Reduced to the basics, the Christian life consists of two elements – faith and love.
We are reminded of this in the first letter of John. “This is God’s command, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he commanded us” (1 John 3:23).
We are also reminded of this in Jesus’ summary of the law which we find Matthew 22:37-38: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
You shall love the Lord your God. This is what a relationship with God is about. This means allowing God to be a part of our life. When we’re in relationship with God, we learn to trust God with all aspects of our lives. This is what it means to live in faith. As John says, “to believe in the name of Jesus.”
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We grow in this relationship as we come together as God’s family – the church. We grow in this relationship as we pray and worship together. We grow in this relationship as we listen to and study Holy Scripture – as we allow the word of God to shape our lives. And we grow in this relationship as we live in community – loving and caring for each other.
This leads us to the second element of our life as Christians – love for others. First John says, “Little Children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” It’s nice to hear someone tell you they love you, but you really know that love is real when you experience it though their actions. This kind of love is self-giving – love that serves the other through our actions. Often this kind of love requires sacrifice – giving up of my comfort or wishes for the sake of the other.
This is the kind of love that Jesus gave us when he laid down his life for our sake.
We experience this kind of love with our family and friends. I felt this kind of love recently when my mother cared for me following surgery. She stayed with me while I recovered – caring for me. We also know this kind of love in Christian community. As Christ’s community, we love and care for each other. We listen to those who are lonely. We prepare meals for those who have had a new baby. We take Communion to those who are shut in. But there are even more who we’re called to love – we are called to even love the stranger. You may wonder how we can love one who we don’t know. But this love is not an emotion. It’s an action.
I have seen this kind of love in Fort Mill at the Community Café. Though this ministry, all are invited to a free meal each Wednesday. There I see the love of Christ in those who cook, in those who serve, and in those who give to make this ministry possible.
But love isn’t easy. Sometimes, despite good intentions, we fail. We let fear stop us. We let anger stop us. We let self-doubt stop us. The writer of First John reminds us that our hearts – our emotions – can fail us. But God is greater than our emotions. He is with us. God forgives us when we fail. And he provides us with the strength and courage needed to put his love into action through our lives. This is what it means love in truth and action.
And we are not called to live this life of love by ourselves. Our Lord has given us a community – the church – to help us love. Through the church we are encouraged when times are difficult. Through the church we are prodded to continue to love when we hesitate. And through the church, we are supported even when love seems impossible.
On the cover of the Sunday bulletin at my church, we print our mission statement: “Growing in Christ, Serving his people.” This is the essence of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. To grow in our faith and love of God, revealed to us in his Son. To put that love received into action by serving others. When we do this, we abide in our risen Lord Jesus Christ, and he abides in us.
The Rev. Sally Franklin is rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal church in Fort Mill.