It’s Not Complicated
(1 John 4: 7-21)
When somebody says: “It’s complicated,” I think that’s code for “I don’t want to talk about it.” It may be that the issue is more personal than complicated and to talk about it means they’ll have to address the deeper issue. Or, it may mean there is not a good reason or valid explanation. The person doesn’t want to be forced to admit there is no good justification for the why, or the injustice.
Last Sunday I watched a program on Netflix entitled: Long Time Coming. It was a documentary of sorts about a Little League baseball game played in Orlando, Florida in 1955. Little League had made the decision to integrate and allow Afro-Americans to field teams. The problem arose at the end of the season when it came time for the All-Star tournaments that would eventually end up in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, determining who was the best team in the country that year. Who would be the 1955 Little League World Champions? The problem was that there was a black All-Star team from Pensacola that none of the other Florida teams would play because the players were black, and blacks and whites just did not mix. Rather than play a black team the white teams would forfeit which, ironically, allowed the black team to advance up the playoff ladder. Soon, it was time to advance to the next level and travel to Orlando to play the white team that had also advanced to the next level beating all-white opponents. The coach of the white team refused to play but when the rest of his team said they would play, he resigned, and the assistant coach took over. Little boys just want to play baseball. As I watched I wondered what did the white coaches and parents tell their sons about refusing to play baseball against black kids and not advancing in the playoffs? I’m sorry Johnny, it’s complicated.
This, I believe, is what the Apostle John is trying to tell us in our scripture reading for today. Love is not complicated. It may be hard, it may be uncomfortable, it may be painful, it may be unpopular, but it’s not complicated. The love of Jesus Christ is not complicated.
The Apostle John wrote this letter sometime between 85-90 A.D., probably from Ephesus, before he went into exile. It wasn’t written to any church in particular, but, was circulated among the Christian churches. It was written to dispel doubts and build assurance by presenting a clear picture of Christ. John knew Jesus personally and presented the Son of God as light, love and life, keeping it simple.
He starts out by telling us to love each other, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God. He says, the person who doesn’t love does not know God, because God is love. John tells us that this is how the love of God is revealed to us, that God has sent his only Son into the world so that we can live through him. This, he says, is love. It’s not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as the sacrifice that deals with our sins. I would like to think that the parents of the Orlando Little League All-Stars said their boys would play the black team because to refuse to play them based upon the color of their skin would be sinful and not representative of God’s love for all his children, even the black ones. One of the men telling the story was one of the white players and it was his dad who was the assistant coach who took over the team when the head coach quit. He was silent on why they played, and he didn’t say they played because it was the right thing to do. I suspect they played the black team because they didn’t want to forfeit, thereby missing out on an opportunity to play at the next level and maybe get to Williamsport. They did play out of love, but it was for the love of baseball and advancing their team.
John says, dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. If we love each other, God remains in us and his love is made perfect in us. John tells us that this is how we know we remain in him and he remains in us, because he has given us a measure of his Spirit. Everyone believes that love is important, but love is usually thought of as a feeling. In reality, love is a choice and an action. God is the source of our love; He loved us enough to sacrifice his Son for us. Jesus is our example of what it means to love; everything he did in life and death was supremely loving. The Holy Spirit gives us the power to love. The Spirit lives in our hearts and makes us more and more like Christ. In this way, God’s love involves a choice and an action, and our love should be like his.
John tells us that God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them. This, he says, is how love has been perfected in us, so that we can have confidence on the Judgment Day, because we are exactly the same as God is in this world. John says there is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. I think the white teams that forfeited were afraid of losing to the black team. I don’t think the little boys cared one way or another, but I think the deep-seated racial superiority their parents and coaches held was being threatened. A loss to the black team, who they felt was inferior because of the color of their skin, was a possibility they couldn’t reconcile. Not because it was complicated, but because it challenged the love they professed to have every Sunday morning when they went to church and worshipped the God of love. John tells us that the person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love. We love, he says, because God first loved us. If anyone says, I love God, and hates a brother or sister, he is a liar, because the person who doesn’t love a brother or sister who can be seen can’t love God, who can’t be seen. John says, this commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also.
Real love is like God, who is holy, just, and perfect. If we truly know God, we will love as He does. Jesus is the complete expression of God in human form and he has revealed God to us. When we love one another, the invisible God reveals himself to others through us, and his love is made complete. Our job is to love faithfully the people God has given us to love, whether there are two or two hundred of them, or countless others we’ll never see. If God sees that we are ready to love others, he will bring them to us. God’s love is the source of all human love, and it spreads like fire. In loving his children, God kindles a flame in their hearts. In turn, they love others, who are warmed by God’s love through them.
It’s easy to say we love God when that love doesn’t cost us anything more than weekly attendance at religious services. But the real test of our love for God is how we treat the people right in front of us, not just our family members and fellow believers, but also those who are of a different color, from a different country, or worship a different God or whose worship is not like ours. We cannot truly love God while neglecting to love those who are created in his image, even if they are just a little black boy who just wants to play baseball with other little boys.
So, we have to ask ourselves, how do we display our love for God in the choices we make and the actions we take? How do we, Community United Methodist Church, display our love for God in the choices we make and the actions we take here in our community? And, how does the United Methodist Church display its’ love for God in the choices it makes and the actions it takes in our country and around the world.? Being a people who truly love God and who don’t neglect to love those who are created in his image has been a long time coming. It’s not complicated. It’s love.
Please pray with me.
Most gracious and loving God, your love for us is so unconditional that you love us in spite of our shortcomings and failures. We thank you for your Son, our Savior, who taught us by word and deed how to love one another. We thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit who nudges us and moves us to acts of love and kindness. Your love for us is not complicated and in that same way, we should love each other. By loving others as you loved us, you remain is us and your love is made perfect in us. Move us who claim to love you to love our brothers and sisters as you would have us love them, uncomplicated and without reservations. In the name of your most loving son, Jesus Christ, we pray, Amen.