Sermon Lesson: 1 John 4:7-21 (NRSV)
Psalm: Psalm 22:25-31 (NRSV)
Referenced Sermons: The Love Map & The Love Map (Pt II) & The Love Map (Pt III)
Today, we are returning to what I like to call “The Love Map.” For those of you who were in church on Sunday, I eluded to it briefly in my sermon about the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-18). Little did I know when I was standing in the pulpit, promising that I would eventually make a chart, that a little over twenty-four hours later I would be in my home office, looking at this week’s lesson, and going, “And it all comes back to the love.”
Or, more importantly, divine love which is the source of all love.
Let me back up a little.
When I (or indeed any minister) has a tendency to talk about that wonderful four letter word (or love), I tend to talk about the source of all love, which is divine love, which comes from God. It includes but is not limited to all love found on earth and then some. It is pure, it is perfect, it is wonderful. It is the source of all love.
Now, for those of you who have ever done some reading or have taken a course or two, you may have heard of the Graeco-Christian term agape (ah-GAH-pay), which means “unconditional love,” which is the official name of this love.
However, today at least, I don’t want to overcomplicate matters by throwing in Greek words to describe a love I know we all have at least felt a glimmer of. Since all love comes from God, all love has the power to reflect its divine originator. So even in this marathon stretch of covid and social upheaval we each are facing in our own ways: if we feel that God might be distant (although I assure you, Christ is holding out his heart to you this very moment), the love you feel for your husband, your wife, your partner, your child, a friend, a loved one, a beloved pet will have glimmers of that divine love I so often speak about.
Take a moment, think of the warmth of that love, that is so unlike anything else. Reflect on love in whatever form it takes or has taken in your life.
Let’s Get Down to the Text
If you have a Bible open to the text, I really just want to say, “Can you feel the love tonight?” The author of 1 John is filling the text with every expression of love he can. He calls the reader “beloved” – or, one who is loved. He implores us to “love one another” – why? Because love is from God.
If God is good, and love comes from God, then surely love is one of the most beautiful gifts that God can give humanity, which is made in the divine image. In fact, the author takes it a step further, he suggests, that to love is to be in the divine image, although not in so many words, but it’s clearly there in the text.
To love is to be born of God. To be born of God is to be his children and to be in his image. This is a beautifully simple argument that the human race has lost sight of over the millennia, constantly reinterpreting the opening chapters of Genesis.
No one quite knows what it means to be to be made in the divine image. Does it mean we have a head and two arms and two legs? Some have postulated it is our reason and our intellect, so could it be that? Or is it, like 1 John suggests, our ability to love? Is it something else entirely?
What is important is to note that love is a reflection of God at the very least, a reflection of Christ’s love when he sacrificed for us on the cross.
More on Love
Moreover, it is love—pure and true and uncomplicated—that forms our relationship with our creator. Not laws. Not judgment. Not disappointment. It is love and it is only love. It is complete and it is unconditional.
Also, it is through love that God is known. After all he is Spirit. We cannot see him. We cannot physically touch him the way we might, say, a golden calf. But we can love him and he can love us unconditionally in return (and, I assure you, God does).
A Note on Jesus Christ
On Sunday, in church, I spoke about how Jesus was a free agent who made his own choices, who sacrificed himself of his own volition. This is all true. That does not negate the fact the Father sent the Son to be sacrificed that he, too, had a part, and his part was unconditional love for his children—for us—that he would make the sacrifice along with Jesus Christ.
All You Need is Love
To skip to v. 19, human love—in all its forms—is a response to divine love. You cannot love God and hate your fellow human being.
Now, I want to qualify this. Some people think that they must have perfect love in their hearts and love everyone equally and ignore their faults and become potentially disingenuous people who may (or may not) resemble robots. I make no judgments. But I am sure we have all known people who are so happy-go-lucky that they love us unconditionally to the point they can’t even remember our names two minutes later.
That is not love. (I fear trying to put a name on it, if I’m honest.)
Love is keeping an open mind.
Love is not rushing to judgment.
Love is listening.
Love is having your own opinion while attempting to see the other point of view (difficult, though I know this is).
Love is understanding that you are not perfect and so the world may not be perfect, also.
Love is accepting that you cannot change the hearts of others, and asking Jesus to do what you have tried and failed to do.
Love is a smile that you give to someone freely, even if your gut reaction is to dislike them.
Love is a helping hand when you, yourself, are afraid.
Love is knowing you cannot help the world if you do not help yourself first.
Love is kindness.
Love is gentleness of spirit.
Love is compassion.
Love is laughter.
Love is God. And God is Love. It’s simple and it’s sweet.