My first fulltime appointment as a United Methodist pastor was in Rhinebeck, New York. Actually, I had one church in the village of Rhinebeck, and another one on Route 9 south of the village. That second one was called Hillside United Methodist Church--and the name was perfectly appropriate, because it indeed was on the side of the hill. It was a beautiful little chapel, with seating for maybe 30 people if all of the seats were filled. We probably averaged 15 on a typical Sunday morning, and many warm summer Sundays, or snowy winter Sundays, had less than that. I will confess--we always added the stuffed animal who sat on the windowsill to the attendance, so maybe it was really an average of 14.
It really was a beautiful little place, in an almost idyllic setting, surrounded by old, venerable trees, but clearly visible from the road going both north and south on Route 9, and in a flat stretch so that going either way you got a long look at it. I would run into people in the village, and when they would find out that I was the pastor there they would almost always say "I love that little Hillside Chapel!" I would smile and agree that it was beautiful and picturesque.
But I would be thinking to myself "So you love it? I've never seen you there. What does your love consist of? Do you really, truthfully LOVE that Hillside Chapel?" I never said that to anyone. But I thought it--and I still think it.
Doesn't love involve engagement? Even if you say "I love ice cream" it's not that you just appreciate the look of ice cream--it's that you engage with it by EATING it--you savor the taste, you lick the spoon, you make certain you get every bit of it. If you love a person, you spend time with that person, and learn about that person, and do things together, and recall that person to mind even when you're not together. Love is not a passive thing. Love is involvement, engagement, interaction--all of these ACTION verbs. It's easy to say that you love. It's a commitment to actually DO it.
"Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action" (1 John 3:18) the passage says. And it specifies that is not a mere human decision as to what "truth and action" look like, but that it is to "love one another, just as he has commanded us" (1 John 3:23b). And even more specifically, love in action looks like this: "We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?" (1 John 3:16-17).
Love is much more than just a warm fuzzy feeling, according to God, who created love--who IS love.