Monday, May 4, 2015

Being God's Neighbor

 1 JOHN 4:7-21

7Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
13By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19We love because he first loved us. 20Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

Beloved! As we continue our exploration of 1 John, I’d like to begin by showing you the opening scene from the movie Love, Actually. The character speaking is a man who has been successful at many things. In fact, he is the prime minister of England, but he hadn’t been successful at love…

It’s pretty easy to get gloomy about the state of the world. Especially after a week like this week. We watched the death toll in Nepal skyrocket to over 4000 with even more deaths possible from disease and crowding in shelters.

We watched violence and looting erupt in Baltimore among people who were protesting violence. We’ve watched the trial of the man who shot up the Aurora movie theater. We’ve watched as loved ones have gone through difficult times and maybe we’re even going through those difficult times ourselves.

It’s no wonder we sometimes get gloomy with the state of the world. The world is in chaos. There is tragedy and injustice.

But, despite its gross flaws and difficult people, God loves this world. God loves you and God loves those difficult people. The book of 1 John speaks passionately and eloquently about the love in this world. 

It can be tempting, especially during times like these, to envision God someplace other than this world. God has created a wind up toy or written a program for the world and is now kicking back and watching all unfold according to plan.

 It might be tempting to listen to the message that this fallen world is nothing but sin and evil. But, most of look around and know in our hearts that’s not true. We see evidence of goodness and compassion and love and care. We see glimpses of God’s coming kingdom that are already here. We see that God is in our neighborhood.

I suspect we sometimes wish we could leave behind the problems here for something a less messy and complicated--like the old commercial says, Calgon take me away!  We want to pray or meditate ourselves out of this world—to escape. We want to deal with the feelings of fear and disappointment and frustration by calling up something otherworldly. We want to separate ourselves from the pain and heartache. We want to leave the neighborhood.

But, I suspect, God has other expectations.

God revelation in Christ shows that the way to deal with disappointment, fear and unmet expectations of this world is not to escape, but to enter into it. Through Christ, we see that God starts to change the world—to reconcile humanity—by rolling up God’s sleeves and coming alongside us. God doesn’t close his eyes to our mess. God doesn’t stay aloof and holy. We know God loves us because God came to us. We know God loves us because of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.

The message of the 1 John passage today is that God is love. So let’s think about what this love looks like.

First, love is of God. Any love that we can know, feel or demonstrate has its origin in God. God is love. In his Insight book about Love theologian William Barclay says that Sometimes Christianity is presented in such a way that it sounds as if God had to be pacified, as if God has to be persuaded to forgive. One of the common images is of a stern, angry, unforgiving God and a gentle, loving, forgiving Jesus. Sometimes the Christian message is presented in such a way that it sounds like Jesus has to change God’s mind about us rather than reveal who God is to us.

But 1 John tells us that it is out of love that Christ came for us. Before the resurrection, God loved us. Before the crucifixion, God loved us. Before the incarnation, God loved us. We see evidence of God’s love as far back as Genesis when God finds Eve and Adam naked and ashamed and gives them clothes. Jesus reveals this love to us in person.

So, love is of God. What God has done in Christ defines what love is. Which leads to the second point…

Love gives. 1 John says: God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. This demonstration of love shows us that God doesn’t hold anything back when it comes to love. The Bible emphasizes that God gives his son, God’s ONLY son, to reconcile the world. God gives up something that is valued and prized for us.

To be honest, I’ve always found the Father, Son language to be unsatisfying to describe the work of the cross. For me, father-son puts too much space between God and Jesus, like they are two separate entities. 


Father-Son makes it sound (to me) like Jesus is not a part of the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, Spirit, but something separate and expendable. And then there is this:

 I would never want someone to sacrifice their child for me. 

But when I ask myself: Would I sacrifice myself for one of my children or my husband?  
Absolutely. In a heartbeat.

And this is what makes the work of the cross a testament of love. God did not give up something expendable to reconcile me and you. God gave of his very being, God gave himself for you and me. Sometimes I wonder which was harder for God: Giving up power and majesty to be human in the incarnation or giving up the tangible love of humanity in the crucifixion to return to heaven?

1 John defines loves as selfless giving. Love causes us to give of our very selves for another person.

Finally, love casts out fear. When we realize the depths of God’s love for us, it frees us to live a life of love for others. A life that is in God and for others. When we are assured of the forgiveness of Christ, we aren’t haunted by our past mistakes (most of the time). When we are centered in God’s love we don’t fret about what comes tomorrow (well, not as much). When we don’t even fear death, we are free to live and love fully in the present.

This is precisely why Jesus was so dangerous to the authorities of his time. You can’t subjugate and control people if they don’t fear death.

This is why Jesus is still dangerous in our time. If love casts out fear, there are companies and people who have a lot to lose. You can’t sell designer clothes and bags and vehicles if people don’t fear for their reputation. You can’t sell insurance policies and anti-aging crèmes or offer online testosterone pills if people aren’t afraid of their aging bodies. You can’t sell wipes to every grocery store in the nation if people aren’t afraid of the germs on the grocery cart handle.

What would we be like if we didn’t fear grocery cart handles and aging bodies? 

I sometimes wonder what I would do if I had nothing to fear, if I only listen to the voice of God that 1 John captures so eloquently—that voice that says: You are made in the image of God. You are a child of God. You are my beloved.

Remember the love commandment of Jesus: Love God and love your neighbor? We always think of it as something that we have to do, right? We have to love God and our neighbor.

But, you know what we forget? 

We are the neighbor, too. 

When Jesus says love your neighbor as yourself, he’s saying, “I love you as much as I love myself.”

Take a peek at the person next to you. I’m guessing that since they are in church, they take this love your neighbor thing seriously. That person sitting near you loves you. Or tries to love you. Sure, they love imperfectly, but they are working on it.

Maybe we think world is such gloomy place, because we feel awkward seeing and receiving the love that is all around us. That leads me to wonder:

Do we fear being loved?

What is it about receiving love that makes us feel so awkward and vulnerable? What makes us say, don't do that for me! Who would we be without that fear?

What would you do if Jesus were to walk in here today and cast out the demon of fear from your heart? Who would you be if you had nothing to fear? Who would you be if you didn’t have to worry about paying bills or grocery shopping? How could you let the other people in this congregation (or the world) love you?

Without fear, I think we would love more broadly and more deeply. Without fear, I think I’d be more likely to enter into the broken places of our world and let other people into our broken places.

We have a word for this life without fear. We have a word for that place where we don’t worry about what we will eat or drink or how we will pay our bills. We have another word for that place that is so full of love that fear cannot exist. The word for that place is heaven.

And we are not there yet.

1 John tells us that perfect love casts out fear. But we are experiencing imperfect love in a far from perfect world. We watch in horror as the earth shakes and violence erupts. You can’t fix it. I can’t fix it. But, Jesus shows that we can enter in these places with our love.  

We can cry and pray with the people of Nepal and hope that love cast out fear in their final moments. We are entering in to it with a special offering today.

We can pray every man and woman and police officer and protester in Baltimore opens their heart so that love casts out fear and God’s justice rolls down like righteousness. We can work together for equality in our own area, recognizing that not all communities in our country offer the same opportunities.  We can ask what God is calling us to do about inequality in our own community.

Talking with church leaders in Baltimore Presbytery yesterday, their hope was for more listening. They want people like you and me to hear about and recognize the gross inequality that some people face. They want the people who did the looting and fighting to listen to them when they say there is a better way. They want the police to listen when they way we need your presence, but we need your respect, too. They want to remind everyone involved that they, too, are God’s beloved. They want love to cast out deeply rooted inequality and fear.  You can’t love God and hate your neighbor. 

And for those of you in this room facing your own fears, I pray with you and for you. For those living in fear of financial decisions, relationships or even fear of your own body, I pray that the light of love shines on you today, overpowering the shadows of fear. Today, you may be the neighbor that this church can love.

God is love. In the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God shows us that love can be more powerful than fear. And so today, I remind you again. You are God’s beloved. You are covered in the love of God.

The world may be broken and gloomy, but that’s not all there is to the world. God is there. Love is there, too. Go and seek it out. Go and share it. If you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling you'll find that love actually is all around.

No comments:

Post a Comment