Good morning, Friends!
Welcome to worship at Springfield Friends Meeting! I hope you’re all well today.
Today is a very special day for me, and I hope for Springfield, because it was five years ago today that I gave my first message here. It was the Sunday after Labor Day, September 2015, so it’s been five years that we’ve been working together.
I hope it’s been good for you. A lot of things have changed. A lot of dear friends gone, a lot of new friends, a lot of children born.
A couple of children here in the meeting are still young enough that they think I live here in the meetinghouse all the time. “Is this your house?” they ask. “Where’s your bedroom? Where do you sleep?”
Two hundred and fifty sermons, more or less. A quarter of a thousand Bible studies.
Last week we read the gospel where Jesus says that faith and prayer can move mountains. I was thinking this week that we have moved some mountains together in the last five years.
As you arrived here this morning, you got a paper, listing just a few of the things we’ve done together during that time. Not to brag. Not to boast.
I didn’t climb up there on the roof behind me and nail all those thousands of shingles in place. I didn’t cut up all the trees that fell in the storms, though I helped pick up a lot of the wood after it was split.
We’ve shared a lot of wonderful meals. We’ve washed a mountain of dishes! We’ve done things to the building. We’re saving energy and money. We’re reaching out to new people. We started our youth program again.
We raised the money for new equipment. We’ve learned a whole lot about our history. We’ve supported our missions. We’ve filled hundreds of shoeboxes. We have done so much.
I didn’t do it all by myself. We’ve worked together, with God’s help. We’ve moved mountains, and did things we never dreamed we could do.
I want to say thank you. Thank you to everyone in the meeting, and thank you to Jesus. He is our Lord, and we want all these things in one way or another to be for Him.
Some of you folks with long memories can probably remember half a dozen pastors who have served this meeting. It’s always humbling for me to realize the standard that I have to measure up to.
I’ve said a lot of things in the time that I’ve been here. And in a way, it’s always been the same message. I’ve been trying for five years now to talk about the love of God – how we can feel it, how we can understand it, how we can get excited about it, how we can try to live it. God’s love is always my basic message, and I hope I’ll be sharing it with people forever.
For the last five years, I’ve started out the new year each time with a reading from the first letter of John. It’s a tradition with me by now, but it’s also because John’s first letter speaks so clearly and simply about God’s love. As you’ve heard me say before, there are really only two things that matter: to know the one true God, and to love God and each other.
“Love” is a nice word to throw around, but in our day there are some pretty overwhelming problems that we have to face. Where does love come into the picture, when there are riots and looting in our cities?
What kind of canyons can God’s love bridge? What kind of walls can love overcome? What quagmires and swamps do we find ourselves in today, and do we really believe that God’s love can lift us out of them?
To love is to hope, and to love is to have faith that God can do things that are impossible for us.
God loves little kids, and Jesus told us that we had to be like little children if we were going to enter the kingdom. We have to have the simplicity, the spontaneity and the directness of children, and we have to have the same complete trust in God that children have for their parents.
But that doesn’t mean that we have to be silly the way kids sometimes are. We don’t have to whine and fuss at God. Even if we don’t always understand, that doesn’t mean shouldn’t try. What we need to do isn’t just to understand the world and it’s problems in our own way, the way children sometimes do. We need to understand things the way God understands them.
And instead of dealing with things the way children might – by bickering, and blaming, and hitting back, and saying whose fault it is – we’ve got to grow up, and deal with the world’s problems the way God does. That means trying to be as wise, and as forgiving, and as generous, and as patient as God is.
Our sense of love mustn’t ever go away. We’ll be lost without it. But as Christians, we have to let our sense of love grow up. We have to live up to the measure of God’s love, and stop pretending that that’s where we are now.
Anyway, for our Scripture reading this morning, we’re going to turn once again to the first letter of John. I’m going to be reading from a translation that I prepared, so you can follow along if you want to, but mine will be different.
Beloved, do not put your faith in every spirit, but test the spirits, to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
This is how you will be able to know whether it is God’s Spirit; anyone who acknowledges that Jesus Christ came as a human being has the Spirit who comes from God.
But anyone who denies this about Jesus doesn’t have God’s Spirit. This is the spirit of antichrist; you heard that it would come, and now it is here in the world already.
Little children, you belong to God, and have defeated the false prophets, because the Spirit who is in you is more powerful than the spirit in those who belong to the world.
They are of the world, therefore what they say is of the world, and the world listens to them.
But we belong to God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever does not belong to God does not listen to us. This, then, is how we can tell the difference between the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
Beloved, let us love one another; because love comes from God. Whoever loves is a child of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God; for God is love.
And the love of God was made clear to us when he sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him.
This is what love is; it is not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven.
Beloved, if this is how God loved us, then we should love one another.
No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in union with us, and God’s love is made perfect in us.1 John 4:1-12
I don’t know if those words mean as much to you as they do to me. For me, they’re one of the most powerful statements in the whole Bible about who God really is, and about what we have to do with our lives.
If you wanted to split it up, what John writes here divides into two parts. The first part is about how tell what’s true about God from what is false. There are plenty of “false prophets”, he says, and that’s certainly the case today. It’s pretty obvious that what some people are saying about God is just simply wrong.
God is not in business just to make our lives all comfortable and perfect, at the expense of everyone else in the world. Any peace that is based on the poverty or on the oppression of other people is no peace at all. It is certainly not God’s kind of peace. And anyone who tries to put God’s blessing on that kind of thing is either lying for their own advantage, or they don’t understand God.
When John talks about how “anyone who acknowledges that Jesus Christ came as a human being has the Spirit which is from God,” those words aren’t some kind of a magic formula that guarantees you’re OK.
I think what John is saying is, that one way to tell the false prophets from the true ones, one way to tell the sheep from the goats, is to see what they think Jesus was all about.
My understanding is that Jesus came from God. He took on our same flesh and blood and tears and sweat, in order to speak to us at our own level, in order to show us what love is all about.
Jesus came from God, and he walked and taught and healed and suffered and died and rose again, in order to show us what God’s love is all about, and to show us what God’s love can do in the world.
John says, and I agree, that whoever understands that is headed in the right direction. Anyone who doesn’t understand, and talks about God, is talking through their hat.
They don’t understand, and whatever they teach is not from God, because they don’t have the first idea of what God’s love is like. They don’t understand the depth to which God cares, the depth to which God loves.
John writes, “the love of God was made clear to us, when God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might have life through him. . .”
That’s what Jesus does. Jesus makes things clear. A lot of people are confused about God. They don’t know what to believe or what to do. Jesus makes God’s love clear to us. All through the year, when we read the gospels, it’s God’s love which is being made clear.
Jesus brings God’s love into focus for us; he helps us understand the cost, and the joy of loving.
John says that “God sent his only son into the world. . .”
Try to appreciate the risk God took. I’m not sure that I’d trust my own children into anyone else’s care the way God did. I don’t know that I’d be ready for anyone to raise my children, or to take care of them all the time.
I wouldn’t want to let my children go into a world that treated them as badly as the world treated Jesus.
That’s the force of that word only. It’s the colossal risk God takes by taking the “low approach”, by coming down to our level in order to invite us to understand.
God took the risk that we might completely misunderstand what his love was about. And God only knows how often we’ve mistaken it and gotten it wrong.
The other sense in which it’s important for us to talk about Jesus as God’s only Son, is that no one else has ever been so close to God. No one else has ever been so filled with God’s love, or lived so much in God’s power.
Anyone who claims to be equal to or better than Jesus, and anyone who thinks they know more about God than Jesus did, or who says that they have a better way than Jesus, is just wrong.
Jesus said, and John agreed, and I agree from my own knowledge and experience, that God is love. Whoever lives in love, lives in God, and God is in that person. Whoever does not love, does not know God. I don’t know how to make it any simpler than that.
If we don’t know about love, we know nothing about God. If we don’t love one another, we are miles away from God. The more we love, in God’s way, and not our own, the more we understand about God. The more we grow up into the full measure of the love Jesus talked about, the more we’ll be God’s children.
To love in God’s way, is to be patient and kind, not jealous or rude. It means not to insist on our own way, not to be irritable or resentful. It means never to rejoice at any wrong, even to our enemies, but only to rejoice in the right. Love means to bear all things, to hope, and to endure.
To love in God’s way means to dare to change the world, and to dare to change human nature. It means daring to try to change people’s hearts by our own example.
It means sacrificing our time, our possessions, our best effort, for the good of others. It means opening our hearts to one another, and praying for one another, and it especially means forgiving one another. That’s God’s way.
God’s love gives ordinary people like you and me the strength to try to do great things for God.
That has always been my message here, and you can expect to hear the same thing from me again every time you come here.
Jesus came to teach us the way to God, and to show us what God’s love is all about. Whoever loves is a child of God, and knows God.
If we want to know more about the God whom we can’t see, but whom we know in our hearts, then we just have to love one another.
And that love, as we grow up in it, as we discover its full measure, as we test it and stretch it, that love has the power to overcome the world.