A Valentine’s Day sermon: God is Love

Jeff Garrison

Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church

February 14, 2016

1 John 4:7-21

 

 

We’re going to dig into a passage from 1st John this Valentine’s Day, where we learn that love has nothing to do with cupid.  Love is grounded is in God.  It comes from God. Because God loved us, we’re to love one another.  We show that love by caring for others. If we can do this, which sounds so easy but is so hard, the world will be a much better place. Read 1 John 4:7-21.

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Doesn’t this sound nice? Because God is love and because God loves us, we should love one another and be happy. It sounds too wonderful, so wonderful we contemplate if such love within a community is even attainable. It certainly isn’t possible if all we got to work with are a bunch of folks like us. Let’s face it; do we uphold these ideals from John? Do we really love one another?  Think about this a minute.  Not just our spouse, and our families.  And not just those sitting around us in church, who look and act like us.  Do we love all people? And if we say yes, do we show it?  This is a hard question that religious communities need to ask themselves. It’s my opinion, an opinion supported with Scripture, that it’s impossible for us to live in the manner John encourages us to live.  To be able to live this way, we have a lot of help. It can’t just be us folk trying to love one another; we got to have God in the center of things.  We have to be powered by God’s spirit.  After all, love is of God. And with God at the center, all things are possible.  But that’s not because of our efforts.  That’s because of God’s presence.

There is a widely held belief among Biblical scholars that there was a Johannine community, a group of people who congregated around the Apostle John, the beloved disciple. Within this community, both the gospel of John and epistles were written and distributed. Supporting this theory are the many common themes between John’s gospel and the three letters. Both emphasize God’s love for the world being so great that he sent his only Son. That’s John 3:16; but it is also said, in different words, three times in this passage. John must have attended one of those communication classes that suggest if you want to get a point across, you tell your audience three times—“tell ‘em what you’re going to say, tell ‘em, and then tell ‘em what you’ve told him.”

John encourages, actually demands, that we love one another because God loves us. The Greek word used here for love is agape, which we looked at a couple of weeks ago.  It’s not the romantic love that sends big boxes of chocolate and writes mushy cards.  This is the type of love manifested in caring for one another. John instructs his community to show these caring traits to one another. He could just as easily say, “Model your life after Jesus.”

If the community John was writing to had taken John’s advice, they could have created a utopia. But that was not the case. We know there was great discord within the community. In fact, in the second chapter of this epistle, where John warns of the antichrists, we learn the community has split.  John calls those who have left antichrists, using the plural, implying there are many who are opposed to Jesus Christ.[1] We’re not really sure the reasons for this split, but we have a good idea. Some scholars speculate that the split grew out of a difference in Christology—their beliefs concerning Christ—and that the group who left emphasized the divinity of Christ and denied his humanity.[2]

Whatever the reason, it appears that when John instructs us on love, he’s referring to those of us who are within the Christian community. Look around; we’re to love those we’re sitting with. “But, what about those on the outside of the faith,” we might ask? Well, we’re supposed to love them also. There are plenty of Scriptural references telling us to love our neighbors and Jesus extends our neighbors to include not just the folk living next door.[3] We can’t take John’s situation and use it to deny love for those who are not within the walls of the church. Instead, I think John spends his energies here, focusing on our love for one another within the community, because he knows that if we can’t love one another within these walls, we can’t love God nor can we love those who are outside the faith. In other words, we have to pull the log out of our own eyes first and embrace those we’re close to before we can suggest to the world that we give each other a big hug. [4]

One of the traits a church needs in order to assimilate new members is to be, at its core, a warm and caring community.[5]  Who wants to be with folks who bicker and fight?  In other words, we as the church live by the message we proclaim. Isn’t this what John is saying? We need to care for each other. And when you think about it, when we live up to this goal, we become attractive to those on the outside.  By the way, this congregation is good at caring for one another as I’ve witnessed recently with my injury, but also seen in how you reach out to others in who are in need within our community.  Keep up the good work!

You know, caring for others requires an investment. We have to risk in the hopes we’ll get something in return. But if we don’t risk, we won’t get any return.

One of my favorite Georgia authors is Ferrol Sams, a physician who published his first book after retirement.  I’ve read all seven of his eight books. In a book of short stories, he tells of an old man interviewed by a group of high school students. At one point in the interview, the old man says, “It seems to me that nowadays a heap of folks have taken up ‘no deposit, no return’ as a creed… If you don’t put much into a relationship to start off with, then it’s no dilemma whatsoever to throw that relationship on the garbage heap when you’ve done with it. Use them up and throw them away.”[6]

The world may have adopted the “no deposit, no return” creed, but the church will be destroyed if we adopt the same. (This creed may also destroy the world, but that’s for another sermon.) The church will be destroyed because, at the core, we come together because we’re loved by God and called by Jesus Christ. When we turn our backs on our calling from God, we cut ourselves off from the source of life.

John’s message is simple: God is love. God loves us. Because of God’s love for us we should love one another. And if we don’t love one another, we can’t really love God. Got that? It’s a simple message, but it has the potential to have a profound impact upon our community as well as upon the larger world in which we live. It’s a small idea, loving others because God loves us, but an idea that has life-changing and world-changing consequences.

I’m going to tell you a story, adapted from Hermann Hesse’s fairy tale, Augustus.

A young woman gave birth to her first child just a month after her husband had died in a tragic accident. She was from a caring and loving church. They were all concerned about her and they threw a great shower, providing her with all she’d need to care for his child.  She named the boy Victor, after her deceased husband. After the shower, when all the guests had gone, Doc Burns, an eccentric old man who lived nearby, and who wasn’t really a doctor, stopped by. He said that he, too, had a gift for the young boy. But his gift was unique; he would grant the mother one wish for her son. The woman was to tell him of her wish before the son’s baptism the next Sunday. All that week the woman pondered.  Finally, on the morning of the baptism, she decided to ask that all might love her son. Doc Burns granted the wish.

Everyone loved Victor as he grew up. All the children wanted to play with him; all the adults thought he was the most perfect child. Even when Victor responded to others with scorn and contempt, they still loved him. He graduated from high school and went on to a respected college, all the while living a life of ease. He was the life of the party. He drove a big car and wore fancy clothes. After college, he never worked very hard. “I collect horses, dogs and women,” he often bragged. There were no pleasures he didn’t indulge in, and no vice he didn’t practice. Yet, everyone raved about him and the women couldn’t leave him alone. All the while his heart grew empty and his soul sicker. He became disgusted.  He was tired of living.

One night Victor had had enough. He went home and prepared to commit suicide. But before he could raise the glass of poison to his lips, Doc Burns stopped by. He was even older now and moved slower. Victor demanded to be left alone, but the good old man flopped himself down into a chair and began to talk. He confessed he was a part of the reason Victor was so miserable.  He told him about his mother’s wish that her son be loved by all. “It was a foolish wish,” Doc Burns admitted. “Suppose I offer you another wish, make it anything you want and I will fulfill it.  But be careful, the good Doc warned, for wishes have a way of coming true.

Victor didn’t think that Doc could give him anything that he didn’t already have, but the old man encouraged him to think about what truly made him happy. After much pondering, Victor said he wished for the old magic to be taken away and instead of being loved by everyone, he wished he could love everyone in the world. “That’s a good wish,” Doc Burns nodded in agreement, “it’ll bring you happiness.”

But Victor didn’t find happiness right away. Instead, without his great charm, he found friends disserting him, others retaliated for his past wrongs. He was even thrown into jail for a few months and when he was released, he was penniless, sick and alone. He returned to his childhood home where he nursed his ailing mother, returning the love she’d once given him. He also took a job as a janitor in a school, where he not only cleaned the floors but loved the children. Finally he met a young widow and married her, giving her and her children the love they needed. Poor in money, Victor became one of the richest men in the world. For he discovered that it is in loving, not in being loved, life can be lived to its fullness.[7]

Francis of Assisi taught: “it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in loving that we are loved.” Go out and love the world!  And remember, being loved isn’t nearly as important as loving others. Amen.
©2016

[1] 1 John 2:18

[2] For information on the Johannine community and its split see Dr. Eung Chun Park, “Rooted and Grounded in Love: Bible Study.” (Louisville: Presbyterian Church USA, 2001), 13-15.

[3] Luke 10:25-37

[4] Matthew 7:5, Luke 6:42

[5] Roy Oswald and Speed Leas, The Inviting Church; A Study of New Member Assimilation (Alban Institute, 1987), 25-26.

[6] Ferrol Sams, Epiphany, (New York: Penguin Books, 1994), 212.

[7] William R. White in Stories for Telling: A Treasury for Christian Storytellers (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1986), 37-41.


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