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Second Sunday of Pentecost
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Edward V. S. Moore, June 23, 2019


Perfect Love Casts Out Fear


Text: 1 John 4:7–21

By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. (1 John 4:17–18, ESV)

The theme of this morning’s readings is love. During Trinity season our goal is to grow in holiness, to become more like Christ, our great role model. Yes, and more than that, to let his mind be our mind. There are two dimensions to our love, the vertical, that is our love of God, and the horizontal, our love of our fellow man. But it all begins with God’s love for us. In today’s epistle St. John shows that it is God’s love for all of mankind that is the source of our love for Him and for our neighbor. It is God’s love which empowers us to love our neighbor as ourselves. The gospel reading presents a negative illustration of love of neighbor and the consequences which result.

Love is a subject which has captivated the mind of man throughout history, from the psalms of David and Solomon’s Song of Songs, to the love songs of the troubadours in the Middle Ages, right on down to modern popular music. We are most apt to associate the word with romantic love. But in the Bible there are actually four different types of love described, and each has a different name in the Greek of the New Testament: the word translated as “charity” in the King James version is agape in Greek. Our word charity comes from the Latin word caritas, (charité in French, caridad in Spanish). This agape differs markedly from eros which is sexual love, from storge which is family affection, and from philia, which is friendship. All four kinds of love are good and have their appropriate places in human relations. But the best of these is agape because it is the kind of love that God offers us and the very same which exists between the members of the Holy Trinity. It is right, good, and appropriate in all situations. Agape is self-giving love. It has no selfish motive or goal to seek. It seeks only the good of its object. St. Paul summarizes the characteristics of this self-giving agape in his first letter to the church at Corinth,

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:4–8)

In today’s epistle, St. John focuses on the principle of love as a rule for life, while the gospel demonstrates the opposite of love in action and the consequences of both. St. John tells us that in order to love, we must know God, for God is love. He also tells us that love is manifested in action. The greatest act of love on God’s part was sending his Son into the world so that men might have life. Jesus himself said, “I have come that they (men) might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). In this passage Jesus was contrasting the Good Shepherd and the Thief and their relationship to the sheep. His statement certainly implies that had he not come, we would not have the kind of life which is possible for those who abide in Him. Without the shepherd to care for the sheep they would be at the mercy of the thief (Satan). St. Paul tells us that we should follow God’s example. “…be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1–2). One of the Church Fathers says that,

Because God is love, the one who lives in love reaps the fruit of life from God. While still in this world, he even now breathes the air of the resurrection. (Isaac the Syrian, ACCS, NT Vol XI, p. 213)

To return to the divine initiative, God sent His Son that we might have life by being saved from our sins. Not that we were deserving of being saved, far from it. The Venerable Bede estimates this to be the greatest sign of God’s love: that even though hopelessly dead in our sins, we may receive forgiveness by believing that Jesus was sent by God to bring mankind back into fellowship with Him. (ibid., p. 213)

How do we know if we have the love of God in us, you might ask?

After all, God cannot be seen with the eye; but the fruit of his Spirit can be seen in the lives of His people. This is what St. Paul was referring to when he said of the Corinthian Christians: “You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all.” (2 Corinthians 3:2). In fact, if we love one another, we are Christ’s ambassadors. The function of an ambassador is to communicate faithfully the message of one head of state to another. The gospel is the message of our LORD, Yahweh Sabaoth, to mankind. As his ambassadors our lives should bear witness to the truth of that message. Our credentials are guaranteed by His Spirit dwelling in us and we in Him. The Holy Spirit effects our union with God. Faith in him allows us to confess that Jesus is the Son of God. If we are abiding in love (God is love) we are abiding in God. Love’s fruit in us is our confidence for the day of judgment. It should be emphasized here that our confidence is in God not man. (ibid. p. 205) This truth is of paramount importance. Why do I say that?

Because there is a danger that we must pay serious attention to. That is giving in to the paralysis of fear. Fear can tempt us to refrain from acts of love. But fear of what or of whom? What do I mean by fear? Fear of God is healthy and can be a strong motivator. Fear of punishment on the day of judgment gradually gives way as we gain confidence in God’s love for us, as His love is perfected in us. But part of that journey involves becoming confident that God really loves us and still allows us to experience pain and sorrow. As we hear in the absolution for Morning Prayer, God desires not the death of a sinner but rather that he may turn from his wickedness and live.

Far more dangerous as an inhibitor of good works is fear of man. Fear of man can deter us from acting out of love for others, from doing or saying what is in their best interest. An example from the Bible is St. Peter’s desire to please the Judaizers at Antioch. These were Jewish Christians who believed that to become a Christian one first had to become a Jew. To please them Peter refrained from eating with the Gentile Christians in that community. This brought a strong rebuke from St. Paul, reminding Peter that we Christians are justified by the faith of Jesus Christ and not by works of the law (Galatians 2:14–16). In our own times, we can all cite examples of people who have allowed peer pressure to influence them to disavow God’s truth (U2 & abortion) or to avoid commitment to others to avoid “a failed relationship.” It is well to remember that man can kill the body but not the soul. Perfect love casts out all fear. As we gain the confidence of being saved on the last day, and keep our focus on that goal, the fear of man is cast out, its power over us recedes like a bad cramp when it lets go of us.

What is our part in bringing the love of God to perfection in our lives? Do we play a role?

Jesus gives us the command which St. John is referring to in his letter: “Love one another as I have loved you.” This command extends to all men, not just to those whom we love naturally, like our family members and friends, but also to the unlovely and the unlovable, and those who do not wish us well. This love requires risk-taking commitment and effort. Is there a chance that others may let us down? There sure is! Remember that the Lord has said: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5). Hold on to that promise in times of trouble and doubt.

Today’s gospel provides a negative example of love in action. It recounts the failure of a man to love because he is so self-absorbed and concerned with his image, what others may think of him. It is the parable of Dives and Lazarus. The Latin word Dives is descriptive rather than being a personal name. It simply means “rich man”. The rich man in the parable refuses to give alms to, or even take notice of, a poor man outside his door who is afflicted by sores. In contrast to the rich man, this poor man is pathetic and pitiable. Yet Jesus tells us his name, suggesting that he is important in God’s sight and that his name is written in heaven. The rich man’s name is not recorded in Scripture or in the Lamb’s Book of Life in heaven. The name Lazarus means “one who has been helped.” Although the rich man refused to help Lazarus, he received divine aid: at his death he was carried to paradise, to the bosom of Abraham. The image is striking. Jesus uses figurative language here to describe the great chasm, greater than the Grand Canyon, that exists between the torment of hell with its fire and the consolation of the bosom of Abraham. Lazarus, a poor man of faith, is received by Abraham, a rich man of faith. The rich man feasted on earth, but Lazarus now feasts in heaven as his soul finds rest. The rich man is burning in the fires of hell while he can see the fountains of paradise on the other side of the chasm. Abraham, who had mercy on Sodom, is not able to show mercy to this rich man. He now desires a drop of water, when during his life he would not give Lazarus as much nor even a crumb from his table.

What sin is the rich man guilty of? It is the sin of pride which prevented him from having any thought of compassion or mercy toward Lazarus’ in his miserable state. By contrast, the dogs show him kindness by licking his sores. Jesus is not criticizing wealth here but greed. Both Abraham and Dives were rich. The one was a man of great faith who possessed wealth. The second, a man of no faith who was possessed by wealth. Jesus uses fire to represent hell and water to represent paradise. Fire to represent hate and water to represent love. These pairs are incompatible. Thus, there is an unbridgeable gap between the two locations and their respective representative elements.

The Rich Man, realizing full well where he is, and why he is there, continues nevertheless to despise Lazarus. “Send Lazarus,” he says to father Abraham. Then he thinks of his five brothers with whom he had probably made fun of the prophets. They may have mocked the idea of rewards for righteous conduct and punishments for wrongdoing. Like some rich people they did not believe there was life after death. Now the Rich Man wants Father Abraham to send Lazarus to his father’s house to warn his brothers of the reality that awaits them. Abraham replies that not having believed Moses and the prophets, they would not believe the truth even if someone returned from the dead as a witness. Ironically, this is precisely the reaction of many Jews to Jesus’ resurrection. Although God’s grace is necessary for us to believe in him, an act of our will is necessary to appropriate that faith. C.S. Lewis says of loving one another:

Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less. (Mere Christianity, bk. III, chap. 9, para. 5, p. 116, quoted in The Quotable Lewis, p. 400).

Happily, for those who have put their trust in God, today’s collect sums up their position with respect to Him. As we trust in Him, He strengthens us. Because of our weakness we cannot do good without God’s help. The goodness of our deeds is rooted in our love of God, not in any merit we might have. Otherwise, they would be totally selfish. So our fervent prayer is for God’s help to be able to follow His commandments. Our motivation is to please God both in our intentions, or desires, and in the corresponding deeds. We want our practice to follow our profession. The assurance we have is that the Holy Spirit in us is holding us up as we abide in God in order not to fall. His perfect love casts out all fear and sustains us.

Please pray with me in the words of the Psalmist (Psalm 107):

We give thanks to you, O Lord, for you are gracious, and your mercy endures forever.

You have brought us out of darkness and the shadow of death into the marvelous light of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

You have filled our souls and spirits with your love that we might return it to you and share with it with others.

We praise you Lord for your goodness, and we vow to declare the wonders you do for all men!

Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Amen.

©2019 Rev. Edward V. S, Moore

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