“Beloved let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)
There are a lot of similarities between the Gospel of John and the Epistle of John ‒ similar writing style, similar content... so similar in fact, that it’s commonly believed they are the same author. Traditionally, the Gospel of John and the Epistles of John are attributed to John the Evangelist, the youngest disciple of Jesus.
Today’s passage in 1st John picks up on the message Jesus delivers in the farewell discourse in John’s Gospel chapters 13 and 15. In the Gospel of John, Jesus instructs his disciples to “love one another as I have loved you.” In the Epistle of John, the writer expands upon that message, taking on the voice of Jesus himself, to show continuity between his message and the one delivered by Jesus. His hope is to underscore the importance of us loving each another. Those who know, and love God must love one another too. It’s not an option – it’s central to being the Church – the Christian community. And the reason he does this is because it’s easier to love God, who is mysterious and unseen, but much harder to love one another.
So, 1 John 4 is the crescendo of John’s message in this epistle. It pulls together several themes already touched upon earlier and delivering it in a way that is memorable. Some suggest these verses are actually delivered in the form of a poem or a hymn stanza to make it more memorable:
Beloved, let us love one another because love is from God.
And each one who loves has been begotten from God and knows God.
8The one who does not love did not know God because God is love.
9In this, the love of God was revealed to us:
His Son, the Unique-One, God has sent into the world so that we might live through him.
10In this, love is:
Not that we ourselves have loved God, but that he himself loved us and sent his Son,
a means of forgiveness concerning our sins.
11Beloved, if thusly God loved us also we ourselves ought to love one another.
So, at the heart of John’s sermon is the admonition to love one another. And only then, at the very end of his sermon, does John move on to tackle the issue of fear. Having repeatedly affirmed their identity as children of God, and beloved, he moves to address the single biggest obstacle to love – our fear. Our fear of strangers, our fear of those who are different from us, who speak differently, think differently, believe differently, vote differently, come from a different generation. “There is no fear in love,” says John, “but perfect love casts out fear.” He’s not condemning us for fears (we all have fears), he is simply encouraging us to push beyond those fears to show love to people so that the community of faith can reflect the image of God, which is love. And isn’t that what Jesus did? He loved all people regardless of how different they were and even gave up his life in love for us.
Imagine if we lived by this love as a church each day! Imagine how attractive this church would be to others! We would be a bright beacon of light in this neighborhood... because the universal hunger of the human heart is love! That’s what people are craving, but for too many, the universal condition in life is loneliness. People are often lonely and lack community and friendship today. Oh, we are more connected than ever – we have cell phones, Facebook and Twitter and social media galore, but face to face connections are at an all-time low. People have fewer friends.
I’m hearing this message quite regularly now from a variety of venues. It’s even in social media. Just this week someone posted the following video on Facebook. It was created by a NC group known as The Power of Positivity, who are seeking to impact the world by changing minds/thought processes one person at a time.
(Play the video: ‘Have We Forgotten How to make Friends?’)
Even politicians are saying it’s so! Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Montana has written a new book entitled “Them: Why we Hate Each Other and How to Heal”, which touches on the problem of loneliness too. He says that Americans are richer, more informed and connected than ever, but also unhappier, more isolated and less fulfilled. We have fewer non-virtual (flesh and blood) friends today than at any point in decades. He claims that: “there is a growing consensus that loneliness – not obesity, cancer or heart disease – is the nation’s number one health crisis,” and that persistent loneliness is as physically dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and contributes to cognitive decline as well! So, despite being digitally connected, our nation is “parched for genuine community.”
Even the Washington Post points to our loneliness. Back in January 2017, the Washington Post Magazine’s top article was entitled “The Loneliest Whale in the World?” Scientists use hydrophones (underwater microphones) to track the movement of whales around the world. Most Blue and Fin Whales have voices around the 15-25 Hz range, but this whale had a voice range of 52 Hz. Scientist William Watkins recorded the whale for the first time in September of 1989 and every fall after for the next 12 years as it traveled down the coast. Watkins published his findings about the whale in the journal of Deep-Sea Research in 2004 and, surprisingly, it captured the interest, not of scientists but of the general public. Whales are social animals and people were concerned that this whale was not being heard by his species because he was calling out at a different frequency than all the others. He was given a name ‒ 52 Hz – and he was given an identity ‒ the loneliest whale in the world because he was calling out into the deep void and not being heard.
People began to identify with this 52 Hz... a singer in Michigan wrote a kid’s song about the whale’s plight, an artist in upstate NY made a sculpture of a whale out of recycled plastic, a playwright wrote a one-act play about the whale, music videos were devoted to it, there was even a documentary done about 52Hz! (If you go online you can view the preview.)
What’s with all the fascination with this whale? Joshua Zeman, director of the documentary, says it’s not really about the whale at all... in fact scientists think the whale can be heard by other whales and vice versa, so isn’t experiencing loneliness at all. Zeman says, “I think that people are transferring their own loneliness onto this creature. We eschew real interpersonal face to face relationships in favor of 140-character anecdotal relationships.” So, the whale simply is the conduit through which people can resonate with their own loneliness. They feel like a whale calling out in the vast sea of their own busy lives and hearing nothing back... not connecting.
It’s ironic really – in an age of digital connectivity, when the average person checks their phone every 4.3 minutes, sending dozens of emails, and scores of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat posts daily, that there should be such prevailing feelings of disconnect and loneliness. But that is what this article is saying! Our population identifies with 52Hz – calling out and not being heard.
And if that is so, where is the good news for people today? It’s where it has always been – in Jesus Christ. The church of Jesus Christ can answer that lonely call and can fill the empty voids with the love of Christ. The church offers friendship and fellowship to people disconnected or poorly connected in our age, because the church is called to be an inclusive community of faith – to meet people where they are and invite them into relationship with God and his people.
And we do this primarily through face-to-face interaction – by personal invitation... over the back in the coffee shop with friends, or at work with colleagues – wherever we happen to meet them, and we not only extend an invitation, but we might ever offer to pick them up and bringing them here. The Church has not lost sight of the importance of face-to-face presence when it comes to building relationships and making connections. We understand that Christian fellowship and Christian community has always been expressed incarnationally (in person), not digitally or virtually, which is why God sent his Son in the flesh to be with us. (God did not tweet us or send us a post) because love is best expressed in person and loneliness is best remedied with human contact. So, one of the best ways to administer God’s love is through koinonia ‒ Christian fellowship. And I’ll bet each one of you knows someone that you could stop by and visit this very day and just by showing up could alleviate their loneliness. That’s the love of Christ at work!
One of my favorite Fred Craddock stories is about a lunch he shared with a widow following church. He was the guest preacher at this church and after the service she offered him lunch. They went to her house and she told him to go into the den and read the paper or watch some TV while she set the table. She put on her apron and busied herself in the dining room. He followed her in there and saw her pulling out a white tablecloth with creases in it 2 inches thick. He said, “We usually just eat at the kitchen table at lunch.” She got out the fine china, and silver cutlery and started organizing each place setting. He said, “We usually just sit at the kitchen table for lunch.” “Uh huh,” she said. She pulled out linen napkins and placed then in silver napkin rings and then went to the buffet and took out long stemmed glasses to drink from. “Just two of us we usually just eat at the...”
She said, “Why don’t you just go into the den and I’ll call you when it’s time.” He said, “I was just going to suggest that...” and away he went.
When table was set, and the food was served, she called him to the table and they both sat down at the table together. And before she said grace, she looked at him with level gaze and said, “There are precisely twice as many people at this table today than there have been in ages.” And they ate and fellowshipped together in that dining room with stemmed glasses and linens napkins... and the Lord was present among them.
“Beloved, let us love one another because love is from God.”