Unlimited Liability

Life Notes—June 6, 2013 

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  John 15:12-13

We hear a lot about sacrifices made out of love for others.  Military personnel risk their lives on a daily basis out of love for their country.  Firefighters and law enforcers risk their lives out of love for their communities.  Jesus willingly gave up his earthly life out of love for us.  Stories of sacrificial love are inspirational; and we wonder at the sort of love that leads one to lay down their life for another, especially an unknown other.

Most of us live a relatively tame and safe lifestyle, thanks to the sacrifice of others who make it so.  And the thought of needing to lay down our life for another is foreign.  But that may be too limited an understanding of what it means to lay down our life for our friends.  In his essay The Leader as Servant, Robert Greenleaf discusses love in the context of community.  He writes, Love is an undefinable term, and its manifestations are both subtle and infinite. But it begins, I believe, with one absolute condition: unlimited liability!  As soon as one’s liability for another is qualified to any degree, love is diminished by that much.”  The context for these words has to do with our tendency to isolate those members of our community who, for various reasons, do not blend well into typical community structures.  He mentions orphanages, penal institutions, mental health hospitals, schools and nursing homes and notes that sometimes separating the constituents of these types of institutions from the greater community works against efforts to ever successfully incorporate them into it.

Greenleaf’s underlying message is one of love and community.  For a community to thrive it must work for all its members.  We cannot simply quarantine away those who do not easily fit, with the reasonable exception of those who pose a significant danger to the rest of the community.  But sometimes we quarantine folks because it is inconvenient to accept responsibility for them, even when they are family.  Thus, his concept of unlimited liability. If we accept unlimited liability for others there is simply nothing helpful and within our power we will not do for them.  Whether at home, at work or in the world.  And the difference in this type of laying down one’s life for another is not so much a willingness to die, as a willingness to inconvenience ourselves. Perfect love claims unlimited liability for another.  It simply will not give them up.

Rev. Sharon Howell will preach downtown where Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Mitch preaches at the west campus where worship is at 9:00 and 11:00. His sermon title is “War No More,” based on Isaiah2:2-4.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Christ’s love responds to need, not convenience.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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