God is Love
Sermon for January 20, 2019
Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend
Text is 1 John 4: 7-12,16-21
Some of the most famous scriptures is found in this portion of Johns letter. It is simply jam packed with a lot of important theology that has become core to our faith as Christians.
One might say that the whole of the Christian faith is found in this portion. John sums up what, (with time), became to be known as- classic atonement theology. Thi is the belief that Jesus came to die for our sins. That he was sent from God to live, die and be sacrificed for our sins so that we wouldnt have to pay the ultimate price.
Now, notice that John couches this atonement theology around the teaching that God is love and that it was out of Gods love that God chose to do this, for us. Moreover, that God loved us SO much that God would indeed Sacrifice Gods only Son for us.
Again, all of this is couched around love. And love is what I want us to focus on this morning. But, before I do, I must confess that this is no small undertaking. Not because I do not know what love is or believe that God loves me and God loved humanity so much that God sent Gods son, Jesus Christ for us. Of course, I believe all of that.
What is difficult about this portion is not only the enormity of the content of the message but that every single verse is packed with some incredible meaning and truth.
Look at it (please open your Bibles.) Take a moment. Read some of the verse over again to yourself. What stands out to you? Then, keep reading. What else stands out to you? So much, right? Maybe all of it?!
If you are like me, I ended up loving every single sentence and verse in this portion.
Now, I have heard and have read and have studied this portion of scripture many times. Again, it is pretty famous. But, to read it in light of ALL that has been happening in our world and in our country and in light of the anniversary of Martin Luther Kings birthday- well, that is very significant as well.
And so, I begin by confessing that I will not be able to do this scripture justice today. There is no way. However, I trust that Gods Holy Spirit will use this sermon to at least begin to speak to you about the beauty and the enormity of this scripture verse and the huge significance and ramifications it might have for you as an individual and as a member of a family of faith, of society and of the world, as well.
Right away, John does not waste time- He states, beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God.
Wow, the order of the day was for the early church (who would have heard this scripture read out loud) to receive this very important instruction- which was to love one another.
Fine, then John goes on to base this instruction on the revelation of love through the person and the work of Jesus Christ.
Then, he goes on to say that indeed, if God is Love, then we ought to love as well. That because God lives in us, love is made perfect through us.
And I want to pause right there. I was so taken aback when I read and studied this portion again. Because what popped out to me is when John is states that Gods love is made perfect through us. Could that mean then that somehow Gods love, although is perfect already, does not become real and tangible and perhaps even MORE perfect until Gods love is worked through us and shared with others?
Think about it. If God, who is perfect and loves us, gives us love and then that love is made perfect through us then that must mean that somehow God needs us to carry out this love.
That is humbling and yet amazing, isnt it? That God needs us to do Gods work in the world. Yes, God can do anything God wants to do but Gods needs us- as flawed and as imperfect as we are to be Gods love in the world. To show others what Gods love looks like. God does this to allow us to bring positive change and healing in this world.
You see, God needed to show us what God looked like and so God sent Jesus Christ. Then once the Holy Spirit came upon Him and filled the disciples on that day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit filled them and they in turn were able to do Gods work in the world.
Many centuries later, we are products of those disciples ministry and then the product of other disciples and so on.
Someone we knew showed us what Gods love looked like, (spoke to us, yes), but also showed us what love looked like. I want you to think of who that person (or persons) were who showed you what Gods love looks like; someone that not only told you that God loves you but showed you what Gods love is all about.
Was it a parent? Was it a youth minister? A Sunday school teacher? A neighbor? A significant other? A friend in school?
Who showed you that God is love and that Gods love is made real in the way that people love one another- with respect, kindness, patience, honor?
For me- it was my parents and then I would have to say it was my teachers at my Lutheran grammar school, I attended. Later, it was Sunday school teachers and youth group ministers. God used all of these people to show me that Gods love is made real in the world when I chose to love someone. When I serve someone else. When I do random acts of kindness not out of self-gain or ambition or conceit but because it is the right thing to do.
Friends, you have shown Gods love to one another for many years here. I now join you. You have seen God love in the way that you serve God together in this church, in this community and throughout the world with your tithes, mission money, collections, donation, in how you chose to speak to one another with kindness. In how you greet one another. In how to work side by side with one another, in your hugs, in your kind notes, in your prayers for one another, in going out of the way for one another. You are already doing the work that God has called you to do as a community of faith.
However, on this Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend I want to challenge you to do even more. Show radical love to someone you dont like. Be love to someone who seems loveless. Show forgiveness to someone who has hurt you. Chose not to hurt someone who has hurt you. Be kind to someone who is usually unkind to you. Speak to someone who looks different than you. Chose to believe that people are just doing the best that they can instead of demand that they do things perfectly the first time around. Be patient in your dealings with someone who might not work or think or act as quickly as you.
Who is it in your life that God is calling to love? Who is it in your life that you might have written off as an enemy but God is reminding you through this scripture that if you say you love God (whom you have not seen) you cant go on hating someone that you have seen?
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther Kings central message was love. He was able to be the leader that he was and preach, teach, demonstrate, motivate, non-violence because he continued to focus and live out this commandment- to love one another, no matter how vile, and horrible someone behaved toward him and the people that looked like him.
Friends, we are called today, perhaps more than we have (in any recent years) to choose love, to act on love, to show great love for another. Because if we do not hate wins, sin wins, evil wins, and we- humanity will in turn lose.
We will lose all that we hold most dear- democracy, independence, freedom, real security, basic human dignity.
And then let us not forget that love does cast out all fear. Then fear and fear mongering will never win. That is not love.
I remember meeting a young woman who had parents whom she feared. Not out of respect but out of real fear. She did not act normally. She could not socialize like the rest of us. She never seemed happy. It was fleeting. She was afraid of everything and everyone it seemed. She did not love herself because those who were supposed to love her did not show her love. They showed her fear, instead.
Then when I was a little older, I came across young women who feared their boyfriends and later their husbands. I came across people who were straight, others who were gay who lived with partners who were abusive. They were told that that was love- if they did and acted like their sick partner demanded that they act and behave, or dress. But that was not real love, that we control, that was fear, that was manipulation, that was being a bully.
Then when I began to work, I came across a boss who spoke very unkindly toward his workers. He did not do so toward me because he knew my parents. At first, I thought I was lucky. Sometimes I thought I was special. But then I realized that as long as he treated others with disrespect it didnt matter how he treated me. I couldnt go on pretending all was well, when my co-workers were suffering.
Later, I learned what racism and discrimination were- when people made fun of my parents accent and assumed that they were unintelligent b/c they spoke with an accent.
I lived it first hand when professors told me that they didnt expect me to do well because after all I had attended public schools and I was a daughter of immigrants. This, from professors at the Christian university I attended And so, because nothing was expected of me, I performed very much below my potential. I wasnt the excellent student I had been in high school or later in seminary where I had teachers who believed in me, who respected me, who loved me.
Indeed, nothing good come out of fear, out of hate, out of control manipulation, disrespect, discrimination, or racism. We live in a world full of examples of that. Let us make the difference. Let US be the ones to show our co-workers what love looks like. Let us be the one to show our classmates what love looks like. Let us show our family members what love looks like. Let us be the Church that shows this community what love looks like.
God is love and those who love God must love their brother and sisters also. Amen.