Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Don't Be Afraid...To Love

Ash Wednesday
March 9, 2011
1 John 4:18-21
"Don't Be Afraid…To Love"

Introduction: On this Ash Wednesday evening we set our sights towards Jesus' trip to the cross. During these next 40 days we will be looking at exactly what Jesus had done for us to redeem us.

For our mid-week Lenten services we will turn to the theme "Don't Be Afraid."

What a fitting theme this is for us to consider for there are so many people in our world who are living their lives in fear. Some live in fear of what tomorrow will bring. Then, there are those who are afraid of loosing a job due to down sizing or a loosing family member or a friend due to serious injury or death. During these forty days of Lent we will be looking squarely at our fears.

Tonight, we look at the fear of offering and obligating ourselves to love. Some are simply afraid to love because of what has happened to them in the past when they have opened themselves up to others and found themselves misunderstood, and in some cases rejected.

Our text for this evening tells us simply that we don't have to be afraid to love. The reason for this is that God in Christ was not afraid to love. If we look at the life of Jesus we will quickly see that He showed love to all men. Christ showed His love to those who were considered to be "unlovable."

It is quite interesting to see that Jesus was criticized for loving those who were rejected and forgotten by others. The Pharisees, who were always trying to fault Jesus, who, on more then one occasion, criticized Jesus for eating with and associating with tax collectors and sinners.

Yet Jesus' love was never selective, or circumstantial, as our love tends to be when we put limitations on our love saying, in essence, "I will love you if you do certain things for me "or" I will love you if you love me first". Contrary to our often-circumstantial love Jesus showed love even to those who rejected Him and nailed Him to a cross. This is the first reason why we don't have to be afraid to love for we see that while even Jesus' disciples were often self-seeking and loveless Jesus loved them to the end.

Jesus never once refused to love, even when His disciples forsook Him and turned their backs and ran from the Garden. Jesus continued to love.

While we were yet sinners, separated by guilt and the shame of sin, Christ Jesus loved us. Even before we loved Him, Christ was intent on expressing His love for us by going the way of the cross to suffer and die for us. Even before we loved Him, Christ was intent on expressing His love for us by going the way of the cross to suffer and die for us.

Jesus loved you so much that He sacrificed Himself for you. He died in your place. Recall, once again, the words of our text for this night "We love because He first loved us". What that simply means is that Jesus is the one who initiates us to love. Because He moves and directs us, He enables us to love. Jesus' pattern of love becomes our pattern to love. Because Jesus loved, we are able to love.

It is at this precise point where fear enters our minds and when we so often fall short. There are some people in our lives that, quite frankly, just rub us the wrong way. Possibly they have hut us in the past. There may be some that we have tried to love, but we couldn't get through. To those who have hurt us, to those who have ignored us, to those who seem indifferent, we simply say, " I am unable to love you!"

Then fear comes! We become afraid of opening ourselves to others and letting them know just how we really feel. Will they listen? Will they understand? Will they close themselves off when they see what I'm really like?

What do we do? Moved out of fear of not being loved we can quickly become phony and plastic where we paint a picture of ourselves that really isn't true because we're afraid we won't be loved.

We see this in relationships where people break and drift apart because one or both people were not completely honest with each other. How many times have we found ourselves disappointed because we were acting and playing a role in the hopes that the other person would accept us but the acceptance didn't come, or, if it came, it didn't last?

While all of us have been afraid to love, or have failed to love out of fear that we wouldn't be loved in return wed can find reassurance and hope in our text on this Ash Wednesday night.

If God wasn't timid about opening His heart to us in love, then we don't have to be timid about showing love to others, for there is no fear in love.

What John is saying is that the more we love the less we will have to fear. One of the purposes of God's love is to free us from the fear of the judgment that is to come.

That is why Jesus came, to suffer and die for us so that we could be freed from our fears and made able to love as we ought. Jesus Christ came into this world to die on the cross. There, at the cross, He hailed all of our fears to the cross once and for all.

As we begin then to reflect on Christ's suffering and death we remember that because of God's love for us we really have nothing to fear. As Jesus Christ came and conquered all, you and I can remain confident in the love of God that we are free even in our relationship with others.

The love that we show to people is actually the love of God acting in us. It is Christ living in us that enables us to love, even those who we often find difficult to love. What's more, the love of God in us enables us to love openly and freely and in a genuine way without any worry of our rights and privileges being taken for granted.

What this simply means is that the love of Christ dwelling in us will be able to stand and bear up to the criticisms of other people. As Jesus Christ lives in us, each and every day of our lives, the love of God, which was demonstrated through the life and death of His Son is being perfected in us.

What that means for you and me is that if God has shown His love toward us by sending us His Son, and if the love of God dwells in us, then what else can we do but love?

Sure, it will sometimes be difficult to love. Love is not always nice or pleasant. Sometimes love has to be firm and tough. Sometimes it isn't easy to condemn that which is wrong in the sight of God. Speaking in love might make us feel at times uneasy and sometimes some people become angry at that expression of love. However, words that are spoken in love, and deeds that are performed out of love will always prevail.

St. Paul quite possibly put it best when he wrote to the Corinthian congregation: "These three will always remain…faith, hope, and love and the greatest of these is love"
Don't be afraid to love!

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