Sunday 28 July 2018 This thing called ‘Love’ Martin Baker
Today, and over the last 3 weeks, we have been reading from John’s 1st letter.
It’s probably written in Ephesus (South West coast of modern Turkey) to a small church that has lost a good number of its leaders.
These leaders could not accept that God’s word, present at the start of creation, could be embodied in this man called Jesus. God’s son. Quite commonly, flesh was seen as corrupt and sinful, and so the very thought that God could be fully present in this Jesus was unacceptable.
John describes these former leaders as antichrists. It’s a name that relates not only to the simple idea that these leaders have turned against Christ, but anti, in this context can also mean substitute. They have substituted Christ and the message for one that fits more into their acceptable world view.
John insists that God’s word in Jesus was, and is, real. He says we have heard it, seen it and touched it. He uses a legal term, paracelete, to describe Jesus as always being with us, for us, understanding our challenges.
And he uses another Greek word, Koinonia to describe the special community that is formed around God’s word, formed around the light of that word. A community formed when that word is proclaimed and formed in community with God.
John recognises that there are many influences in our lives that call us in many different directions. And he describes these influences as spirts. He says that we can test which of these influences or spirits is from God, by asking the question do they place the reality of Jesus central to our lives? Does our life and our words and behaviour speak of the reality of Jesus, his love his words his actions?
Last week I said that there is always a danger that we commit the same heresy or false teachings as those early Christians. Some of our words, songs, carols, can make Jesus seem like a disembodied spiritual being, or a good feeling, or a principle, at worst a kind of fairy tale. Jesus actually meant what he said about forgiving, about seeing him in the poorest and least, about the fundamental importance of hospitality and welcome. These things were real. He was executed for the way he showed love. He was not executed for his theories on something.
This morning we hear about God being love. And we probably all think that love is the most important thing. But what is really important to think about is that John does not want to relegate this word love to a feeling or an emotion. It is a word that is so commonly used. For everything. Again, it has to be about Jesus, about something we can see and hear and touch.
1 John 4:7-21
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. 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 Saviour 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.
Let us pray
There is a challenge in today’s text.
By way of example.
The first Christian missionaries to China were called Nestorian Christians. They came from Persia. (Iran) In the year 635. And one of the challenges they faced, and it has been a challenge faced perhaps by every Christian missionary since then, was the challenge of translation. How for instance do you translate the Christian word for God, into the Chinese language – which then, had no word for God in the way we might understand that word?
There were words which meant things like true lord, lord of heaven, or words that meant spirit or soul. But almost all the words they tried ended up referring to the concept of emperor - which given the feeling and knowledge about the emperor, was difficult. It might be akin to us translating the Hebrew or Greek words for God as President for instance. So some translators of the Bible simply left a gap in the text when the word God was mentioned. It was felt better for the missionaries to explain the concept of the Christian god rather than to use a word that would be inevitably inaccurate and unhelpful. Especially if God was likened to the emperor.
When the Christian Gospel came to a place like Ephesus, surrounded by so many temples, filled with the worship of so many Gods, how do you speak about the Christian faith?
How for instance, do we talk about the single most important word in the Gospel, the word ‘love’?
I’ll give you some examples.
Have you noticed how bland supermarket tomatoes taste?
Don’t you just love sun ripened tomatoes that can you pick off the vine in about January or February?
I just hate those little labels they put on all fruit now. It reminds me of that old joke about what is worse than seeing a worm in your apple. It to see half a worm. The same thing could apply to those little labels. I love fruit that doesn’t have labels on them.
How many of us have got really deep friendships? People we just love to see?
How many of us just love our children, even when they are somewhat unlovable?
I loved my triumph thunderbird, but do I love my triumph thunderbird in the same way I love my children? Or tomatoes or sushi.
As a child it was beyond imagination that anyone could love Brussel sprouts.
Can anything be loved? Is it a feeling? Is it an attitude? An emotion?
All you need is love the Beetles sang in the midst of the Vietnam war. Were they right? And what kind of love were they singing about?
What is the difference between liking someone and loving them? Can you love someone without liking them? And if you like them a lot, does that mean you could end up loving them? What does love at first sight actually mean? And how do we fall out of love?
The love word, which is repeated many times in our scripture, and a good number of times this morning, can be applied to almost anything.
And yet, if we were reading scripture, in Greek, the language our New Testament was written in, we would never read the word love in quite any of the ways I’ve just mentioned.
This word we translate as love is mostly quite different from the word for friendship or affection or liking something or someone. Even though there are echoes of all these things in this word.
The word those earliest Christian apostles used, was the uncommon word, agape - it is the only word used for love in our reading today .(ar garp a)
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.
It is used 6 times alone in different forms, just the verse two verses.
Beloved. Let us Love one another. Love is from God. Everyone who loves is born of God. Whoever does not loved, does not know God, for God is love.
So John here is not talking about liking someone, not talking about friendships , not talking first of all about fondness or being attracted, or even being in love, as we might understand those things.
So it’s difficult, but when we hear this passage today we are challenged to stand back from all the romantic and emotional - all the feelings we have about this word love and understand it first in terms of what God does.
God’s love is what is shown to us in Jesus being among us, what he said, what he did. The circumstances of his suffering and death and in the proclamation of his resurrection. This is what God is; this is what God’s love is.
And remember it’s not ever the other way around. God is love, we see that in Jesus. But love is not God. God cannot be some emotion or quality or character. Whatever concept we have of love it is never big enough to completely explain what God is like. God is love, like God is creator redeemer sustainer of life. God is love but not love is God.
So the Beetles are probably wrong. All you need is love can mean so many things it can almost be meaningless. What we need is God, because it is God who shows us a particular real love which is unlike any other. A love which serves, sacrifices, changes and transforms and reconciles.
There is a wonderful blessing from the French Protestant church, our Huguenot cousins, for babies when they’re baptised”
“For you Jesus Christ came into the world: for you he lived and showed God's love; for you he suffered the darkness of Calvary and cried at the last, 'It is accomplished'; for you he triumphed over death and rose in newness of life; for you he ascended to reign at God's right hand. All this he did for you, [name], though you do not know it yet. And so the word of Scripture is fulfilled: "We love because God loved us first."
So when we speak about love today, this agape, we are capturing up this whole event that is central in our history and our lives and our faith.
So this morning
Let’s give thanks for the ways that love is expressed and celebrated in our Bibles. The love we find in families – however they’re made up. The love expressed in sensuality and sexuality. The love of friendships.
Let us ponder this word agape. The divine love of God expressed in Jesus. We are called to love in this way as well. It’s the words we speak the example we set the things we do which gives real expression to the reality of God’s love for all people. Some of these people might always view us as enemies, as Jesus said. Some of these people we will have nothing in common with. Some of these people, as Jesus showed, might even hurt or damage us. Some for these people we may think of as not deserving. They do things we don’t agree with. Behave in ways we don’t like. Spend money in ways we don’t approve of. But agape is the love which got Jesus crucified. Agape does not depend on the behaviour of the other. Let us pray for God’s help and courage as we seek to express agape for all our brothers and sisters.
And lets acknowledge with a heart of thankfulness the agape love we have received. The experience of love from those wo has forgiven us, from those who have welcomed us for those who have helped us out when we haven’t been able to help ourselves.
Let’s try to make this command from Jesus central to our lives. Love one another as I have loved you
There are two words we find for love in scripture. The first word is phileo. Philanthropy. Philadelphia.
In Greek philosophy the purest form of human love was described as the phileo. It wasn’t the love felt between husband and wife of even towards children; there were different words for that.
It was the deep affection that came from the nurturing of friendship. In Paul’s letters in the Bible we are encouraged to see this kind of relationship as a quality of those who are part of the church’s life.
C S warned some decades ago that so much of modern life undermines the importance of nurturing friendships of this type. Unlike our ancient forbearers we do not see the value in time spent nurturing and developing friendship.
When Johns says today those wonderful words love casts out fear, he’s not trying to make his community bad about being afraid, and he’s not saying that love is more powerful emotion than fear. He is saying to them and us that our whole purpose and identify in life is found in agape in the love God has shown for us in Jesus. A love that has conquered the very power and the machinery and mechanism of fear in our lives. Jesus sort out the sinners the sinner the outcomes the sick the mentally ill, he was God with them. Fear is a pretty central part of the lives of all those who were sick or outcast or condemned. Their fear, transformed by Jesus being with them.
He showed power for sacrifice and service. All the very worst that humans could do is brought to this point on the cross. When we confess that Jesus is risen we are saying that this agape this divine love overcomes all that would seek to undermine our relationship with God and one another.
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