Sermon 10 May 2015 – ‘Loving & Serving God’May 20, 2015
The world seems to be in a place where the ongoing mantra is “all you need is love” and the idea that because God and Jesus are all about love then that’s the basis by which we make our decisions on the things of life. A look round social media such as Facebook then lets you see how people operate, using the ‘Like’ button and wee heart icons to indicate something that they love. Of course you can tell how much they love something by the number of those icons they use. We have a very loose way of using the word love and the things of love, and because of that, we have a very loose way of interpreting what love actually is: how complex it is, the different nuances of love and how that all works out in our lives.
But it also comes into church life. We bring into our church life things of this world and use that to interpret God’s word and how and what church is. People will say that the church needs to keep up with the times and that the world is changing and so the church must change. I agree that the church must change, not to keep up with the world, but to show the world what God’s love is really about, not just in words but in action. If we begin to understand what God’s love for us and his world is about, we also begin to have a greater understanding of His grace and how that transforms us; transforms us to be Christ-like and see Christ in the face of other people.
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:1-5 NRSV)
John brings faith, that is belief and love together. If we believe that Jesus is the Christ, and by using “if” I actually mean when – many of the “if” statements in Scripture should be read as when – but more of that later, when we believe that Jesus is the Christ –two things happen.
Firstly they are born of God, this is being “born again” – when we believe that Jesus is the Christ we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and are born again, made new in Christ, we die to self and are born again of God – the beginning of a transformation brought about by God within us. I’ve spoken before about being born again but I think it useful to repeat that we should remember that the act of being born again isn’t the same for everyone; my experience is not your experience and your experience is not your neighbour’s experience. Sometimes God acts in a big almost dramatic way – the Damascus Road experience and sometimes He’s the still small voice. But however it happens, it happens whenever we believe that Jesus is the Christ, that He is God the Son and that He is our Saviour, that through His life, crucifixion, death, resurrection and ascension, He has redeemed us, that He had won the victory over death, that He has taken the burden of our sinful lives and given us forgiveness.
The second thing that happens is in loving the parent, we love the child. This links up with the last verse of the previous chapter.
The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. (1 John 4:21 NRSV)
When we love God and obey His commandments, we know that we love the children of God. But what is this love that is spoken of here? Scripture uses different words for love and they each convey different concepts of love:
Storge: means a natural affection or love especially between parents. That kind of love which underwrites everything going on in the relationship between mother or father and child. That bond that happens naturally most often when that child is born and then held in the arms of mother and father. That natural affection that survives as we grow up in the family and most often forms the bond which can keep child and parents together over the years.
Philia: that love which is an affection for friends and kindred spirits; the feeling that’s there between equals.
Eros: almost needs no explanation but is that love which is of passion and is the physical act of love in a relationship.
But the word for love here is agape; love, especially compassion, forgiveness, charity; a selfless sacrificial love, the love that Jesus has for His Father and His people; the love of God for his people and of his people for God; the outgoing love of God which awakens a like response in the heart of the individual. Agape is used in Scripture only of fully interpersonal relationships either human or divine.
Anders Nygren says this:”Agape is the entirely unselfish love, seeking only the good of others, and is therefore theocentric because it is the reproduction of God’s own outgoing love”.
Agape: a love which begins with God and in 1 John 4:10 it is written “In this is love, not that we loved God but he loved us and sent His Son to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins”.
God’s love for us means that He is always seeking to bring us back to him; into a right relationship with him; that He gave up His Son for us so that those who believe would have eternal life. That love He has for us when we believe that Jesus is the Christ brings a response in us; to love Him, to love His children, our brothers and sisters, our neighbours. In effect we automatically respond to obey His commandments,
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:34-40)
We begin to connect faith, love and mission and three strands in a cord, woven together and dependent on each other. When we believe or have faith – a minister I used to work with used to speak about “faithing” with “believing” – we love and obey. Our obedience is our response in loving our God and brothers and sisters, our neighbours and serving them – to be involved in service and mission.
That love response from agape love means that we are called and commanded to love one another, those whom we find it easy to love, those whom we struggle to love, and those whom we don’t know, because they’re out there in the parish or the wider world, whether that’s the church in Bondo or Mathia, Kenya, or the church in Ethiopia which is the Christian Aid focus this year, or the persecuted church in various countries around the world. Our mission and serving is a responsive, practical love to our brothers and sisters who we don’t know but are called to love.
Our love is about looking beyond the immediate and considering all types of issues that impact on our brothers and sisters. There are reports this week from Nepal that people are using the dire circumstances that women and girls are in as a result of the earthquake, to further human trafficking; offering them a “better” life with money and security and then taking them into a life of prostitution and slavery. Issues of trafficking, of slavery, of persecution, of cruelty and abuse are real and around us.
When we know the love of God, we respond, we love His children, our neighbours, our brothers and sisters. Today we see the work of Christian Aid not just in Ethiopia but around the world, we know that they are working in Nepal as well, from the Moderators message last week but to do that requires money. This morning, we will commission those volunteers from this church, some of whom have been leading this worship, to go out into the parish, delivering and collecting envelopes for Christian Aid. What they do this week may not seem much locally but when added to all the other volunteers for Christian Aid, amounts to a massive response. But that doesn’t let us who aren’t going out, off the hook, we still have a response to make and not just in giving money. We can respond in prayer, to prayer for them as they go out and about, to pray for the people that they meet at the doorstep, to pray for the people who will feel the benefit of the money, to pray for all those who work for Christian Aid and other similar charities such as Tearfund.
We also need to consider our own prayerful, loving response in this parish; what is it that we are doing, how can we share God’s word and so His love with the people of the parish, how can we share God’s Word and so His love with those who we know; what is our mission in this church, in this parish, in this community?
Whatever that is, it takes the loving response of agape from each one of us; some can pray, some have resources to give, some have time and talent to give, some can manage all or a number of these responses but we can all pray, here in the services, at home, and as I spoke about last week, in prayer groups or meetings.
The love that God has for each one of us is a selfless sacrificial love, seeking only the good of others and is theocentric because it is the reproduction of God’s own outgoing love. It is love when we believe, or “faith” that brings about a response in us and calls us to love God and our neighbours, our brothers and sisters. Faith, love, obedience and mission all flow from the selfless, sacrificial love of God for each one of us. Amen