Have you ever tried to fit a square peg into a round hole? Pretty much impossible right? In order to do it there has to be some major alterations.
In the one of my favorite movies, one which may get a lot of dad jokes developed from being that the National Youth Gathering is going to be in Houston, one of my favorite movies is “Apollo 13.” In that movie, the scientists in Houston, Texas, are asked to do that very thing I just mentioned. In case you haven’t seen the movie or don’t remember the real life event, let me set the stage for you.
The astronauts aboard Apollo 13 are asked to do a routine stir of their oxygen tanks. Due to some damaged wire insulation inside it, the flipping of the switch to stir the tanks caused a spark which led to a large explosion. The explosion took out one of the oxygen tanks and severely damaged another one inside the main spacecraft called the Odyssey. Because of this, the three astronauts are forced to live in the much smaller moon bound spacecraft called Aquarius. Power had to be turned down to a minimum in order to potentially bring the astronauts back home. However, during their trip around the moon, the CO2, the carbon dioxide levels began to rise to dangerously high levels. In order to not lose consciousness, a square object had to be made to fit into a round hole. In other words, a filter had to be made to pull the carbon dioxide out of the air … but only with the parts where were found on board.
Much like the NASA scientists in Houston, John in our epistle reading is addressing a specific problem. In a sense, John’s audience is trying to put a square peg into a round hole. They are trying to fit Jesus into the worldly understanding and picture of what God might or should do. They are having a hard time buying into the idea that God had really taken on human flesh and owned it as his own. They could not buy into the idea that God would leave the glorious riches above and be born of an earthly mother in a messy manger stall and take on human flesh like you and me. Why would God want to do this and why would God want to take on the unpleasantness of our human flesh we don’t talk about when in the midst of company?
But John has something which others, which you and I don’t have. John has touched Jesus. John has heard, seen, and experienced Jesus in person. He has seen and experienced the Word of God made flesh. John was there when Jesus healed the sick, raised the dead, and cast out demons. He was there at the foot of the cross when Jesus was crucified and died. John was there in the locked upper room when Jesus appeared to them. He was there when doubting Thomas read the scars of Jesus’ hands like a blind man reading braille. The resurrected Jesus stood before John and the other disciples not as a ghost but in the flesh, in a human body, and John touched it.
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16). Jesus lived that perfect life which no matter how hard we try, we continually fail at. Jesus mercifully stood in our place at the scourging post and took the beating we deserve. He then hung, beaten, bloodied, and forsaken by his own Father up on the cross for us. Jesus grew weary, he hungered, he thirsted, he was anxious, and he died. Up there on that cross, Jesus takes up all the sins, all the brokenness of human life upon himself.
John makes this point so that we can see the type of Savior Jesus is. He isn’t the self-centered, only worrying about himself type. If he was, he wouldn’t be a Savior. Jesus didn’t go through living in this sin filled and broken the world or the pain and suffering of crucifixion because he thought it would be fun. He did it for you. He did it so that you and I wouldn’t have to and so you and I would not only see what true love is but feel what true love is. He went through hell for you and me to save us from hell, but also to give us an example of what it means to live for others.
By living his life in this falling apart world, by going to hell and back … the things we experience, the struggles, the pain, the sorrow, and the agony … Jesus has lived through every single one of them. The things we suffer … they are all connected to Christ. Christ has felt them, he has experienced them, he has suffered them all in his very own body. There is nothing, absolutely nothing which you and I suffer or do which isn’t connected to Jesus. Jesus in Matthew 25 says that even the simple act of giving a cup of cold water to a little one in his name is the same as if you had given it to Jesus himself.
In this connectivity to Christ lies the great motive, the very reason why Christians have done and continue to do what it is they do. Non-believers look at the things they do and convince themselves that they are pretty good. As Christians, we do things not to benefit ourselves or to puff ourselves up, but we do them to show others, to reflect to those around us the love of Christ.
When you send a sympathy card to someone who is mourning the loss of a loved one … you don’t do it to boast that you aren’t mourning. No, you send it to them as a means of extending God’s love to them. When our Labors of Love teams serve meals to others, they don’t do it to show off their culinary skills. They do it as a means of extending God’s love to them. The various hands making prayer shawls for those who need them or who take them at the Service of the Longest Night service in December are actually God’s hands working to bring comfort to someone who is hurting. The checking in on a neighbor during times of isolation and quarantine, the visiting or calling of someone who just had surgery … these are all little acts of kindness which reflect the love of God to others around you. These little acts of kindness are not done to bring attention to yourself but instead they are done to bring attention to Christ whose love shines through us and our actions.
But we are selfish sometimes aren’t we? “If anyone has material possessions and see his brothers in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him” (3:17). Ouch. There are times where you and I are called upon to serve and even though we could, we don’t. Maybe it’s because we would have to give up time doing something else we enjoy. Maybe it’s because we don’t think we are qualified. Maybe it’s because it would push us outside of our comfort zone. Maybe it’s because we think that the square peg of reflecting God’s love doesn’t always seem to fit into the round hole of our hearts and lives.
It’s easy to think of and point out all the times where you and I have failed to love how God would have us to love. We are all good at pointing our fingers at our faults and our weaknesses. It’s easy to say, “Man, I wish I would have …” No one can say they have always loved perfectly. Trying to fit the love of God we are to have for others is sometimes like trying to put that square peg into a round hole. And as impossible as it is for you or me to put the love of God into our hearts … God’s love overflows as God takes the very skills and talents which you possess and through them … He has made the square peg fit.
It fits because God has called you. God has called you by name, just as a shepherd calls his sheep. God fearfully and wonderfully made you and formed you to be who you are. God has voluntarily taken up residency in your heart. His love for you … it’s is far greater than you will ever possibly know. God’s love is greater than the worst guilt trip you could ever give yourself for not loving the way he wants you too. As a shepherd knows his sheep, God knows you! God knows you better than you know yourself.
Knowing how polluted our hearts are with sin … God could have simply said, “Forget it, you’re not worth it.” But through that lifesaving square peg of Christ … he didn’t! He didn’t say that when he was being beaten and crucified and he doesn’t say it now. Instead of walking away from you disgusted and shamed … God comes to you! God has united himself to you through Jesus.
God abides in you … not because you have done it all right, but because God has chosen you. God lives in you so that in this moment, you are empowered by his presence to do something awesome, even if it is a little loving deed. Reach out and hold the hand of a sinner and tell them their forgiven, tell your spouse you love them, give your kids a hug, feed a hungry man, comfort a grieving widow, pray with someone going into surgery, or walk along someone who is traveling through a valley of deep darkness. And do it, do it knowing that the presence of God is in those moments. This is not you fitting a square peg in a round hole, this is not you getting it right … its God getting it right through you. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, now and forever. Amen.