A Matter of Love & Hate
I John 4:7-12
Sunday, April 29, 2018
In the 1940s, in the midst of World War II, BBC Radio in England invited Oxford Professor C.S. Lewis to give a series of lectures to be broadcast over the air focused on the essence of the Christian faith. At the time, both England and the world were living through extremely dark days. The very existence of civilization was in question and the atrocities being committed by the Nazis in Germany were in many ways like nothing civilized society had known until that time or since. In turn, Lewis’ radio addresses were very needed. For some, they offered a call to faith for the very first time. And, for just as many other folks, they offered the needed reminder of the essence of who we are to be as God’s children.
When collected together, these radio addresses became arguable C.S. Lewis’ most famous book which we call today Mere Christianity. Mere Christianity remains a wonderfully concise work that many still read, discuss and love. One of the chapters in the book is called Charity which at the time was a common synonym in England for the word love. In that chapter, Lewis says something that I find very helpful as we seek to think about love for a few moments this morning particularly in light of today’s text from I John 4.
What Lewis points out that I find so helpful is that when it comes to love, sometimes our heart shapes our actions and at other times our actions shape our hearts. Again Lewis was speaking in the midst of World War II. In turn, he used as his example the dreadful treatment of the Jewish people by the Nazis. He said that at first their ill treatment of the Jews was a result of the hate that existed in their hearts for the Jewish people. Yet, over time, it was one act of evil on top of another act of evil that led to an all consuming hatred in their souls that was completely out of control. In other words, their behavior had every effect on the deepening conviction of their hearts.
Lewis used the example of the Nazis because he believed the opposite is true too. In our text for today, God calls us to treat everyone in a loving way. Love and acts of love go hand in hand according to I John. For C.S. Lewis if we will just set out to do good things, even to our enemies, over time, we can develop a love for them.
A heart full of love can develop as a result of loving actings just as a heart of hate can and often does follow one evil moment stacked on top of another. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Touchstone, 1996, pages 115-118)
So, how do we foster a heart of love even for those whom we find unlovable? We do it, one behavior at a time. In turn, let me quickly suggest to all of us three loving acts that ultimately cannot help but lead in many cases to love in our hearts.
First, we must pray for those that we find hard to love. When I say this, I don’t mean that we should simply pray that they would change their ways or find the ability to be nice to us. No, I mean that we should simply pray for them, for their families, their relationship with God and for their well-being. The more we are willing to pray for those that we find unlovable the easier it will become to feel very differently about them.
Second, we must talk to those that we find hard to love. One of the reasons that we often dislike others is that we don’t truly know them. I have found over the years that one of the best things I can do as it relates to those that I struggle with is to purposely make it a point to engage them in conversation any time we are at the same event together. Often times, it is through these casual conversations that I get to know them and they me. Many times, this is a small act that ultimately and over time begins to change my heart.
Third, we should, from time to time, do something nice for those we find hard to love. One of the truest and most important statements for you and I as people of faith to embrace is the idea that while we can’t control what other people do, we can control ourselves. No, we can’t control other’s words or their actions but we are fully in charge of our own. In turn, so often, when we offer a nice gesture that is as basic as thanking someone for something they have done, sending them a quick text to tell them we are praying for them or treating them unexpectedly to something they might enjoy – it helps. It may not help them, but mysteriously it helps us.
Again, as I John suggests and as C.S. Lewis said, our heart and our hands go together. Yes, our heart motivates our hands but let us never forget that our hands, which is to say our actions, also motivate our hearts.
One of the most famous Christian writers of the last twenty five years is Frederick Buechner. Ordained as a Presbyterian minister and now 91 years of age, Buechner was the product of a challenging childhood. In fact, his father committed suicide in the garage of their family’s home when he could not find a job during the years of the Great Depression. For years after, when Buechner was asked how his father died, he would reply with these words, “he died of heart trouble…he had a heart and it was troubled.” (As told by John Claypool in Mending The Heart, Cowley, 1999, pg. 3)
Truth be told, we all have “heart trouble”. All of us have troubled hearts at times regarding how we feel about ourselves and at other times related to how we feel about others. These pains don’t go away easy and despite what some suggest there is no magic potion or quick fix. But I do believe that in light of I John 4 that doing loving acts is a good way to help develop a heart of love. It can happen one act and one day at a time.
Today, through this bread and this cup we celebrate the way that Jesus loved us and we pray that we can find a similar ability to love one another. Amen.