There’s a lot of stereotypes about twins out there, but one of the most common and perhaps the most accurate is that there is always a time when the twins will butt heads. For me and my sister, that was our senior year of high school. It was a rough season for several reasons, but the one thing that really got to me, the one thing that I couldn’t let go was that my twin always, always, always slept through her alarms, which would mean that we would be late to school. It infuriated me; but rather than mapping out a quicker way to school or helping my sister figure out how to wake up in the morning, I would actually drive to school more slowly and then park in the back of the very last parking lot just to spite her. Because why not. After school, we’d get home, still mad about the morning, and we would inevitably hear, “Why can’t you just get along?” And my answer, being the mature 18-year-old I was, was always some variation on, “I don’t know. Why does she have to be so frustrating?”
Human relationships are hard — and that’s not just because we get annoyed by different things or that we come from different backgrounds and speak different languages. It’s because there is something wrong with our hearts.
In our epistle lesson today, St. John urges us to love one another. “Beloved, let us love one another,” he says, because 1) love is from God and 2) God is love and 3) if we love each other, God abides in us.
The repetition can at first strike us as tiresome. We got the message the first time. You want us to love one another. There’s nothing that special or that hard about it. But when we stop and think about our own high school tantrums or more recent experiences at holiday dinners or on our favorite social media platform, I think we would all agree that love and everything about it is much easier said than done.
Why is it so hard to love other people? Why do we constantly fail to love one another?
The answer to those questions lies back at the beginning. When God created humankind, things looked pretty great. Man looked at woman and woman looked at man, and there was recognition of mutual humanity, of worth and value, of beauty. There was, in short, love, the giving of oneself for another’s sake with no designs on what you might get in return. But the effortless goodness of those first moments ended quickly, and what was left was afterwards has forever haunted us.
The world changed in an instant and try as we might to get back to paradise, we could never find the way. Not that we didn’t try. History is littered with attempts at fixing what we broke; but none of them ever worked because we were always too tired, too angry, too concerned with our own survival to realize that we were the problem. On that day in the garden, our mother and father chose themselves over God, and every single human heart since then has followed their lead.
Except for one.
His story is the greatest love story ever told: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us,” writes St. John. “God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
Before time began, when there was nothing but God, he knew that his creation would fall, knew that we would think we were gods, we would decide to do as we pleased with the world and each other. And God knew that we would hate our creator because of it. He knew this, and still decided we were worth saving.
In this is love, not that we loved God — because our self-obsessed hearts never could — but that he loved us and sent his Son to bring us back home.
I think this year more than any time in our lives, we have a much more accurate understanding of how limited we are. We feel how hard it is to love other people when we’re anxious about catching a deadly disease, when we’re exhausted from keeping the kids quiet during Zoom meetings, when we’re angry over another mindless shooting rampage.
We may be good people. We may have the best intentions, but we still need to be reminded, encouraged, exhorted to love one another — because we forget or we’re too tired or we decide that those people don’t deserve it anyway. In short, because we’re human and we need God’s grace if there is to be any light in our world.
Love is from God, and our capacity to love comes from him. Our world may be fractured, we may at times feel nothing like tenderness or compassion toward it, but that doesn’t mean that love is in short supply. It is in fact a never-ending fountain because God is love. In him is no failing, no exhaustion, no spite, no deceit. He alone can heal our hearts so that we may truly love one another. AMEN.