Good morning, Friends! Thank you all so much for coming here today. I hope you’re enjoying the holiday weekend, and that you can take some time off to relax and rest.
I’m still getting over COVID, as you can probably tell from my voice. The doctor says I’m not infectious any more, but I’m still being careful for everyone’s sake.
Part of the day I”m OK, and then late in the day I can’t stop coughing. I also get tired very easily, so my doctor tells me I still need to rest. I don’t have a lot of appetite, and I’ve lost about 10 pounds.
My wife is getting better. She gets tired, too. She just finished taking Paxlovid this morning. We’ve got a lot of meals made up in the freezer, so we’re OK for food. So, thank you for your patience, and thank you for all your prayers.
Every year, about this time, I always do a sermon on the passage of Scripture we’re going to read today. It’s always from the first letter of John. You can almost mark your calendar on it!
Every year, I talk about Christmas and Easter. Every year, I talk about Pentecost, the gift of the Holy Spirit. And every year, I always talk about first John.
It’s always a fresh sermon. I never recycle them. Because first John always says something new to me.
I always think that the writer of first John really understood what Jesus meant in his teaching.
You remember how Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. . .” (John 13:34-35)
Jesus had to remind his disciples over and over again, that it didn’t matter, which of his followers was the greatest. Jesus said that the greatest of his followers was the least, the one who was the servant of all the others.
He said that whoever took care of the poorest and the most in need, did it to Jesus himself. Jesus said that we all need to forgive, if we’re going to be forgiven.
Anyway, every year I always bring a new message based on the first letter of John. So, let’s hear these words again.
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.
Whoever doesn’t 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 that we might live through him.
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the sacrifice by which our sins are forgiven.
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 his love is made complete in us.1 John 4:7-12
We don’t know for sure who wrote the first letter of John. An early tradition of the church said that it was the same John who wrote the gospel. He starts out by saying:
We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – the life that was revealed, we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us – we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. . .”1 John 1:1-5
“Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word that you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new commandment that is true in him and true in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining. Whoever says, ‘I am in the light,’ while hating a brother or a sister, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves a brother or a sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates a brother or sister is in the darkness, and doesn’t know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness. . .”1 John 2:7-11
I remember reading once, a legend of the early church, that when the writer of first John was very old, they would carry him to church on a stretcher.
People knew that this was someone who actually knew Jesus. And they would reach out their hands, as he was being carried along, and try to touch him.
And even though his voice wasn’t strong enough to preach any more, he would whisper to them, “Children, love one another. . .” And people would weep as they heard him.
Church is never about who’s right or who’s wrong. It’s never about new ideas or old tradition. Church is never about whoever is pushing to become the next leader.
We have all the leadership we need – we have God, the creator. We have his Son, Jesus. And we have the Holy Spirit, the spirit of wisdom, the spirit of peace and prayer. That’s all the leadership we need.
None of this is new. If you’ve heard this annual message of mine, you’ve heard it all before. But now I want to say something which I haven’t said here in the past.
Love is good. Love is nice. Love is great stuff.
You’ve heard me say before that love isn’t just warm feelings. It’s the things we do. It’s the words we say. It’s the things we share.
Love is giving and forgiving. Love is starting over, again and again, because God has always been so gracious at starting over with us.
What I want to say that’s new this time, is that to love is to live again. And by that, I mean that love is the place we all start over.
Any time you don’t know what to say to God, you can always start by saying, “Lord, I love you.” Just saying that, and feeling that, takes us back to our beginning, and helps us start over and feel alive again.
When you say, “Lord, I love you,” that’s the most basic prayer of all. It’s like taking your first breath. It’s like coming alive again.
The people who started this meeting were few in number. Probably no more members than we have today. Most of them had traveled hundreds of miles, on foot, to come here to this area. They were so few. So small.
They didn’t have the beautiful building that we have now. They had a log cabin that they made themselves, with hard benches and a dirt floor. There was no kitchen. No fellowship hall. Nothing that we have now.
But they were filled with the love of God. They loved their families, and wanted the best for them. And they loved each other. They met each week, to listen and pray, to love and learn.
That’s how our meeting began. And if we want to grow, we need to love, because to love is to live again.
Think about all the wonderful people you remember, the great teachers, the people whose lives you give thanks for. You probably don’t remember most of what they actually said. What you remember is that they loved you.
The same is true of youth ministers. The same is true of pastors. You may not remember the words, the lessons, or even the Scriptures. You remember the love.
I’ve been saying this to you, here at Springfield, for eight years now. We’ve gone through so much together.
We’ve seen ups and downs in the economy. Children have grown up and moved away. Dear ones have gone to be with the Lord.
If we want to live, John says, we need to love. “Anyone who doesn’t love, doesn’t know God. . .”
Love is always the first step on the road back. Love is always the first step toward life.
Every year, in the spring, you see little green leaf tips, pushing up into the air. Love is the first sign of life. It’s the green, growing edge of God.
When you see love, God is always very near. When you see love, something new and good is always on the way.
Our job may not be to be great, to be famous, to be powerful or rich. Our job, as Christians, is to love one another, because Christ first loved us. And Christ loved us, not because we deserved it. Christ loved us to call us back, to call us back to life.
If you read on a little farther in 1st John, it says that “perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18)
We live in a fear-filled time. People today are afraid of everything. But we can help to change that. We can be what Jesus called the light of the world. Where people are oppressed and poor in spirit, we can love them. Where people are grieving, we can be with them. Where people humble and lowly, we can walk with them.
Where people in our generation are hungry for justice and righteousness, we can listen to their cries and share their demands. Where people need mercy, we can show them God’s mercy.
Love is always very simple, even when it seems complicated. There is so much hatred in the world today. So much angry shouting. So much rage and prejudice, on all sides.
Christians dare to think that the world can change. We believe that Jesus came to set things right. And he did it, not by starting a war or by sending people to hell.
Jesus did it by loving people. He healed them. He talked about faith and forgiveness. He brought peace into the humblest homes he visited. He talked about a new way, and he talked about a life that never ends.
But a lot of the time, Jesus talked about love. “Love God, and love your neighbor. . .” The two great commandments. Do those, and you’ve got it all figured out.
“Love one another, as I have loved you. . .” Do things Jesus’ way, not our way.
Love your neighbor. Love your enemy. Love the person who isn’t like you. Love the person who’s untouchable, the person who’s got scary illness. Love the sinner, and the lost person, and the broken person. Jesus said those things. It’s all there.
And in a world that’s confusing, in a world with a million other messages, in a world of hate and fear and uncertainty, in a world where so much seems lost – love one another.
Because to love is to live again.