September 2016: Love is mutual

The following is an excerpt from Love is a Verb: A one-year spiritual practice resource, written by Leo Hartshorn. The resource explores the 2017 convention theme Love is a Verb through the lens of Richard Foster’s six spiritual streams. Download the entire booklet from the Mennonite Church USA resource center.

LV_simple-01Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling. … All who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters. For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. —1 John 2:10; 3:10b-11 (NRSV)

They’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love. I remember singing this song by Peter R. Scholtes in the early 1970s around a log fire in the mountains of Big Bear Lake in California with a combined youth and college-age church group. The warmth of the cabin fireplace amid the winter snow, the smiling faces of Christian friends lit by the flickering flames and the soothing melody of the song nurtured my Christian idealism. They made me believe that Christians truly loved one another and others would see that love among us. I committed myself to Christian ministry during that time in my life over 40 years ago. Since then the words of that song have gotten torn, battered about and contradicted. My wider experiences in life and the church have at times caused me to question whether or not others will know us Christians by our love. Still, even with all the church fights, splits, complaining, bitterness and hypocrisy I have experienced, I still believe that core truth — that Christians are to be known by our love for one another. The writer of 1 John believed that loving one another was at the core of the community’s faith in Christ. Over and over again the writer points to the theme of loving one another. Like the Gospel of John, this epistle reflects a dualism of sharp contrasts — an either/or way of thinking. Those who love one another walk in the light of God. Those who do not love one another walk in darkness and are not of God.

Although this was a verbal attack on those who left the Johannine community, it still has a message for us today. Love is a verb. Love is mutual. Love is light. If we walk in the light, there is no cause for stumbling. Church splits, accusations and condemnations of brothers and sisters in Christ dim the light of God within the church and cause us to stumble along the way.

Without active love for one another, the church is not walking in the light of God, and the church is not showing God to the world.

“You are the light of the world!” Jesus says. (Matthew 5:14) Now is the time to live in the light of the words of that campfire song: They will know we are Christians by our love.