Love is All You Need But Not All You Get
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on 1 John 4: 7 – 21. Focus: We have replaced God with ourselves and we are reaping out own sinful behavior because we have failed to love as Jesus loved. The violence toward our own citizens by our own police is a sign of our national sin. Check out Rasaan Bourke & The First Presbyterian Church Choir as they sing: I’ve Got Peace Like a River.
It’s an interesting phenomenon that while we are one of the most connected generations of all time, we are also more isolated from those around us, more separated from friends, family, God, even ourselves, than any generation before us.
I don’t know if this is true but one article I read argued that for all of our connectedness through the social media world of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, the lonelier we’re actually likely to be. Did I get any likes today? Did anyone comment on my post? So and so has far more likes than I ever get. You get the idea.
And I think the reason is that we tend to believe that we are alone and unloved in the world and our social media only helps reinforce that feeling in us, which in turn gives rise to the belief that the individual is the supreme entity in world. And in time this gives rise to the sociopathic narcissistically based belief that only the strong and powerful should survive. We see this expressed most clearly in the casual way in which we kill our own citizens for such infractions as failure to make child support payments.
We even see it at the level of the church where those churches still able to keep their doors open are hoping that the vultures who are circling their buildings don’t land too soon – say before they are actually dead. Sadly, as much as we might wish it were not true, in the church we are all too often guilty of “shooting our wounded.”
Our lesson from 1 John suggests that we look to a different source to meet our needs for love. John calls us to love one another based on the fact that God is love and is the source of love. More than that, John points to the ultimate demonstration of God’s love in Jesus. We call it the incarnation, the belief that in Jesus, God somehow came to walk in our shoes, to experience the fullness of our suffering, our struggles, and even our loneliness. Through this amazing demonstration of love, John says that we come to know and “believe in” the love God has for us (1 Jn. 4:16).
Now, I think that the theology of incarnation is important for understanding God’s love for us. But I doubt that most of us came to know and “believe in” God’s love for us through church dogma or doctrine. Rather most of us come to know and believe in God’s love because somebody at some point in our lives loved us and because of this human interaction we are able to love others – to pass it on.
Unfortunately, we often fall short in actually doing this. Even in its earliest days, the church fell short. John wrote that anyone who doesn’t love a brother or sister cannot love God (1 Jn. 4:20). Yet he also attacks people who had separated from his church over doctrinal disagreement (1 Jn. 2:22-23). In fact, he condemns them as “antichrists” (1 Jn. 3:18-19) and children of Satan (1 Jn. 3:10)! Not so loving. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we have to confess that we have all been there. We have all fallen short of loving our neighbor as Jesus commanded us to do.
The sad thing about it is that when we retreat behind our walls of bitterness and hatred, we are only increasing the isolation, the separation, and the loneliness in our world. And we do this by isolating and separating ourselves from the world of humanity around us—a world of individuals crying out for some indication that there is someone out there somewhere who cares about them, who loves them, who values them as a human being.
The challenge is that relating to other human beings is messy at best, even or especially on Facebook our relationships can get complicated. Someone posts something that is innocent enough and everyone turns on their post not realizing its intent because of the lack of human interaction. But that’s the way life is. It’s complicated; it can hurt to relate to another human being; it’s frustrating and challenging to try to love someone that is determined to be unlovable.
And that’s precisely why God’s calls us to love each other. God’s love for us calls us to enter into the messy, complex world of flawed people and to live as witnesses to God’s love for each and every one of them.
It is an experience first and a doctrine second.
Doing the work you’re best at doing and like to do best, hearing great music, having great fun, seeing something very beautiful, weeping at somebody else’s tragedy-all these experiences are related to the experience of salvation because in all of them two things happen: you lose yourself, and you find that you are more fully yourself than usual.
A closer analogy is the experience of love. When you love somebody, it is no longer yourself who is the center of your own universe. It is the one you love who is. You forget yourself. You deny yourself. You give of yourself so that by all the rules of arithmetical logic there should be less of yourself than there was to start with. Only by a curious paradox there is more. You feel that at last you really are yourself.
The experience of salvation involves the same paradox. Jesus put it like this: “He who loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39) You give up your old self-seeking self for somebody you love and thereby become yourself at last.
In his book Beyond Words Frederick Buechner writes: “You do not love God so that he will then save you. To love God is to be saved. To love another person therefore is to love God and therefore to be saved. You do not love God and live for him so you will go to Heaven. Whichever side of the grave you happen to be talking about, to love God and live for him is Heaven.
It is a gift, not an achievement.
You can make yourself moral. You can make yourself religious. But you can’t make yourself love.
“We love,” John says, “Because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)
Who knows how the awareness of God’s love first hits people. Every person has his own tale to tell, including the person who wouldn’t believe in God if you paid him. Some moment happens in your life that you say Yes to it and it makes it suddenly makes sense why you are here. You laugh with somebody till the tears run down your cheeks. You cry till you laugh again and you realize that is love that sustains us. Love expressed through the likes of us is what sustains us, but it is only possible because God first loved us.
And whether you thank God for such a moment or thank your lucky stars, it is a moment that is trying to open up your whole life. If you turn your back on such a moment and hurry along to business as usual, you may lose. If you throw your arms around such a moment it may save your soul.
How about the person you know whom as far as you can possibly tell has never had such a moment – the soreheads and slobs of the world, or the ones the world has hopelessly crippled? Maybe for that person the moment that has to happen is you. It is a process, not an event.” But it is the only way to salvation and doing what we are currently doing in this country is not working. It is time to bring God’s love back into this nation. Amen