THE FIFTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
May 6, 2012
The Very Reverend Donald W. Krickbaum
ACTS 8:26-40 — 1 JOHN 4:7-21 — JOHN 15:1-8
There is a well-known song which is used often in the renewal circles of the church, which says, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” There is such great truth to that simple song. It is the essence of Christian life – it is the essence of all godly life. Every major religion declares that love is the foundation on which all people are called to build a life with God and with each other. In Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, among the classic religions, as well as, among numerous Native American and other ethnic and cultural belief systems, all declare love to be at the very nature of their faith – love of God, love of other people, love for the creation and all creatures. We are talking here of the universal, across the board, most basic drive and instinct of human nature, however tainted and corrupted it may be by what we call original sin. Love is the essence of life and without it being clearly the priority of all living our existence will be marred by war, greed, hatred, resentments, prejudices, anger, hurt and unhappiness.
Christianity declares that love is the basic Christian ethic by which all moral decision making should be made – “what is the most loving thing to do in this situation . . .” The Shema is the most essential commandment of the Judeo-Christian community, “Hear, O Israel, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The Second Reading today from 1 John is the classic essay on “love” in the New Testament (This is a passage which we should read at least once a week, along with 1 Corinthians 13). If we were able to live out that command to love one another, because love is from God,” we would be well on our way to respond God’s greatest desire for us. Not only is this the foundation on which we build our individual lives, we are also building a community – the community of the church – whose corner stone is that “God so loved the world that he sent his only Son. . .” To make it even more urgent and relevant – this is the purpose and meaning of the life and work of the Church. It is really that simple – as I have probably said too often – it is very simple, not always very easy, but very simple. To this end, as far as I am concerned, the building of a community of love is the mission of this congregation and the entire church. To proclaim the good news of God in Christ, to live in fellowship with one another, praying together, discovering Christ in the breaking of the bread, serving Christ in all persons, loving God and your neighbor as yourself, and respecting the dignity of all persons is the purpose of our existence. Anything, anything at all, that distracts us or deflects this intent is a deterrent to the mission of this community.
But, oh my, how the world and our society misuse and corrupt the use of the word “love.” It is extremely frustrating to live in a culture in which words that possess such deep and essential qualities for our life when used rightly are being bandied about daily on the lowest possible level. Are you as appalled as I with this latest genre of TV “reality” shows? There are those geared to see how completely they can gross you out and show you how can you humiliate your neighbor. There were those shows in which the bachelor was trying to determine which girl is the “hottest” prospect for a relationship or the girls who were vying for the presumed wealth of some hunk who in reality doesn’t have money, brains, or much of anything else to offer. Then, there are ongoing daily fare of “soaps” with their sordid affairs and vindictive actions designed to really destroy their supposed enemies and cheapen any and all personal relationships. Fairy tale weddings, romantic novels, and a long history of escapist fantasies bombard us regularly. Even those classic children’s stories like the Mother Goose Tales feature fluffy love along with cruelty, deceit, greed, murder and evil step-mothers. All of which make for spicy drama, but what of love?
We then arrive in church on a Sunday morning to hear a preacher talk about “love” and our minds zoom off to the fantasy land of pop culture or we just “zone out” and “glaze over” as the sermon goes on with the expected and predictable pleas for a better understanding of this most basic of all divine directives, “Beloved, let us love one another. . . .”
While this is the basic building block of our relationship with God and one another and lies at the heart of the human community, it is really not all that easy. In fact, this business of love is quite confusing and difficult for us to even begin getting it right. The Greek philosophers even had different words for different aspects of love: for friendship, for affection like that of a parent for a child, for erotic or sexual love which is a basic and vital part of human nature, and, of course, divine love – agape. And I am reluctant, even if I could, to try to draw a line between where one ends and the other begins. In fact, it is God’s love which is the common thread which runs through the entire tapestry of life and which holds it all together.
“In every moment of genuine love, we are dwelling in God and God in us.” (Tillich) That is the point which I believe God wants us to hear. This is the point I want to make and I think this is the point God would have us hear this morning – “In every moment of genuine love, we are acknowledging that we are dwelling in God and God in us.”
In every moment of genuine love, we are living in God and God in us. Stop for a moment, pause, and ask, “Have I never felt the strength of God welling up in me, giving me a new insight, a surge of energy, or a flash grace for the moment at hand, grace that can only come from a power beyond my mortal wisdom or ability?” Think of those times in your life as you turned inward and you know that you have found deep within your soul that gift of God – undeserved and unearned, more than likely, but there it is – the presence of the Holy Spirit, the power of God. That is the gift of love God shares in each of us. That is true prayer – a profound communication – a deep connection with the Holy.
Now, what does this imply for us as we go about living today? From that holy power comes the force in our lives that enables and ignites real friendship for another and the willingness to accept friendship offered to you. It is the care for the well-being of others, unqualified respect for the people around us, the ability to give to those in need, a readiness to accept the care and concern of others, and the desire to live in a community of faith and mutual fellowship.
The love of God, in which we live, is, also, the source of the affection that we have for our families, our parents, and our children. This is the gentle love and warmth that St. Paul said was patient and kind, not envious or arrogant or rude and a love which bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things. It is that love the parent has for his/her child that remains no matter what they may do. (This may be the closest approximation we make to God’s love for us.).
There is physical love, the driving force of our own sexuality and, with it, the respect and care of that force in the lives of others. This love is the one that can most easily be cheapened and most often abused, but it cannot and dare not be denied. It is a love which is very sacramental as we commonly define sacrament – that outward and visible sign (physical) of an inward and spiritual grace. Physical love is a grace that expresses itself in a deep and faithful relationship with another which is intensely personal, precious, and reflective of a love which would not be fully expressed without it.
Lastly, but most importantly, soaring far above all forms of human love, there is God’s love – the unmerited, unlimited, unqualified love God has for us. All love has its origins in God and we do not live outside of his love. As John said, “God first loves us.”
As promised, you have heard nothing new here this morning. This is the old, old story. It is in the energy and power of God’s absolute and perfect love for us that we live. And that is why we gather here this morning and every time we gather as a worshiping community – to sing God’s praises, to be filled by his Holy Spirit, and to joyfully celebrate with one another that we are living in God and God in us. We are celebrating all about who God is – LOVE -- and who we are – LOVE.