1 John 4:20
Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters,* are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister* whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.
Christianity is very much about love. Love your neighbour as you love yourself; love one another…Love, love, love. We are told again and again that we should love God is love, and because God first loves us, so we should love.
I am sure all of you love, to a greater or lesser extent. I love too, though my love is far from perfect. The passage we read today says, “for those who do not love a brother or sister* whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” Does it make sense to you? Is it easier or more difficult to love those whom we have seen than to love God whom we have not seen?
I am not sure what this passage says is true, at least not in my experience. I can surely love those whom I haven’t seen face to face. Stories of victims of natural disasters move me. I feel sad for them. I even cry because of them. Since we’re approaching June, it’s natural for me, or maybe for many of you as well, to think about what happened 21 years ago in June 4 in China. And I feel a kind of love that there is no way to explain for those who have worked hard, or even sacrifice themselves for democracy in China. I just learned that an LTS graduate of last year had passed away. Her name’s Evan. I didn’t really know her, but I remember her, remember the story she told us in last year’s graduation banquet, how her cancer was affecting her, and how she wished she could see her children grow up.
All these people I don’t really know. And I can tell you it’s easy to love them exactly because we hardly know each other. I have never had quarrels with them. I have never seen the things I don’t like in them. This kind of love is safe, because it’s from a distance. We all know how we treat our family, and those who are the closest to us. We feel less inhibited. We know we can be ourselves, even when our true selves can be hurtful, can be less than beautiful.
Then why does 1 John says “for those who do not love a brother or sister* whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” Maybe it’s not about whether we can love God but not to love our brothers and sisters. Maybe it’s really about what love is. Love is incarnational. Love is embodied. Love is not just some abstract ideas. Love is beautiful; but it is also painful, sweaty, hurtful and makes you cry. Love is when you choose to continue to love even when your family or friends act like your worst enemy. Yes, your worst enemy. And what does it remind us? Think of Jesus. How he died? Why he died? God chose to love us not from a distance, but in close encounter. God became flesh and dwelt among us. Jesus led a life just like yours and mine. He didn’t have a perfect family. He probably had to live his life in the stigma of being born out of wedlock. His disciples were not saints. They quarreled, they were not smart enough to understand their teacher and friend, and one of them even betrayed him. These were the people whom Jesus had seen, face to face. Was it easy to love them? I dare to say no. Is it easy for God to love us? I dare say we don’t really deserve it. Isn’t it amazing that Jesus still did what God the Father sent him to do after spending 33 years in his earthly life among all those less than lovable people? That he’s still willing to die for them on the cross? Isn’t it amazing that God loves us even when we are his worst enemy? Amen!