Good morning, Friends!
Every year I try to bring a message from the first letter of John in the New Testament. That’s because I think that first John tells us, better than anyone else, what a church is supposed to be.
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.
Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him.
This is love: not that we loved God, but that God loved us and sent his Son as the one who would turn aside God’s wrath, taking away our sins.
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 God’s love is made complete in us.
– I John 4:7-12
There’s a story I want to tell you. It comes from one of the oldest Bible commentaries we have. It says that when the apostle John was a very old man, he was so old and weak that he couldn’t even walk any more. So his friends used to carry him to church, because John was one of the original disciples, one of the few people remaining who actually knew Jesus.
And when they carried him into church, all that John would say to people was, “Little children, love one another. . .”
He did this every week, every time people came to see him – and people came from far away. So they asked the apostle, “Why do you always say this?”
And he answered, “It is the Lord’s command. If you only do this, it is enough. . .” (adapted from St. Jerome’s Commentary on Galatians)
I really like that story. I’m not an old man, and I know you’re not little children. But I still like it: “Little children, love one another. It is the Lord’s command. If you only do this, it is enough. . .”
The 1st Epistle of John summarizes and celebrates what I believe most about who we are and what we do together as a church.
This is the reason we’re here. This is why we exist. To love one another, “because love is from God, and whoever loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love, does not know God, for God is love. . .”
We need to know in our hearts, in our very heart of hearts, at the very center of our being, that God is love. We are accepted. We are part of God’s family. We are beloved. We are wholeheartedly, completely loved by God.
That is the most important thing we can ever learn. Do you all know that? Do we know God’s love for us, as the heart of our identity? God loves us!
Love is what God does. Love is who God is. Love is why God is. It is God’s reason for being.
We can talk in lots of different ways about God. We can talk about God’s majesty. We can talk about God’s mystery. We can talk about God’s power and presence. But anyone who does not love, and talks about God, is just talking through their hat.
The apostle Paul once wrote:
“This is why I kneel before God, from whom every family in heaven and on earth receives its life. I pray that God, from the wealth of God’s glory, will give you power through the Spirit and make you strong in your inner selves.
I pray that Christ will live in your hearts because of your faith, and that you will be rooted and grounded in love.
I pray that with all God’s people, you will come to know the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of God which goes beyond all knowledge, so that you will be filled with the fullness of God. . .” (Ephesians 3:14-19)
That’s what it’s all about. There is no other way to God. The love of God is always where we begin. And it’s where we begin again, every time we fail, every time we lose hope, every time we lose the vision.
First John says, “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and God’s love is perfected in us. . .whoever lives in love, lives in God, and God lives in them. . . Whoever says, ‘I love God,’ but hates a brother or a sister, is lying. If you do not love your brother or your sister who you can see, you cannot love God, who you cannot see.”
The Bible talks at great length about God’s love. I don’t know if you realize this, but the Bible talks about it all the time.
God loves the whole world. When God was creating the world, at the end of every working day, God said, “This is good!” And on the sabbath day, the day of rest, it says that God looked at everything and said, “I love it! This is very good!”
God rejoiced over the world that God made. God celebrated all the beautiful trees and mountains, the fish and feathered birds, the oceans and animals. God said, “This is great stuff! This makes me laugh! This makes me happy!” God loved it.
One of the reasons I believe in God, is the incredible beauty, the intricacy and diversity of everything I see. We couldn’t invent this stuff! The world is amazing! We don’t spend nearly enough time doing what God did – just appreciating the world, marveling at it, loving it.
And of all the many things God made, we – human beings – are what God loved most. God waited till the last day of the working week, the final day, to create beings in God’s own image. Beings which could think, and speak, and laugh, and remember, and pass down ideas and memories from generation to generation.
God loves everything, but God loves us in a special way. God loves us, because of all the created beings, we are the closest to God, the most similar to God.
God loves us. God made us to be helpers, to help each other and to care for all the things which God made. We are at our worst, when we go our own way and ignore our reason for being. We are at our best, when we fulfill what God made us for.
God’s love is way bigger than any of us can imagine. Most of the time, we focus on our own little world, our own daily lives, our own projects and problems. And that’s OK.
But we need to remember that God has lots of things going on. God has a whole world to love. God has stars to enjoy. God reaches heights and depths we can hardly imagine. And God does this all the time. God has been in love with everything, since before the beginning.
The Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, always talks about God’s steadfast love. That means that love is priority #1 for God, all the time. God never sleeps. God never stops loving.
In one of the passages we’re going to read this Wednesday night at Bible study, it says that love is strong as death. “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. . .” It says, “His banner over me is love. . .” (Song of Songs 8:6-7, 2:4)
The Old Testament often describes God’s love as a jealous love, an exclusive love. It’s like God saying, “We made an agreement, together. We had a thing going. We promised to love each other, way back when. It was a really simple deal: You were going to be my people, and I was going to be your God. I promised to love you forever. I have never forgotten that promise.”
“But what have you done? You’ve gone chasing after other so-called gods. You’ve put somebody else’s picture on your desk. You’re dreaming about making love with other gods, not me.”
“I don’t like that,” says God. “I don’t like that at all. I haven’t given up on you. But you’ve sure given up on me. My heart hasn’t changed. I want you back. But you need to give up all these other gods, that you’ve been fooling around with. Choose one or the other. I hope you’ll choose Me.”
That message is woven all the way through the Old Testament. Human beings have been cheating on God for a long time.
The Bible talks about God’s eternal love, God’s steadfast love, God’s rejoicing love, and God’s jealous love. The Bible also talks about God’s redeeming love.
Many times – not once, but many times – people have fallen into desperate situations. People have been misled, lost, conquered, broken and enslaved. It’s nothing new. It’s happened over and over again.
And God has broken in to our desperate condition. God has brought us back from slavery of many kinds. God has redeemed us, and set us free again.
In the Bible, God has often said, “I will go to the north, to the south, to the east and west, to the ends of the earth, to find my people, and bring my people back. There is no where I will not go. There is no place too dark, there is no place too far away. My arms haven’t grown any shorter since the old days. My love hasn’t gone away. I remember you. I hear your crying. I feel your pain.”
God’s redeeming love is one of those forever qualities that God has. If you don’t know about it, you really don’t know God yet.
Jesus talked about love all the time. Jesus said it was the greatest thing of all. In story after story, in example after practical example, Jesus told us and showed us that God is love.
Jesus said that it all boils down to just two commandments: love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and love your neighbor as you love yourself. Just do those two things, and you have fulfilled every other commandment in the Bible. Makes it sound pretty simple.
Jesus loved strangers and foreigners. He calls us to be saints, but he loves sinners. Jesus loved people who were forgotten and rejected by society, people who were considered outcast and untouchable. Jesus loved people in the wrong place and at the wrong time.
Jesus broke the rules about who we’re supposed to love. He said to love our enemies. He said to love even when we’ve been hurt many times. He said to love, just as he loved, even if it means laying down our lives for each other.
Jesus renewed and fulfilled everything that God ever said about love. And Jesus showed his love, he demonstrated God’s love, by giving his life for us.
Don’t get me wrong. I love chocolate! But there’s more to love than Valentine’s Day. You can literally spend a lifetime, learning more every day about love from God. You will never run out of new things to learn and share.
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him.”
“Little children, love one another. It is the Lord’s command. If you only do this, it is enough. . .”