I saw Jesus yesterday… And I ignored Him.
Only one week ago, I stood in front of a whole room of my brothers and sisters and preached a message from I John 3 about love. I centered the message around verse 18, which reads, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and truth.” I explained the four Greek words behind these English terms, word, talk, deed and truth. Word points to the idea or concept of love. Talk is literally the word for tongue and points to our tendency to talk about love or (merely) to say “I love you.” Deed points to the action of love. And truth points to the reality of love.
I explained the progressive nature of these things. First, there is thinking about the idea of love. Then there is speaking lovingly. There is nothing wrong with these things. But too often the progress of love stops right here. Beyond these, a person can act lovingly and, ultimately, become a person of love. John is telling us not to have the first two as our goal, but rather to aim for the second two. If we aim to have loving ACTIONS and to BE loving people, we will have the first two as well. If we are truly people of love, it will necessarily be the case that we will be people who think lovingly and who speak lovingly. This was the heart of the message I preached last week.
The sad fact, however, is that all this sermonizing about love was itself just talk.
Also, I created and led through most of last school year an adult Sunday School class called “The Other Theology.” The reason I did so was that I wanted to explore ways in which I and others might become, more and more, the sort of people who would live lives of love for others. That too, if left at the level of word and talk, is pointless.
For quite some time now, I have been wanting to get involved with homeless and poor people and other down-and-outters. I have been wanting to be part of a ministry where I could work with other believers to bring the Lord’s love to such people. I want to become a lover in deed and truth.
Enter: The Lord Jesus in what Michael Card has sung about as “His distressing disguise.”
Yesterday, my family and I attended a family picnic and caught up with all sorts of extended family members. We played Texas Washers and other silly games. We hung around and visited and had a pretty good time. It was good to see everyone who was there.
Then at one point in the afternoon, a certain one of my cousins arrived. He came walking feebly into the scene. He is a thin and pale and shaking man. I do not know the exact nature of his physical problems, but I am fairly sure that it is the result of years of drug and alcohol abuse. He slowly made his way up onto the deck in my aunt’s back yard, where he was mostly ignored by everyone for the rest of the time that we were there. I, of course, went straight to him and sat and talked with him and showed interest in him and loved him with the love of my Lord… Right?… Wrong… I stayed busy with other things and people. I did say a quick ‘Hi’ at one point, but it was pathetic, awkward and quick.
I had a chance to be a sheep and not a goat. I had a chance to love the least. I failed.
I don’t actually know who noticed, but I feel like everyone there saw me NOT relate to my cousin. Several years ago,many of the same people stood around me in a cemetery, as I represented the Lord and spoke the message at the memorial service of another cousin–the brother of the one whom I barely acknowledged at this picnic yesterday.
This morning, I sat in our Breaking of Bread meeting. As I took the bread and the cup, I asked the Lord to forgive me for ignoring Him yesterday… which, of course, He did.
I don’t know when I’ll see my cousin again, or whether I ever will. As I sat this morning aching to have yesterday back again, I realized that in my failure to go and be with my cousin and to minister to him, the loss was at least as much mine as his. I may have the Lord’s forgiveness, but I’ll never have yesterday again.