The Finale: Love

Sermon for Nov. 18, 2012 Pentecost +25, 33rd Ordinary

Lev. 19:9-17

9 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest.  10 You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God.
11   You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another.  12 And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the LORD.
13   You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning.  14 You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.
15   You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor.  16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the LORD.
17   You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself.  18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

1 John 4:7-21

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4:7   Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.  9 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.  10 In 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.  11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.  12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. 

4:13   By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.  14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world.  15 God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God.  16 So 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.  17 Love 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.  18 There 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.  19 We love because he first loved us.  20 Those 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.  21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. 

The Finale

There’s a radio show that comes out of Wisconsin called “Whad’Ya Know?”  that always begins with the question to the live audience “Whad’Ya Know?” to which they all shout the answer, “Not much.  You?”

I guess it is a sort of homey, Wisconsin, politeness-thing, to not be the kind of person who claims too know much.

Reading the Bible in 90 Days: Now we know.

Many of us have just completed the program of reading the bible in 90 days; this is the finale.  I’m sure most of us have learned a lot; there are stories we read that

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we  never or rarely get to hear, on a Sunday morning.  Some of them are downright unfit for “younger or more  sensitive people.” But now we’ve read them all.  If you ask us “Whad’Ya Know?” about the bible, we would have to say, “Much more than we used to know.”

One of the great benefits of reading the bible at such a fast pace is that we have seen the big picture, like a mosaic, made of many different, uniquely colored pieces, forming a single scene.

It turns out that biggest big-picture view of the bible is the image of God who longs to be in relationship with the people he made and whom he loves.  So, this is a love story.  But it’s a tragic love story.  It’s an “unrequited love” story.  God’s people are an odd bunch.  In general, they all (or we all) have a deep longing to to be with God, to know God, but we have a strong pull in the opposite direction as well.

Can God solve this problem and be with people who sometimes do, but other times don’t want to be with him, by means of a covenant and promise?  Will a law work?  A temple?  How about prophets?  In the end God has to come in person, and that’s our story: God coming in person, in human form, whom we know as Jesus.

Whad’Ya Know about God?

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But there is something odd we have experienced as we have read the bible these past 90 days.  God is hard to figure out.  If you asked us concerning God himself, Whad’Ya Know?”  We might be inclined to say, “Not much.  You?”

Here’s what I mean.  The bible’s characterization of God is complex.  In the bible we read that God is good; he creates a good world.  But then we read about how God destroys the world with a flood.

We read that God forbids killing, but he also commands killing.  We read that God is “not like a human, that he should change his mind,” but then we read that he changes his mind when people like Abraham and Moses argue with him.

We see a lot of violence in the bible, but we read about a future time, when God’s will is finally done “on earth as it is in heaven,” in which people will “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, and when nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

So, that’s why, on the subject of God himself, when we hear the question, “Whad’Ya Know?”  we are be inclined to say, “Not much.  You?”

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At one level God always remains an inscrutable mystery.  We long to know God, but can our finite little minds do that?  Are we any closer to really getting it than our pet dogs and cats are at knowing what we doing when we sit in front of our computers, reading and typing?  Whatever they could possibly imagine is going on  when we do that has got to be far from accurate.  Probably not even close.  Is that the best we can hope for with our knowledge of God?

Help from Jesus

Fortunately, we get a lot of help from Jesus.  Jesus didn’t try to explain God like theology does – with words like “infinite, eternal, omnipotent, or even Trinity.”  But he told us stories and taught us to pray, and so he did help us picture God; as Father, as Shepherd, as love itself.

Perhaps we don’t and can’t know God any better than these analogies and approximations, but maybe that’s enough.  Enough to know how we are to live with this God who longs to live with us.  The odd thing is that there is a consistent thread from the Old Testament to the New Testament – as we just experienced in the two texts we read.  From Leviticus , in the Law of Moses, all the way to the epistles, we find out that the the essence of what God wants, is love.

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“Whad’Ya Know?”  “Enough to know that the God who loves us has called us to love one another.  Maybe that’s not much, but enough.

You shall love your neighbor as yourself” – says Leviticus.  1st John agrees, saying “The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

In fact, loving our brothers and sisters is exactly what we should do in the face of the unknowability of an infinite God.   How do you love a God you cannot figure out?  How do you demonstrate that you love a God you cannot see?   Listen to 1st John’s perspective:

12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.”

“20 Those 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.”

John uses those stark, black-and-white, either-or, all-or-nothing categories to make his point.  You either love or you hate; no middle ground.  We are either truth-tellers or liars according to this uncomplicated scheme.

Love Logic

Maybe it’s just that from John’s perspective, it is simply obvious.  The logic goes something like this: What do we know of this unseen God that is bedrock-certain?  That “God is love.”  God’s defining characteristic is love.  Love is not an aspect of God or a quality that he could have in greater or lesser degree; rather love is God’s essence.

That means that any way of thinking of God that forgets this fundamental fact must be misguided.  After reading the entire Old Testament, this is a relief.

What about all that wrath?  All those punishments?  What about the curses?  John doesn’t go into long explanations, except to say that if we are fearful about God’s punishments, our thinking has gone off the rails somewhere, because that kind of thinking ignores the fundamental fact that God is love.  Listen again:

16 God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.  17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may

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have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world.  18 There 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.”

The God who loves us and longs to be with us, longs for us to know him as pure love.   For John, this has exactly one concrete implication for us: we cannot but love those whom God loves.

11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.

Love Gives

If God has seen past all the reasons not to love us, but still loves us anyway, how could we possibly have any reasons to withhold our love for others.

This is not about having warm fuzzy feelings for everyone.  That would be impossible to accomplish and futile to command.  For John, as well as for Moses, in Leviticus, love is completely practical.

Love gives.  Just as God loves, and so gives his Son to us, so love compels us to be givers.  We give ourselves in service, in ministries of mercy, in direct response to needs, because love gives.  We give our best thinking and strategizing to find solutions to human problems; we become advocates: voices for those whose voices are not being heard; we research and we organize and plan, giving our energy, intelligence, and creativity because love gives.

We give our resources too, because as people who have been touched by God’s love, we respond out of love.  We love our church and want it to prosper.  We love our community and demonstrate it by responding in love to needs around us.  Most of all we love God, and we know that there is a strong competition in our hearts for  the spot that God and Mammon cannot both occupy at once.  We know that our own spiritual growth, therefore, depends on relaxing our grip on our resources by giving.  Love gives.

Knowing the Finale

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“Whad’Ya Know?” Not much; I’m only human.  But I know enough to get the main point of the drama that we are in.  I know what the finale is all about.  I know that God is love.  I know that love gives.  And I know that giving love to God of necessity involves giving love in practical ways to people that God loves.  I know that I am a part of the way God’s love is given to others, as I give in response.

Today is the Sunday on which we dedicate ourselves anew, for this coming year, to be loving givers of ourselves.  In a moment we will come with our Time and Talent responses, and with our pledge cards, brining them here to the front, dedicating them to God, as tangible expressions of our love.  This is our mission:  “Loving God, Growing in Faith, and Sharing Christ’s Love.”  It starts with love, it ends with love.

“Whad’Ya Know?”  God is love; and to love, is to give.

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