At 4:38 am the wail of my emergency phone wakes me from sleep. Ugh. Oh. It’s not going to be a “good” morning today. A dispatcher from the Milwaukee Police Department is on the line. “Good morning, pastor. We are in need of some chaplains to respond to a fire.”
Groggily trying to wake myself up, I hold my breath as I ask, “were there any fatalities?”
“No,” she said. And I silently pray, thank God. “But,” she says, “it’s sort of a long story. Officers were at the building investigating a small fire in an apartment that had been put out, when all of a sudden a larger fire began to rage all around the apartment, trapping the officers and this family on the third floor. They eventually all made it out, and are waiting on a deactivated city bus to stay warm. Red Cross says there are over 60 people from the building displaced this morning.”
I tell the dispatcher I am on it, and will get some chaplains to the scene as soon as I can. She thanked me. I make lots of calls. It’s difficult to get a hold of people at that time of the morning, but eventually I get through. And three chaplains, then, were sent to the scene, where they would encounter 60 people, behind the doors of a city bus, trying to stay warm, huddled together, worried, scared, frustrated, anxious about what had happened. About the future too, and what would happen for them.
And three chaplains, then, were sent to the scene, where they would encounter 60 people, behind the doors of a city bus, trying to stay warm, huddled together, worried, scared, frustrated, anxious about what had happened.
What is the chaplain’s task?
And the task for my chaplains? To say, “I know you’re scared, but you’re not alone. We’re going to get you some help.” To lay a gentle hand on a slumped shoulder. To love in truth and action. To help these brothers and sisters in need. I think if there were a book of the Bible that lifted up exactly what The Salvation Army Chaplaincy Program, which I coordinate, was about, I think it would be 1 John.
This Easter season you’ve been hearing (and will continue to hear) readings from 1 John. And if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice he’s sort of on one note … love, love, love. And if 1 John had a theme song, I’m pretty sure it would be Jackie DeShannon’s “What the World Needs Now, Is Love, Sweet Love!
Love is not just a feeling
Yes. What the world needs now is love. But this love isn’t just a feeling. Not romance or sentimentality. Love, true love, isn’t about any of those things. Not the kind of love 1 John is talking about anyway. This love, this agape love that comes from God, that is the mark of a true Christian. What the world needs now is a conscious decision to act for the good of others. Not a feeling, but a decision. Not directed at one person, the object of one’s affection, but directed at all people, for the sake of the good of all your brothers and sisters.
Remember, 1 John was written at a time when there was deep conflict in the early Christian community, in the church. The early believers did not agree on who Jesus was, or about his true nature, so they fought. They fought and tore apart their community. Add on top of that, there were very real dangers of being a believer in an occupied country, where the leaders found you and your new faith community a threat to the status quo. People lived in deep fear, in threat of harm and danger.
And so, trying to instill a little hope, and a little encouragement on how to live, 1 John tells the people [sing] “what the world needs now …” But the thing that strikes me the most is just how little we actually talk about this agape love. After all, what’s probably the most familiar, most popular Christian song we know about love? “Jesus Loves Me,” right?
The song we sing most often about God’s love in Jesus Christ is entirely self-centered. Self-focused. But, the meaning of our lesson here from 1 John is NOT primarily that we each believe that God loves us individually, but love which is not self-centered is not agape. And it is certainly not what 1 John is talking about.
Agape love is not self-focused
Agape is for the good of all. It is a love that builds community – that transforms. It is for the sake of love that God has acted in the world. It’s the kind of love that helps brothers and sisters in need – that cannot just be spoken in words, but must be acted out.
In fact, next week’s lesson from 1 John will talk about God’s love being “perfected” when people love one another. The Greek words here are based on the world telos, which means “goal.” The idea, then, is that God’s love reaches its goal when it creates relationships of love with people and relationships among people. As an abstraction, love falls short of that goal. It is imperfect, but when the love of God finds expression in human love, there the goal is reached.
Agape love, then, true love, is the goal … which is only achieved when we build loving relationships with and among people. Because when we love our brothers and sisters, we drive out fear, live in the truth, and abide in the hopes and dreams God has for us. Which is exactly what the world needs right now [sing] “what the world needs now …”
My chaplains and I try to live that perfected love, in truth and action, by serving at the scenes of traumatic or violent incidents in the City of Milwaukee. By providing emotional and spiritual care when people are most desperately in need of comfort and care. This week first at the scene of a homicide, where a young man was senselessly and randomly cut down by gunfire, and then later at the vigil his family held to remember him. Last week we supported a family who lost a loved one to a drug overdose. And then also when the chaplains cheered each other on as three of their own were recognized with awards for their selfless volunteering to help those in need.
What the world needs now
And so, if what the world really needs right now, is love, sweet love – how are you loving these days? Not just in word or speech, but in truth and action? How is the love of Christ, which you have first been given, transforming you so that you may love one another? Are you going to volunteer for that tutoring program you’ve been meaning to sign up for? Are you going to volunteer at Tosa Cares? Are you going to join the neighborhood block watch and get more involved in your local community? Will you make the sacrifice to give a little more to support the work of ELCA World Hunger, or Planned Parenthood, or the Boys and Girls Club. Something completely different?
Friends, we have a God who has chosen to perfect her love in and through us. A God who loved us so much, he sent his only Son into the world that we might know love more deeply. Yes, what the world needs now is love sweet love. And that love first comes through Christ, and then we have the duty and the joy to share that love with one another. Not just in word or speech, but in truth and action for those brothers and sisters who are most in need.
Yes, what the world needs now, is love, sweet love. Not just for some, but for everyone!
Let it be so, we pray. AMEN
~Pastor Alexis Twito
1 John 3:16-24
We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.
And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.