St. Augustine preached a sermon that has come to be known as “The Love Sermon.” The Scripture was from I John. One line of that sermon has become fairly well-known, frequently quoted, and often misinterpreted. Augustine said, “Love and do what you will.” Over time, the expression has morphed. “Will” has been translated as “please,” so instead of “do what you will” it has been quoted as “do what you please.” Hear the difference? “Love God and do as you please” could be interpreted to mean the same thing as “Love and do what you will” but it has also been interpreted to mean “as long as you love, do whatever you want.” That is not what Augustine or John meant. Augustine and John are teaching us that when we love, our will, our desire is to keep God’s commandments to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love one another as Jesus has loved us.
William Barclay says that “Obedience is the only proof of love. We cannot prove our love to anyone in any other way than by seeking to please him and to bring him joy.” We won’t do it perfectly, but we will try and practice and when we fail, we will try again.
I was watching figure skating the other night, pairs skating. The commentators were excited over one particular couple. They were in perfect unison. Complicated footwork, lift and a toss into the air with three rotations before he caught her – he threw her so high – side-by-side triple sow cow, all with grace and artistry, and then the triple lutz, a throw jump, I expected a beautiful rotation and landing, and then suddenly I realized she was sitting on the ice. She fell. There, at the Olympics in the middle of an incredible routine, she fell. What I noticed, though, was that she popped back up, it looked like she barely touched the ice, and they went on, continuing to strive for gold.
We aren’t always going to land our love perfectly, either. We will fall. But if we love God, we will seek to obey his commandments. We will commit to popping right back up and continuing to strive for what John calls, “the victory that overcomes the world, our faith.”
Over the next two weeks, NBC networks will air 631.5 hours of coverage of the Winter Olympics on television. But, if that’s not enough, NBCOlympics.com and NBC Sports App will show a combined 1800 hours of streaming coverage. Why? Because we want to watch it. We want to watch Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla pull away from the other skaters, see her grimace turn into a smile. And I don’t know about you, but I am tempted to cheer with her as she pumps her arms as she crosses the finish line. Victory! She conquered it! She must have felt on top of the world.
John writes, “Love of God is keeping God’s commandments, and God’s commandments are not burdensome to keep because all born of God conquer the world! And this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith” – our faith that believes Jesus is the Son of God.
What does he mean? Remember John is writing to a community that is divided. False teachers, teaching what has become known as Gnosticism, had influenced the Johannine community. They taught that Jesus was born a human baby boy, and only became the Messiah, the anointed One, at his baptism and that at his crucifixion, the anointing of God left him and he was only a human man as he died.
John is refuting this false teaching saying it is our faith that Jesus is the Son of God that overcomes the world – that is the victory. There is no victory in God sending his Spirit to anoint Jesus at his baptism and to leave him alone on the cross. What turns our grimace into elation and propels us to the finish line pumping our arms is that “God cared enough for [us] to lay aside [God’s] glory and to take upon Himself the limitations of humanity,…an unimaginable sacrifice and the act of a love [that] passes human understanding.” “God shares in all the… activities of human life, and knows the …trials and temptations and sorrows of this life and of this world.” (Barclay) God understands us and knows how difficult his commandments are to keep.
I watched men’s downhill skiing yesterday. Sports on snow and ice look so easy. Crouch, float along, twist, catch air – it looked fun, exhilarating – for a minute I wondered why I had never been skiing. Then I remembered, I get nervous when I feel like things are moving too fast. I would be uncomfortably out of control as I careened down the mountain. And I don’t like the cold. Oh, yeah, and I am not coordinated, I am pretty sure I would wind up lying in the snow in a pretzel formation. It is not easy – it looks easy, but it isn’t.
The life of faith is similar. Our obedience to God’s commands is the only proof of our love, and we fall. How are we doing at getting back up and moving on? It takes training and persistence, study and prayer, a willingness to listen and be coached by the life of Jesus, and a love for the Messiah that fortifies our will. It is our focus. It is our life. Like the Olympians competing at their best, it may look easy, but it is not. We may seem to be out there on the slopes alone, but we are not. God is with us through it all, grimacing with us, aching with us…and then, God is with us as we cross the finish line. Victory!