Whitefield Academy Blog
What is Love? Junior Homily by Olivia Chace
Every year, Whitefield Academy juniors write and deliver homilies based on Scripture in front of the entire upper school. This homily was given by Olivia Chace on Wednesday, February 19, 2020.
I remember a few months ago, I was walking to class upstairs and heard Kyla ask Mr. Castro a question: The quintessential, ‘What is love?’ So I went to my class, which Mr. Castro was teaching, and we had a discussion about the question of what love is and how to love. Initially I thought it would be a pretty easy question to answer, but I was wrong. Just like God, love is complex, and there’s so much to know about it that it’s impossible to understand in many lifetimes or in one chapel. So, what I’ll be speaking about is the nature of love based on a passage in 1 John, how that message about love can shape us at Whitefield, and why we should marvel at it.
Lately, I’ve been wondering how I can see and imitate God in all aspects of my life, and the biggest way is just loving people. Loving each other every day and extending love to everyone will reveal God to us individually and collectively. By showing love to each other here, we’ll see one another differently, and recognize God’s Spirit in each person. Whitefield is a place that is active in its desire to show God’s love, but just because it’s an overarching part of our mission that doesn’t mean every person is perfect in their practice of it. No one is. So, I’d like to encourage you, myself included, to take a closer look at the people around you. Each of them is more than mortal, and showing them loving kindness will transform us.
The verses I chose to speak on are from 1 John, Chapter 4, Verses 11-16. They say:
“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”
When I first read this, I knew John was saying something important that we tend to overlook. He spent three years of his life with a man who preached above all a doctrine of unconditional love, who showed us that to love is to be the image of God, because He first loved us. Not out of obligation. Not out of affection. We are meant to love because it’s an act which was and always will be greater than ourselves.
Every one of us is called to love and wants to be loved. That’s an obvious point, but I believe recognizing that fact is fundamental to living it out. From my experience, Whitefield is a community which strives to love each other and does wonderfully, but we can’t lie and say we do a perfect job. Every day we don’t love one another with our whole hearts. God’s Spirit is within each one of us, but it’s the rare person who doesn’t struggle with making that Spirit clear through their actions. Pride may try and get us to believe that we have it figured out, but until we live in a perfect world, love isn’t going to be perfect. However, imagine if Jesus hadn’t loved with His whole heart; if He said ‘Good enough. Those people can find God on their own. I’ll let someone else heal that leper man. That woman about to be stoned in the street is none of my business.’ Last week, Eli reminded us of a parable from Matthew 25 which has Jesus speaking to two groups of people: one that loved him and another that didn’t. They say that they never saw Him in trouble, but He tells them, ‘Whatever you did or did not do for the least of these, you did unto me.’ None of this is meant to scare anyone into loving their neighbor but further shows us what happens when we do or do not love one another.
In a chapel last semester, Mr. Metcalf shared a quote from C.S. Lewis’s Weight of Glory which struck me and has been in my mind ever since:
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit–immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
Take a second and just think about that. No one you have ever interacted with has been unexceptional, inconsequential, or mortal. Day by day, the way we treat others shapes them, for better or worse, so we shouldn’t treat our interactions lightly. I know well that it’s hard to take every interaction seriously, but that doesn’t negate reality. In order to be God’s image on earth, to fulfill our calling, every word we speak should be full of love. I’d like to point out that it’s alright to dislike people; not everyone was meant to be friends. Still, loving people doesn’t mean having lots of affection for them but being respectful, selfless, and gracious, just like Jesus was.
A man who is a wonderful example of this is Mr. Fred Rogers, the creator of the kids’ TV show Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. He dedicated his life to loving like Jesus through TV screens and through every interaction he had with people. A quote of his I remember often is, “I don’t think anyone can grow unless he’s loved exactly as he is now, appreciated for what he is rather than what he will be.” Every interaction Mr. Rogers had with someone he considered the most important thing in his life at that moment because he recognized that we can’t and shouldn’t love others for an idea of what they could be. Loving means caring for the person in front of you, here and now. He realized it was hard, though–despite his deep faith and kindness, he struggled. Mr. Rogers got angry. He misunderstood others. He could be selfish. That never stopped him from seeing his true good. He said, “Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like ‘struggle’. To love is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” Love is never perfect on earth. Each of us wants to love and be loved as we are, and the best way to do that is to see one another, follow Christ’s example, and try. Smile at people. Pay attention when others talk. Ask how people’s hearts are, pray for them, don’t let your negative emotions blind you, never forget that the weird kid or the annoying person is immortal, and a child of the most beautiful thing you can imagine. Never give up, because everyone has a way of loving. Try.
For a few seconds, I’d like all of us to close our eyes, and think of times when we didn’t just feel liked but felt truly loved. What did you picture? What did you feel in the moment, and how has it shaped you today? Every day we are given the gift of that is so colossal, so mind-blowing and beautiful that the smartest people on earth don’t understand it. Through that, we’ve been given the power to do that, too. Every time you love, it has an effect on a person. It can make their day, change them, turn them into a nightmare, or a dream. Again, I won’t try and pretend I am anywhere near understanding love. However, we can see its power, and I believe that’s worth getting excited about. When we love one another, it’s like a dandelion. We often take dandelions for granted: they’re small, they have an inelegant yellow color, and they’re kind of the skittles of plants. We don’t really take them seriously. They’re kind of good, but not what you’d consider super important or pretty. One thing I found out while writing, though, is that dandelions are part of a plant genus which reproduces through apomixis, which is a Greek term. Translated literally, apo means ‘away from’, and mixis, means ‘mixing’. Another fact I learned is that when dandelion seeds are mixing away from their parent plant, they can travel up to 5 miles away. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but imagine a little, itty bitty dandelion seed going from here to St. Catherine’s and then half a mile more! The point I’m trying to make here is that love, just like those seeds, does incredible things. One dandelion can one day make a whole field of flowers. That’s something I believe we’re called to do here, and we should rejoice in the fact that through our loving one another we can inspire love in others, and through that, see God on earth.
I’d like to leave you with a verse from 1 Corinthians 13:13: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” If you take a second to consider the real significance of this verse, it hits you. Throughout life we wonder what we’ll do or be or what will come, but I think we should also ask, “What will still be there when there’s nothing else left?” The answer, as Paul says, is the love which we give. That or the absence of it. I think we can agree that no living thing has ever been perfectly loving, perfectly kind. What I believe God has commanded us, though, what John is trying to tell us, is to do our best, day by day. A cultural trap we fall into is the idea that you feel love, which has a nugget of truth to it. Affection or tenderness often go hand in hand with love, but love is like God–it doesn’t change like fickle emotions. I don’t believe John or Paul would choose death for the sake of anything that was fleeting. Speaking from experience, trying to love based on affection doesn’t work. What I have to remind myself minute by minute is that loving people is a choice, a commitment. A lot of the time, I fail. I struggle with judgement, rudeness, and egotism on a daily basis. In closing, what John wants us to know is that commitment to love is about more than the individual. It’s about all of us, being the image of God on earth: uniquely, continually, like a neighbor. Imagine what we could do.