Come to Life!
- Psalm 22:25-31 Dominion belongs to God
- Acts 8:26-40 Philip & the Ethiopian Eunuch
- 1 John 4:7-21 Love one another for love is from God
- John 15:1-8 Abide in me as I abide in you
All you need is love….Love is all, all is love
There is a great little saying sometimes seen on a bumper sticker: Practice random acts of kindness. Such kindness that we are to practice, might be rightly named as love : Practice random acts of love . Such encouragement to love that we are to practice, we rightly presume to mean more than to love those who love us first or to love those who deserve it or to love those who are easy to love.
After all Jesus clearly commanded, “Love your enemy,” clearly adding, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the neocons and fundamentalists do the same?” Ok, you know Jesus said “tax collectors”, but I wanted to it be heard today. (Matthew 5:44, 46)
What is not “right” about this great little saying is “practice love randomly.” Love is far more than a “random practice” of a reciprocated act. Love is the heartbeat oflife.
Last Sunday as her last act as our congregational chair, Sandy began our congregational meeting by reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Chapter 13 of that letter to the early Christians at Corinth is one of the most beautiful words in the Bible — or anywhere in the world for that matter! The biblical Word, of course, is love . First Corinthians 13 names the gift and nature of love.
Another equally beautiful word of love, of course, is the one we hear today from John’s first letter. We’ll come to that beautiful biblical word in a moment.
Last Sunday Sandy rightly said that, “It all comes down to love.” Love is it. Love is the essence. Love is the key. And she is right. Love is the one thing. This “love chapter” climaxes with the proclamation that lays claim to our whole Christian existence:
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three,
and the greatest of these is love …..1 Corinthians 13:13.
And so it is!
On Friday morning I received an e-mail with the subject line echoing that claim. It said simply “All you need is love.” That is the right message. But – as you no doubt can guess, when it comes up on an e-mail message subject line that way, the message may be right but it is not about love! Sexual enhancement or self-gratification is anything but love. It is anything but human. It is anything but God.
Since the Mennonite Conference in Charlotte last summer, I have been carrying on a conversation with Brenda Martin Hurst, who teaches at Eastern Mennonite Seminary. Brenda is doing extensive research and teaching about the destructive impact of pornography, especially internet porn. She led a seminar on pornography at Charlotte for our conference. Brenda is clearly naming the addictive power of pornography and its devastating affect on ourselves and our relationships. As Brenda says so well, it is all about love and pornography is the perversion and violation of love.
Love is not random, it is real essence and presence as the Real Essence and Real Presence of God. Love is so real and essential that it is difficult to put into words.
Random words of Love
We keep learning astounding mind-boggling virtually incomprehensible things about the universe – God’s amazing creation!
One day in 1970 when I was working on a political campaign in Iowa for a congressional candidate, the campaign staff was having dinner with the candidate’s family. One of our staff members asked the 8 year old son of the candidate what he wanted to be when he grew up. Nate answered instantly and matter-factly, “A paleontologist.” I didn’t even know what a paleontologist was and this very bright and serious 8 year old wanted to be one.
I am not a scientist. I don’t understand much about matters scientific. Nevertheless, I am awe-struck by the phenomenon of God’s creation, the universe we live in! I have heard it said that God created human beings as the mid-point between the tiniest atom and the vast universe. Isn’t that awesome?! Think about that one.
Of all the incomprehensibly awesome dimensions of God’s creation, and how this universe works, the greatest phenomenon of all is God’s Love. This awesome God of love created every person ever born on earth. Every person ever born on earth is wholly loved and known by God. God created you and God loves you. That is the sum and substance of all life and meaning. Nothing exceeds that truth. Perhaps nothing has inspired more words and actions than love. And nothing has been more abused and violated than love.
Pastoral theologian Joan Delaplane, has written about love, saying, “LOVE: a word used so lightly, so loosely today. Perhaps the word love should be put on hold for at least ten years. It is so used and abused that it has lost clear meaning” (“God’s love frees us to love others,” The Living Pulpit , July-Sep. 1992, p. 12)
A Beautiful Biblical Word on Love – 1 John 4:7-21
Let us turn to a beautiful biblical word on love. John’s first letter is all about light and love from God in Jesus Christ. Last Sunday we heard chapter 3 of John’s first letter.
We know love by this, that [Jesus] laid down his life for us…..Let us love not in word and speech, but in truth and action (3:16, 18).
That section of John’s letter is on “Loving One Another.” It begins:
For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another (3:11).
Now John tells us how this love is possible. Hear God’s Word of Love.
Read 1 John 4:7-21……
The sum and substance of God and human existence is love.
All love is from God…..
For God is Love……
There is no fear in love…..
For love casts out fear…..
The commandment we have is this, those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
It cannot be said any better than that. It begins with the proclamation that “love is from God…for God is love.” It ends with the command that “those who love God must love sisters and brothers.” At the center is the reality check for life reminding us how real fear is and that fear interferes with love by declaring that “there is no fear and love…for love casts out fear.” This is truly a beautiful biblical word on love!
Of Vine and Branches that Bear Fruit — John 15:1-8
In John’s gospel heard today, from chapter 15, Jesus begins a long teaching. The image Jesus offers us is that of the vine and branches that bear fruit.
I am the vine…
You are the branches…
God is the vinegrower…[I think one of the great images for God is as a vintner!]
When well cared for, the vine and branches bear much fruit.
In this God is glorified.
This fall the SS catechism for the older children is rooted in this “Vine and Branches” scripture from Jesus’ words and image here in John’s gospel.
When we hear further in chapter 15, next Sunday, we hear that in sum and substance this fruit is love.
As God loves me so I love you….
Abide in my love as my love abides in God’s love….
This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you.
These instructions and inspirations on love are grounded in and echo the Hebrew Schema, the greatest commandment. Jesus pointed to this as the great commandment:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all
your strength, with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27).
In Luke’s gospel this is connected with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus, of course, rounds out this love command with the command to “love even your enemy.”
One of the great contemporary Jewish mystics, Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “God rules the world by justice and compassion, or love. These ways are not divergent, but rather complimentary, for it is out of compassion that justice is administered” (The Prophets ).
Or as another contemporary, William Willimon has said, “Christian love is not a stupid unwillingness to look at the world as it is. It is the recognition that, because the world is as it is, nothing less than love will do” ( The Living Pulpit , July-Sep. 1992, p. 29).
What does mean for our lives? Everything. How does it touch our lives? Everywhere.
Stanley Green, Executive Director of the Mennonite Mission Network tells a powerful story of love from South Africa. Stanley is South African. Several years ago he preached here in our worship.
It took place a few years ago in a courtroom in South Africa. An elderly black woman listened to the trial of a police chief named Van der Broek, being tried for many atrocities under apartheid. He had come and taken her son and shot and killed him. Then he came and took her husband. Later still he came and took her. She was taken to a river bank where she was forced to watch her husband tortured and burned alive. The last words she heard her husband say were Jesus’ words on the cross, “[God] forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” Finally she was seeing this man convicted for these heinous atrocities.
Before sentencing the judge asked her if she had anything to say to this man. Slowly the elderly woman rose to her feet and said, “Yes, I have three requests. First, I’d like someone to take me to the riverbank where my husband was burned so that I can scoop up some ashes and give them a fitting burial. Second, I’d like you to sentence Mr. Van der Broek to come to my house in the ghetto twice a month and let me pour out on him the love I would have given my son. And third, will someone take me by the arm and lead me over to Mr. Van der Broek so that I can put my arms around him and tell him that it is because of Jesus that I forgive him?” As she was led across the courtroom, Van der Broek fainted and the audience in the courtroom began to sing “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound.” ( Our Faith , Spring 2006, p. 4; Myron Augsburger, Soli Deo Gloria )
This elderly South African woman truly embodied “Love without fear.” In this beautiful genuine gesture, this woman fulfilled the fullest command and meaning for life to “love God, self, neighbor and enemy.” She embodied this love as a mother!
Would that our love be like hers!
Hearing God’s love on Mother’s Day, we would be remiss if we missed this connection and intersection. Perhaps no image of God as love is greater than a mother’s love.
On the one hand, not being a mother, I cannot fully know what that means. One the other hand, I have a mother. Everyone who has ever lived has had a mother. Oh yes, we know times and stories when a mother, perhaps even our mother, didn’t seem to love us. Nevertheless, there is something beyond words about a mother’s love. A mother who gives birth to new life created wholly by God in God’s image and loved wholly by God.
What richer image is there for God than the great mystery and reality of a mother’s love?
By-the-way, Mother’s Day was envisioned by Julia Ward Howe, in 1870, who was horrified by the suffering and carnage of the recent Civil War and heart-broken with war breaking out between France and Germany. Julia Ward Howe used her poetic skills to write a proclamation against war for Mother’s Day in 1870. She eloquently proclaimed,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.” She urged mothers to “promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace” (Medea Benjamin, “The Gift of Peace for Mother’s Day, CommonDreams.or, 5/12/06; Truthout.org, 5/13/06).
Mothers of the church and country, it is up to you to recover Mother’s Day and even more, to recover God’s love as a mother’s love. Mother’s Day, like Martin Luther King’s birthday, has largely lost its true meaning and purpose in life and love over comfort and commercialism.
One of my favorite songs about God’s love was fortuitously put in the new songbook, Sing the Journey , “The Love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell.”
While that is true, it helps to sing it together!