May2SunA sermon on 1 John 4 May 2, 2021 by Sebastian Meadows-Helmer
Today’s sermon is all about love.
Now a sermon all about love brings to mind a scene from the
1987 Cult Classic movie “The Princess Bride”,
where there’s a funny idiot bishop presiding at the wedding ceremony of the prince and princess.
And his sermon begins (and pardon my poor impersonation):
Wuv, twuu wuv, will foyyow you fowevvaw.
There’s always a risk, esp. in a comedy,
when there’s a foolish pastor in the scene,
that they’ll be portrayed as pretty dim-witted,
spouting boring platitudes about love,
esp. if they are of a mainline denomination.
And a wedding ceremony, whether you’re the officiant or the best man,
it sometimes is difficult to find something to say of substance
beyond the fact that:
“it’s great that the bride and groom love each other”,
So when the topic of “love” comes up in a sermon,
you can count the eye-rolls and the sighs.
And esp. when the sermon text is our second reading today
from the first letter of John.
The word “love” occurs no less than 29 times in that reading.
Some sentences even have the word “love” 4 times in it.
It’s enough to make you want to tune out the droning preacher,
just like the insufferable bishop from “The Princess Bride”,
and ask him to get to the point.
But perhaps all is not as it seems.
And this passage is a little bit deeper than at first glance.
First of all, when we speak here of love,
we’re not talking about a romantic sentiment,
or an individual feeling or emotion.
The love we speak of here, in Greek “agape”,
is a self-sacrificing love,
one of true and honest friendship,
Of giving without expecting anything in return.
A love in word and action.
The point of the passage is that we love others because God first loved us.
How does this play out?
Perhaps an illustration might help.
One day, a starving girl suffering from leprosy
was driven out of her home town by the residents of that small village.
A missionary saw the crowd, stepped into the crowd,
took the child in his arms and carried her away.
People backed off and shouted, “Leprosy! Leprosy!"
In tears, the girl asked her rescuer:
"Why do you care about me?"
The missionary answered,
“Because God created us both.
That's why you are my sister and I am your brother.
You will never be hungry and homeless again ”.
"But how can I repay you?”
"Give the same love to as many people as possible!"
In the three years until her death,
this girl bandaged the wounds of the other lepers,
gave them food, but above all:
She loved them.
When the 11-year-old child died, the other lepers said:
"Our little angel has returned to heaven."
The missionary here demonstrated unconditional love to a girl who was considered unlovable by her family and neighbours due to her infectious and fatal skin condition.
He called her a sister, and adopted her into his mission family.
He knew she could never repay him,
but he challenged her to show love to others in return.
And so she did.
She turned his gift of love into a thousandfold gift,
helping other lepers and loving them to an incredible extent.
As she had been loved, so she loved others.
So if we say this story illustrates the idea that as God first loved us,
so we can love others, what are we saying?
Well, let’s start with “God is love”.
At the very beginning, there is God’s love,
which is all in all and creates all.
Love is God.
All God’s activity is loving activity,
God creates with love, rules with love, judges with love.
All anxiety, all mortality, and meaninglessness, fades under God’s love,
As “The heart of the universe is a pulse of mercy with infinite passion.” (William Self)
But this is not enough.
God’s love is revealed among us in this way:
God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live though him. (V9)
God demonstrates this love and makes it apparent and real by sending his Son, as we also read in John 3:16
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Jesus atones for us, that is: we become at-one-with God through him.
We become connected to God through Jesus.
What comes to mind is our beautiful Christus Statue at the back of our chancel, with Jesus looking down with mercy, arms wide outstretched:
the statue evokes the embodied loving embrace of God,
Which is real, and ready to receive us, just as we are.
And we are invited into a mutual abiding relationship.
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God,
and God abides in them.
Just like a loving spousal relationship where the partners are intertwined, where one partner brings out the best in the other and vice versa.
Or perhaps we can envision a grape vine,
and how the branches are connected to the vine,
and the grapes are borne by the branches because
they are connected to the main vine.
So as we receive God’s love as revealed and embodied in Jesus,
we can trust in God’s love,
that agape “love that gives without expecting a return”.
And realize that love is not an ideal, it is a relationship,
and is lived out in relationship.
And those of us who have been in long-term relationships
know that it’s not all touch-feely emotions (although those emotions can be present).
But love means putting your ego aside,
and sacrificing your wants for other’s needs.
It means seeing the need and doing something to help.
It’s about concrete action.
We love because God first loved us, our passage states,
not once, but three times, in slightly varying ways.
The author wants to hammer home the connection that since God loves us, that enables us to love our neighbour.
We are called to a love for our siblings modelled by God’s love for us
as seen in Jesus.
As Jesus lays down his life for us, so we are to do this for others.
It’s not just a recommendation, but a commandment,
to love our siblings on this planet.
Those who love God MUST love their brothers and sisters.
Beloved! We must love.
We need to walk in the light and imitate Christ.
What does this mean concretely?
I think we all know deep down,
although it usually is hard to actually do the loving thing.
We all know it’s not loving to nurse grudges, seek revenge,
or to be careless of the feelings of others,
But esp. in these pandemic times where we’re often just scraping by emotionally and spiritually, or even financially,
it’s hard to find love to give.
But even if we can’t find enough love to give on to others,
God still loves us!
And that is the miracle of grace.
God’s love is unsolicited, undeserved,
and does not depend on our doing, our action.
If we can, we can just try our best,
as human love derives from God’s love,
and so to love others, we tap into God’s love.
And when we manage to embody God’s love for our neighbour,
We are God’s love enfleshed.
And by giving on this love of God to others,
we sometimes realize how much we get back in return.
I’ll share another story told by an explorer in the Himalayan mountains:
Once, when I was mountain climbing with a Tibetan guide in a snowstorm,
I saw a man who had fallen down a steep slope in the snow.
I said, "We have to go and help him!"
The guide replied: "Nobody could demand from us that we attempt that,
while we ourselves are in danger of perishing."
"But" I replied, "if we die, it were better we die while helping another."
The guide turned and went his way.
I went down to the fallen man,
lifted him with difficulty on my shoulders,
and carried him down the hill.
Through this strenuous effort, I got quite warm,
and my heat transferred to the stiff, cold man.
Hours later on the way I found my former companion lying in the snow. Tired as he was, he had laid down and froze to death. -
I had wanted to save a person,
but I ended up saving myself.
In this story of self-giving love, the author makes the risky choice,
in freezing, dangerous conditions,
to help a fallen man, and says he would rather die helping someone.
Little did he know that his act of love to the fallen man
would save his own life, by warming himself up from the exertion.
The story illustrates well how love passed on can bring
so many more blessings than prior imagined.
So also God’s love in us,
can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.
So beloved, since God loved us so much,
we also ought to love one another,
In word and deed.