Focal passage: 1 John 4:7-13, 19-21
“Have you ever read Wendell Berry?” a friend once asked. I hadn’t. I remember looking him up and ordering one of his books out of curiosity when I saw he was a Christian. Throughout the next few years, I’d keep an eye out for his name at library sales and independent bookstores.
In A Timbered Choir, a collection of Berry’s Sabbath poems from the late 1970s to the 1990s, there’s a poem inside that still stays with me. “They Sit Together on the Porch” is small, with a husband and wife, long married, enjoying the “small work for two” of their old age. It’s a quiet, settled kind of love – “what each one knows the other knows.” I love how simple, how sure the love is between them.
Love poems are notoriously difficult to get right. They easily become too saccharine, too overworked, too abstract. Berry anchors his poem with a porch, a set of dishes and a pipe. In our passage, John anchors the love of God in Jesus: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his son…” Compelled to act, God sent us Jesus – living, walking, teaching Jesus who had friends and enemies, who died because of us, was resurrected, and left us to love one another by the Spirit of God.
We love not in the abstract, but as we have been loved – with the settled, sure love of God that casts out fear and does not hate our brother. We bake casseroles for one another, sit together when we weep, pray each other’s names, babysit one another’s kids for date night and post the photos that make our friends look good. We sing old songs we don’t know on Sunday because they bless our neighbor in the pew; we sing new songs we don’t know on Sunday because they, too, bless our neighbor in the pew. We don’t gossip. We don’t hate one another even when we fight. We stay and work it out. We love one another like God has loved us.