Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Easter

Text: 1 John 4:7,8
Dear friends, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Whoever loves is a child of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.

Love is …

Some children were asked what they thought love is.

"Love is like this. When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn't bend over to put on her shoes anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too".

"Love is when my mummy goes with my dad in his boat even though she knows she will get seasick."

"Love is when your puppy licks your face and you don’t care even though he has been eating something that really smells."

"Love is my dad getting up in the middle of the night to change my sheets after I have thrown up everywhere".

"God could have said magic words to make the nails fall off the cross, but he didn't because he loves us".

It’s interesting to note that these children didn’t talk about some kind of warm fuzzy feeling one person has toward another but rather focussed on what love does. Because of love one person will do some amazing yet often simple things that are very helpful and meaningful. Like this example, "My dad got really angry with my mum when she ran into the garage door with the car. Love is seeing them hug and make up".

Love is a word that describes the relationship between two people but it’s more than that. Love involves actions and words that demonstrate that the other person is special. On Mothers’ Day the words ‘I love you, mum’ are important but they are hollow if those words are not followed up by actions motivated by the love that has just been expressed.

When the apostle Paul talks about love in his famous words to the Corinthians he doesn’t describe a feeling, - the warm feeling that being close to a person gives us, but instead he gets to the heart of what love is by describing what love does and does not. He says, ‘Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. Love endures through all circumstances and never gives up’ (1Cor 13).

We know these words off by heart and they roll of the tongue so easily but they can be very difficult to put into practice. When a person is really aggravating, selfish, and inconsiderate, Paul says that love dictates that we are to be patient, kind, never rude or irritable and that we should leave no stone unturned to be friends again with that person. In this kind of situation, regardless of the injury caused to us, love demands certain action our part.

When we are trying to deal with a breakdown in the relationship with another person, this is not a time for feelings to take control because it’s likely that feelings will only want to get back at the other person, justify our own wrong, accuse and condemn the other person, get us all uptight and say things that are unkind. Instead this is a time for the kind of love that only wants peace and harmony. The kind of love that is willing to forgive past hurts and reach out in friendship.

To those who hold that what goes round should come round, this kind of love is illogical and demonstrates weakness in a person’s character. What the Bible says is so different to worldly thinking. Strength of character is shown when a person determines to only let love control words and actions. This is the kind of love that John was referring to when he talked about the undeserved love the God has shown to us. "This is what love is: it is not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven" (1 John 4:10).

The Bible is quite clear.
There is no doubt about God's patience with us.
His love will always follow us no matter how terrible we have been or how much we have ignored his love for us.
His love is always supportive and encouraging especially when things aren’t going right.
His love involves sacrifice – giving up the life of Jesus on the cross just for us – just to forgive us and make it possible for us to be friends with him again.
His love gives us hope – that when our journey is finished here on this planet we have eternal life in heaven.
His love means a never ending supply of forgiveness for all who trust and believe that Jesus died for them.

On Saturday, September 18, 1982, the U.S. government released the results of a sad investigation. It reported that a soldier stationed in Korea had defected to the Communists. According to the investigation, on August 28, 1982, this twenty-year-old private willingly crossed the Korean Demilitarized Zone into North Korea "for motives that are not known." His fellow American soldiers pleaded with him to turn back, but he did not respond.

The day after the findings were released, the parents of the young man held a press conference on the lawn of their home. Wiping tears from his eyes, the father said that they had accepted the fact that their son was indeed a defector. "He has lost his credibility in this country, even with me, "said the man. But then he showed the heart of a father, "I still love my son," he said, "and want him back."

That is the kind of loving heart that our heavenly Father has for us. In fact, I don’t believe we can fully grasp what God's love is really like. The holy Lord of heaven and earth, the creator of the universe, our creator loves us so powerfully that he will stop at nothing to restore us into a relationship with him. His love is such that he would even let Jesus, God himself, be subject to the sinfulness of humanity, die on a cross just for us. That God should do all this for you and me, just specks in the vastness of the universe, is absolutely amazing. Even though we hurt our heavenly Father with every sin we commit, he still says to each us, ‘I love you and want you to come back’.

Jesus died for all the times we have failed to love.
He died to give us a fresh start taking all of our sin on himself, making us his special people. God wants us to be the kind of people he created us to be – people who will go to any length to show love toward others in the same way the Jesus gave up everything for us.

Six-year old Brandon decided one Saturday morning to make pancakes for his parents. He found a big bowl and spoon, pulled a chair to the kitchen bench, opened the cupboard and pulled out the heavy flour canister, spilling it on the floor. He scooped some of the flour into the bowl with his hands, mixed in most of a cup of milk and added some sugar and an egg, leaving a floury trail on the floor.

Brandon was covered with flour and getting frustrated. He wanted this to be something very good for Mum and Dad, but it was going very bad. As he got down off the chair he knocked the egg carton to the floor. Frantically he tried to clean up this monumental mess but slipped on the eggs and landed on the floor - getting his pyjamas all sticky and coated with flour.

Just then he saw Dad standing at the door. Big tears welled up in Brandon's eyes. All he wanted to do was something good, but he’d made a terrible mess. He was sure he was going to get into trouble.

But his father just watched him. Walking through the mess, he picked up his crying son, and hugged him - getting his own pyjamas white with flour and sticky with broken eggs in the process of loving him. He then proceeded to help Brandon make the best batch of pancakes ever.

Our love might be far from perfect and in spite of our good intentions we end up in a mess. But that doesn’t lessen God’s love for us in any way. He rolled up his sleeves and got all messy dying on a cross for us.
He hugs us,
loves us,
forgives us,
encourages us and
helps us through the Holy Spirit to put on love everyday.

John goes on in his letter and says, ‘Dear friends, if this is how God loved us, then we should love one another’ and a bit later he says, ‘The command that Christ has given us is this: whoever loves God must love others also’ (1 John 4:11,21).

What could be clearer than that? Receiving God's love places on us the responsibility to share that same love. There is a call to obedience here – a call to following God's ways – a call to live life as people who have been saved, called, redeemed, adopted and sent out.

There is nothing to suggest that showing love is optional or the kind of thing you do when it suits, or when you feel close to a person, or when another person is kind to you. When John says, ‘Whoever loves God must love others also’ there are no ifs, buts or maybes, no room for asking first, ‘What has that person done for me’.

To put it bluntly this isn’t a "feel good" kind of love – the kind of love that appeals to our emotions and feelings. The kind of love that Jesus is talking about is a very practical kind of love;
a sacrificial kind of love;
the kind of love that doesn’t ask what the cost is;
a love that doesn’t rely on friendly feelings toward others.
That’s the kind of love that Jesus has for us – there was nothing likeable or friendly about those who nailed him to a cross and yet he could still look at them with nothing but love and forgiveness.

We know all too well that this kind of love is just so hard. We mess up daily in our attempts to be kind, caring, understanding and compassionate.
We feel bad that our love has been selective showing love only to those who have been kind to us.
We feel bad because there have been limits on just how much we will do for someone.
We feel bad that love has not been the controlling force that guides us in our relationships and the restoring of those relationships when things go all pear-shaped. And what makes us feel even worse is when we hear Jesus say,
"Love one another as I love you".

If that’s your experience that’s the precise reason Jesus died on the cross. At our baptism and then every time we come to the altar for Communion he reminds us that even though we have failed we are still his dearly loved children. Even though we find it so hard to love as he has commanded he doesn’t give up on us. With the love of Jesus in our lives, we go from here determined that this love will make a difference.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
10th May 2009

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