Happy All Saints day!! A message today about coming out of the darkness and into the light. How do we know it is no longer night, but the new day has finally dawned? When we can look into the face of any other person, and know that we seeing our own sister or brother…
Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. We’ve had this command from the beginning. What beginning? The beginning of our being human, the beginning of our living together in civilization, the beginning of our trying to get along with one another and not kill one another.
At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
We are to love and care for our brother. But the question we always have is – who is my brother? “Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”” Genesis 4:9 ESV. “Am I my brothers keeper? Isn’t this supposed to be about rugged individualism, God? Aren’t we supposed to pull our own selves up by our bootstraps? What is this, some kind of welfare state? Am I my brothers keeper?” As a matter of fact Cain, yes you are.
How do we know if we’ve left the dark night and entered the new day of Christ? We love our brother. The light of Christ is love. Love is the new light. Love is the Royal Law. It’s not a sentimental feeling, but compassionate action. It is very clear in Christ that we are to love our brothers and sisters.
But our question is always the same – who are our brothers and sisters?? Are we trying to get out of something? It’s like we are constantly asking this question – “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”” Luke 10:29 ESV. To which Jesus answers with the parable of the Good Samaritan. A parable whose question really is “How do you react when you find out your enemy loves you?” Jesus gives us this parable to deconstruct our walls and our boundaries, to break us free from those chains of “I can love these but not those…“. We want to put up walls and strengthen our boundaries, Jesus comes in with his sledgehammer and tears them down.
Some would say that it’s only our Christian brothers and sisters that John is telling us we need to love. You can make that argument if you want to. There is a very real , very particular sense of brotherhood and sisterhood among Christian believers. But to say that we are NOT obligated to love those who are not Christians, that is dangerous territory. We CAN make that argument. But do we WANT to make that argument. SHOULD we make that argument? Do we want to make the case that any others, non-Christians, aren’t our brothers and sisters?
Both Paul and John have references in their writings that all of humanity are the children of God. Because we are. So, do we really want to say that no one else is our brother? Do we say that Jews are not our brothers and sisters? Muslims – not our brothers? Hindus, Buddhists, maybe the guy down the block who’s not particularly Christian, all not our brothers?
St Francis of Assisi, for one, looked at every person as his brother or sister. He would even refer to the mountains as Brother Mountain, the moon as Sister Moon. He had a real sense of everything and everyone in creation being connected. Which we really are. We even share 1/2 our DNA with the banana you had for breakfast.
So when we want to ask “Who is our brother?“, the one we should be asking is Jesus. The moment we entertain the idea that some other group of people does not bear the image of God, are not the children of God, we are opening a very dangerous door. It’s the door to hate. It’s the door to racism. It’s the door to torture, to war, to apartheid, to Hiroshima, to Nagasaki. It’s the door to genocide, to Auschwitz, to Treblinka. It’s the door that gets opened when WE say some are not the children of God. Refusing to acknowledge others as brothers is the deadly door opened by Cain.
Let’s read more of what John said. “For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother…” 1 John 3:11-12 ESV. Again, who is my brother? Your brother is the one you should not kill!! Well, who should we kill? I’ll let you and Jesus think about that one for a while…
Meanwhile…“If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” 1 John 4:20-21 ESV. He who says he loves God but does not love his brother is a liar. These are not my words, but the apostle Johns’ words. The one who does not love his brother is lying mostly to himself. We all, always, think that we are the ones who love God. But we are lying to ourselves. If we don’t love our brother, and by brother I mean the jackass around the corner, the jerk at work, the one who cut you off in traffic this morning, if you don’t love that brother whom you can see, then how can you say you love God whom you can’t see?? John knows that we are always in danger of crafting and following our own invisible God in our own image, who looks and thinks and acts just like me, and that is idolatry. And it is idolatry which is the root of just about every sin there is…
So why, exactly, does not loving my brother mean that I don’t love God? What is John’s logic here? Of course I love God!! I’ve never seen him, but I know I love Him!! So what if I don’t love that guy up the street, he’s a jerk!! So what if I hate my boss?? What does that have to do with loving God? BECAUSE YOUR BROTHER, WHOM YOU CAN SEE, WHOM YOU HATE, BEARS THE IMAGE OF GOD. It may be distorted, it may be marred (just as it is distorted and marred in all of us), it may be hard to recognize. But understand this – even ISIS believes that they love God. They believe that all they do is done for the love of God. But something has gone terribly wrong. They have lied to themselves because they have failed to recognize the image of God in every person. You can not wantonly harm other people who bear the image of God and then turn around and say you love God. We both bear the family resemblance, the image of God, no matter how distorted it is.
Here is a Jesus truth that will set you free – we do not love God any more than we love our neighbor. Jesus says the two great commandments are “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”” Matthew 22:37-40 ESV. John further explains this to let us know that it’s the latter that proves the former. We only know that we love God by our love for our neighbor.
Of course, Jesus stretches this definition of brother all the way to loving our enemies, extinguishing all doubt. We ask the question “Who is my neighbor?” To which Jesus answers with the parable of the Good Samaritan, by which he simply makes explicit “Love your enemies.” We prefer to define our neighbor over loving him. Jesus says any way we might find to define our neighbor, love your enemy.
“Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.”
1 John 2:7-11 ESV