Finding the “New” You: The Things We Do for Love
(March, 2003 POL)
Topic: Loving Others
I want to begin today with some powerful words from the British writer, Evelyn Underhill. She was one of the most influential writers on Christian spirituality in the first half of this century.
“Redemption does not mean you and me made safe and popped into heaven. It means that each soul, redeemed from self-interest by the revelation of Divine Love, is taken and used again for the spread of that redeeming work.” (Christian Century, October 31, 1990, p. 997)
“Redeemed from self-interest by the revelation of Divine Love.” Those words caught my attention because that is exactly what happens in the story of Jacob.
The first thing the Bible tells us about Jacob is that he was a two-timing, deceitful, manipulative crook. He was born grasping his twin brother’s heel, and that’s exactly how he lived his life: grasping for all he could get by his own ingenuity and power. He
tricked his brother, deceived his father, and finally had to run for his life to escape his brother’s anger. Then, as a man on the lam, he had a dream of a ladder connecting heaven and earth. For the first time in his manipulative, self-centered life, he began to realize that God might be actively involved in his human experience. How he lived his life on earth might actually have some connection with God’s purpose in heaven. It was a revelation of God’s presence with him.
But God’s transforming power is never just a deal between God and myself. It’s not just “me and Jesus.” Redemption, the fulfillment of God’s saving purpose, always involves other people. God’s transforming work in Jacob’s life takes on a whole new meaning when he sees Rachel. For the first time in his self-absorbed, self-centered, selfsatisfying life, he sees another person not as something to be used, but as someone to be loved.
Now when Jacob saw Rachel, the daughter of his mother’s brother Laban, and the sheep of his mother’s brother Laban, Jacob went up and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of his mother’s brother Laban. Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and wept aloud.
My guess is that it was the first good cry of his life. Love will do that to you. Love can move us to tears, weeping for all the joy we have discovered and weeping for all that we have lost. For the first time, Jacob saw another human being not as something to be used for his own self-centered purpose, but as someone to be loved simply for who she was.
A few weeks ago, I returned to Asbury College for my thirtieth class reunion. They had invited me to preach in the chapel where we were required to attend services three times a week when I was a student there. We got three absences each quarter. I heard more sermons than I can count, and very few that I can remember. Among the few I remember, was a preacher who focused the theme of the sermon in these words: “People are meant to be loved, things are meant to be used. Don’t get them turned around.”
Most of the problems in this world are rooted in our self-centered, sinful tendency to get those backwards and started loving things and using people. We love our things. We love money. We lust for it; we have a passion for it. We love our cars. If someone backs into the side of our car, they might as well have backed into us. We love power, prestige, social status, property and wealth. We love our things.
The tragic tendency is to start using people to get them. And it always results in death. It results in the death of that part of us that is most like the image of God because God created us to live the other way around. People are meant to be loved; things are meant to be used. Get that turned backwards and all hell breaks loose. But when we begin to reorient our lives around loving others and using things, all the power of heaven is released in our lives.
Something like that happened for Jacob when he saw Rachel. It is the first time in his story that he actually does something for someone else. He rolls the stone away from the well and waters the sheep of his uncle Laban. Jacob offers to work for seven years for Rachel’s hand in marriage. He worked for seven years for Rachel, but the Genesis writer says, “they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.” It’s one of the most beautiful verses in Genesis.
The Disciple Bible Study scholars here know there is more to the story. When Jacob runs into Laban, for the first time in his life he meets someone who can out-manipulate him. The wedding comes. Laban presents the bride with the traditional veil over her head. The Bible says Jacob “went in to her” and the next morning, he pulled back the veil to find Leah, the older sister. Laban says, “No problem, just work seven more years and you can have Rachel.” So, Jacob ends up working fourteen years for Rachel, but it seemed like a few days because of the love he had for her.
Have you noticed that when you love you want to find a way to serve? If you love someone else, you will do for them things that you would never do for any other reason. Have you ever noticed how different it is to change your own baby’s diapers than it is to change someone else’s baby’s diapers? Same diapers. Same stuff inside. But a very different experience. You’ll do things for love that you would never do for money.
I’ve seen it in the long haul of marriages where the going really got tough and one partner learned to care for the other in ways they never would have imagined. They do things for each other because of love that they would not do for any other reason. It is
amazing how we learn to serve and how we have learned to love. Maybe that’s what the writer of 1 John was talking about when he wrote: “For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. 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? The redeeming power of the gospel creates in us a desire to serve others, to give of ourselves. And it is the only way I know for any of us to be released from the addiction of our own selfishness. It is the only way I know to be set free from the narrow bondage of self-absorption. It is the only way that we can redeemed from self-interest by the revelation of divine love and thereby be used to extend that redemption to others.
But how does that happen in practical terms? Just the other day I was reading a sermon by my good friend, Phil Roughton, the pastor at First Church, Ormond Beach, in which Phil offered three steps toward that kind of transformation. They are so simple and clear that I want to offer them to you.
Look for opportunities to step outside yourself. Jacob saw Rachel and it moved him beyond himself toward someone else. How long has it been since you intentionally looked for an opportunity to step outside your ordinary experience and into the experience of someone else?
In the sanctuary services today we are hearing the music of the Haitian Men’s A Cappella Choir from Miami. Try to feel what it means to be a Haitian refugee who comes to Florida. Try to experience the culture, this community through the experience of someone else.
Listen to people. Do you realize how much we talk and how little we listen? Did you notice the number of questions Jacob asks in this passage? That’s unusual for him. He’s usually in charge. But here he is asking questions and listening for the answer. We need to learn to listen, really listen to others.
Put something you want on hold. Jacob had to wait seven years, and then, because Laban tricked him, he had to work another seven. Fourteen years, all together, he put his desires on hold for someone else. My guess is that it took fourteen years for God to work the transforming process that enabled Jacob to become a person of love who could give himself to someone else. That’s almost incomprehensible for us in our instant gratification culture. It takes time for most of us to learn to put our own desires on hold for the sake of someone else.
Redemption . . . means that each soul, redeemed from self-interest by the revelation of Diving Love, is taken and used for the spread of that redeeming work.
It begins at this table where we receive the gifts of God’s redeeming love and see the way God has given Himself to us in Jesus Christ. It is the redeeming love that can transform your life.