I John 3: 16 – 24   A Love That Takes Determination Sunday, April 18, 2021

A Love That Takes Determination

I John 3: 16 – 24


(preached April 18, 2021)


For as long as I’ve lived in New England, when April rolls around, my thoughts have turned to the Boston Marathon.  This year, because of COVID 19, the Marathon has been rescheduled till October.  Still, in these middle of April days, with the daffodils and forsythia in bloom, the Marathon is on my mind.  I’m not especially athletic, but like a lot of people in New England, athletic or not, I get excited about the Boston Marathon.  I still remember how excited I was three years ago, when an American woman, Desiree Linden, won the women’s race.


It was the first time since 1985 that an American woman had won, and I was thrilled.  It was great to hear Desiree Linden on the radio the next day.  She spoke about the difficulty she had at times.


She said, “I was freezing and my muscles were tight, and I was like, ‘This is NOT my day.’”  She even thought about leaving the race.  She said, “I did kind of toy around with the idea of stepping off.”


But Desiree Linden persisted and won the race – an amazing feat.  As I learned more about her race, I was even more amazed to hear that she had actually paused at one point, to help a fellow runner who had briefly stepped off.  At the beginning of the race, Linden had told this woman, “Hey, if you need help with anything along the way, I’m happy to run through the wind for you and just kind of be a block or whatever you might need.”


Off they went.  After a while, her teammate nudged her and said she had to make a comfort stop.  Linden replied, “I’ll try to run you back into the group.”  That’s what Linden did.  As she put it, “we got back up there.  We reconnected” (Linden, quoted on NPR website, April 17, 2018).


I’ve never run a marathon.  And I have to admit that until I heard Linden describe the race, I had some preconceived ideas about how marathon runners behave.  I assumed they were very competitive.  I assumed their attitude was basically, “may the best man – or woman – win.”  Yet here was Desiree Linden, running the Boston Marathon, pausing in the race to wait while her teammate made a comfort stop!  I had never heard a runner talk about running through the wind or blocking the wind for another runner.  But that’s what Linden did.  She ran her teammate back into the race.  She put her own ambition on hold to help another runner.  She put the needs of another runner ahead of her own needs.


As I was preparing the sermon for this week, I found myself thinking about Desiree Linden.  To put it very simply, the way she put that other runner’s needs ahead of her own is a lot like the way of love John is talking about here in his first letter.

Love is the central idea of John’s letter.  We don’t know much about the community he’s writing to, but my hunch is they were going through a lot of conflict.  My hunch is that tensions among them were pulling them apart.  Why else would John spend so much time talking about love?  Later in the letter he writes about God.  He says that God’s very nature is love:


“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God…God is love.  God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (I John 4: 7 – 10).


John says that God loves us in the most profound way we can imagine.  And Jesus, who is God’s own Son, sacrificed his own well-being, sacrificed his life, for our sakes.  Empowered by God’s love, he gave his life for us.  Jesus was crucified at the hands of the Roman rulers.  He was put to death because of the malicious plans of the religious authorities of the time.  But Jesus said very specifically that no one took his life from him (John 10: 18).  Jesus willingly gave his life, laid down his life.  He died to show us the way to a God who is love.


This great love, this love that is God, takes root in us when we simply accept it.  This love becomes real for us when we allow ourselves to receive it, to believe it, to rely on it.  Once we really accept this love, once we know, really know, that we are loved so completely, we can offer this love to others.


Most of the time we think of love as an emotion, a feeling.  Feelings come and go; they ebb and flow.  You can’t really force yourself to feel a feeling.  Feelings change.  But the love John is talking about isn’t just a feeling.  It’s not the kind of love we see in romantic movies.  It’s not a sentimental, hearts and flowers kind of love.  It’s more of an act of will.  It’s a tough kind of love, a love born of strength and stamina, a love that can go all the way to the cross.


It’s a love that takes determination.  It’s not self-seeking, but self-sacrificing, laying down lives for the sake of others.  It’s a love we extend not just to friends and family, not just to people who are easy to love, but people who are not easy to love.  People who have hurt us.


Think about that for a minute.  What would it take to love someone who had hurt you?  What would it take to love someone who beat you out of that promotion at work, and never missed a chance to remind you?  What would it take to love the person who made your life miserable, by teasing or criticizing or being just plain mean?


Methodist bishop Will Willimon writes about this strong, self-sacrificing love:

“When you love someone, you tend to think the best of them… [Even when they hurt you, you] look for mitigating circumstances; [you] devise strategies [that help you] see the person in the very best light.  [You ask yourself] questions like, “I wonder what was going on in his or her life that made them use me in this way?  Or, “I have gotten a lot of good breaks in my life. I wonder what bad breaks she got, that led her to [see] me this way?” (Willimon, Pulpit Resource, Vol. 34, No.2, p.31).


How do we learn to show this kind of love?  It begins with accepting the great love that God shows us in Jesus.  It begins with believing that Jesus loves us so much that he willingly lays down his life for us.  It means accepting that love and knowing we can rely on it.  As we rely on that love, we find the strength to show love for others, even people who are hard to love.  We find the strength to put their needs ahead of our own.  We find the strength, as we run the race of life, to stop at times, to help them, to block the wind for them and run them back into the race.












Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Easter 3




Lascia Ch’io Pianga”  – George Frédéric Handel.     
Maria Ferrante, Soprano
Patrick Chatham, Cellist
Joyce Carpenter-Henderson, Pianist