"It's All About Love"
1 John 4:7-21; John 15:9-17; Isaiah 43:1-7
Today is officially Good News Sunday at Littlefield! We told people that—if they brought someone to worship today—we promise that they would hear some good news!
I hope that people were paying attention to the scripture passages today as they were being read…and the words of the Psalm we sang. Have you heard some good news? [I hope so. That takes a bit of the pressure off me, now. Though I’ll do my best.]
I do believe we have good news to share-- important and transformative-- life-changing good news. Sometimes I think I risk sounding like a “broken record.” Some of you have heard me say it over and over again, in various ways. But the more I’ve studied the scriptures over the years and looked for the main themes and the big picture, the more I’ve become convinced that our Christian faith is all about love.
God loves us. We are—all of us-- God’s beloved children. Our faith is about responding to God’s love for us and for all God’s children by loving God and loving all the people God loves.
The Old Testament includes a lot of stories and verses that a lot of us find puzzling and troubling. Yet one of the major themes in the Old Testament is of God’s steadfast mercy. One of my Old Testament teachers at seminary did her doctoral dissertation on the recurring theme of “hesed”, which is a Hebrew word that can be translated as “mercy,” or “steadfast loving-kindness.” One of the other prominent themes in the Old Testament is how God keeps sending prophets to call people back to living in right relationship with God and with their neighbors… and how those right relationships are characterized by love and justice and mercy.
The gospel message in the New Testament proclaims in various ways how Jesus came to live among us, full of grace and truth, to embody God’s love for us and to show us how to live in the way of love. Jesus preached about the “kingdom of God” or the “reign of God” or “God’s dream for us” and how we are called to live into it.
When people asked Jesus what the most important commandment is, he said what’s most important is two-fold: Love God. Love your neighbor.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus made it clear that your neighbor is anybody we encounter—even people who are different… even people we might see as enemies.
In his last talk with his disciples, Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. People will know you are my followers by the way you love one another.”
In the gospel lesson we heard today, Jesus tells his followers, “If you keep my commandments—the commandments to love God and love the neighbor—we will abide in his love. He tells his disciples that he has said these things so that we may have his joy, and that our joy may be complete.”
Jesus made it very clear that it’s all about love. So I keep wondering how so many people who call themselves Christians could be so confused about this.
We live in such a broken and fearful world. Our government spends vast amounts of resources fighting terrorism. Alarm systems to protect homes, businesses, and even churches are commonplace.
In this election season, we hear some politicians speaking to the fears and prejudices of many voters. There are people who are afraid of Muslims… people afraid of African-Americans—especially males. Muslims are afraid of being attacked. African-Americans are afraid of being shot by police officers who are afraid of them.
So many people in our society fear and mistrust those who are different: Muslims… people whose skin is a different color… immigrants.
We live in a nation wracked by gun violence. Every year in the United States, on average, more than 111,000 people are shot in murders, assaults, suicides & suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, or by police intervention, and over 32,000 die. That’s an average of 306 people shot every day, and 90 of them die. Every day, 48 children and teens are shot, and 7 die. Precious lives, of beloved children of God—lost.
There are too many people in our nation and around the world who are hungry or food insecure.
Around the world, there’s war… genocide… people living under occupation.
The list could go on and on. The bad news in our local communities, in our nation, and around the globe can feel overwhelming.
In the midst of all this brokenness and fear and injustice, how are we-- as people of faith-- called to live?
“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God-- for God is love…. Since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God. If we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.”
What I hear in this is that loving one another is a spiritual practice, and that-- as we work at loving one another—God is living in us and working in us and perfecting love in us….
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love casts out fear. Whoever fears has not reached maturity in love.”
We love because God first loved us. If we say, “I love God” but hate our brother or sister, we’re lying about loving God. As we heard in First John, “those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen—cannot love God, whom they have not seen.
Fear divides us. It leads to violence and destruction. Hatred and fear are toxic. They harm us as persons… and as a society.But there is a way out. It is not the way of fear, and hate and violence; it is the way of love. In Dr. Martin Luther King’s words: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
Fifty-three years after Dr. King gave his “I have a dream speech” during the March on Washington, we can see that we have made progress. Just yesterday, at the opening of the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington, President Obama, the First Lady, and 99-year-old Ruth Bonner, the daughter of a man born into slavery, together rang the bell to celebrate the opening.
But if we’re honest with ourselves, we know that we have a long way to go. And so… we need to be in prayer. We need to open our lives to God’s call in our lives, as we live further into God’s dream for the world—the world that God so loves.We need to come together as a community of faith-- not for the sake of coming to a place called church-- but for the sake of coming together as part of the Body of Christ… for the sake of gathering as disciples who need to learn and practice living in the way of love. We need to encourage one another… and love one another. We need to love one another into becoming more and more the beloved children of God we were created to be.
I remember one stewardship season John Haugen stood before us and told us about how he and Reema came to be regular attenders here, rather than coming a few times a year. He said he’d been so disheartened by the outcome of an election and some of the things that were going on in the world. And then he said, “But what am I doing to make things better?” So they promised themselves that they’d come every Sunday for a while, and then they just kept coming.
John was invited to share his faith, and I’ll never forget his witness. He told us, “I’m a better person because I’m a part of the people here.”
I think that’s an important part of why we need to come together as a community of faith. We keep getting reminded that God loves us, that we are beloved children of God. We’re challenged to love God fully and to love our neighbors, and we encourage one another.
When we understand ourselves to be beloved children of God, when we start seeing others as God’s beloved children, it changes us. It’s transformative.God isn’t finished with any of us yet, and our love isn’t yet perfect, and it hasn’t yet cast out all our fears. But God is still working in and among and through us, through the power of the Holy Spirit-- leading and empowering us to become more patient and kind and generous… and helping us to become less envious or controlling… less irritable or resentful.
God is still working in us, guiding us further into the truth, re-forming us, teaching us what it means to go out and be the church out in the world.
The good news is that as we grow more and more into God’s way of love, God’s love will cast out our fears.
In a broken and fearful world, we can trust in the Holy Spirit to give us courage to pray without ceasing. As we work with others for justice, freedom and peace, our lives will be transformed, and we can change the world.
So be it! Amen!
Rev. Fran Hayes, Pastor
Littlefield Presbyterian Church
September 26, 2016