes all understanding’ – and calms our fearful hearts.
“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”