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I have come to the conclusion that there are only two reasons for ever doing anything.

One is love, the other is fear.

-Sister Julienne, Call the Midwife

As we continue to consider how Christians should engage in politics - the affairs of our city - I want us to consider a simple question. Am I being led by a genuine love for God and others or am I being led by fear?

Most of the rhetoric I hear online and in the media is about stoking fear, not fostering love. I read an article yesterday that demonized and threatened those who disagreed with the author's view. The entire posture of the piece - shared on a site that claims to be Christian - was fear-based.

I don't normally share long passages of scripture in these weekly emails, but today I invite you to please re-read and consider this chapter from the letter we know as 1 John. (The bolding is my addition.)

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit a of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

When we look at the life of Jesus we see that he never reacted to others out of fear. Not out of fear of death, or fear of the government, or fear of loss of communion with God, or fear of what the religious people would say. He always responded out of love. The early church was not controlled by fear. Early Christians embraced literally being fed to lions before reacting out of fear and fighting to have their "rights" respected. Rather, they loved so radically that Roman leaders eventually were driven to (unsuccessfully) legislate acts of love among their priests. [The closest we have to the use of political means to protect oneself is Paul appealing to Rome for a fair trial, but he spends the entire journey to Rome sharing the love of Jesus to his captors. There is no sense of fear of dying or fighting that indicates anything other than love!]

Here are some practical thoughts, guided by 1 John 4, that may help us live the love of Jesus as we engage in the affairs of our city.

  1. Be careful what water you swim in. (Do not believe every spirit!) Glenn talked about this in last week's message. We all have the tendency to take on the temperature of the water we swim in. If we spend our time with those who are angry and reactionary and afraid, we will adopt those traits! If we spend our time in environments that demand conformity, we will soon be demanding the same conformity and exercising judgementalism, too. If we surround ourselves with others who speak ill of those who disagree with us, we will soon be speaking ill of those others, too. If we swim in waters that intentionally speak of and pursue living out love (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-8) we will find ourselves learning to love better. It is true that our environment shapes us so we need to be very careful to choose environments inhabited by those who reflect Jesus by how they live.
  2. Don't be react. (Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.) In today's divisive and emotionally charged landscape, I find it easy to be reactionary. I respond out of fear rather than tapping into the deep well of God's love. Any time that happens, my response - even if it is logical and truthful - fails to reflect the way of God in our world. It doesn't show or foster love. I have often shared something I learned in the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Course. "If you feel judgemental or defensive when someone else is sharing, ask yourself: I wonder what brought him/her to this belief? I wonder what he/she is feeling right now? I wonder what my reaction teaches me about myself." These questions help move me away from reacting and towards love. 
  3. Lean into love in order to cast out fear. (Perfect love drives out fear.) We are invited, when faced with fear and the temptation to act/react out of it, to bring our fear before the God of love. To sit there with it and with God until one can view things through the lens of love and respond appropriately. This doesn't mean condoning divisiveness or evil. It certainly doesn't mean checking one's mind at the door. Seeing love cast out doesn't mean wise living goes out with it! But it does mean trusting that the way of God - the way of love - really is more powerful than the way of fear.
  4. Consider our speech and actions. Do our (your/my) speech and actions foster love or incite fear? We should take a genuine stock of our reality. (This taking stock needs to be based on credible sources, not the vast trove of unqualified opinion articles, unverifiable tweets, and conspiracy theories floated online - remember point 1!). And sometimes that can be overwhelming and lead us into places of fear. But after we lean into love, how do we speak and act? It should be done in a way that remembers our hope is in Jesus and that nothing "will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Rooted in that love, people should come away from time engaging with us feeling more loved and encouraged toward love in response.

May you find rest in the love of God today and throughout this week. May you breathe deeply of his peace. May his perfect love cast out your fear. And, with God's help, may the world around you know the love of Christ through you.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. -Jesus