Sermon for the 1st Sunday after Trinity
June 3, 2018
“God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
There is a universal melody to which has been sung many lyrics, but one lyric spells out the Gospel, the good news, for a children’s song: Love, love, love, love; the Gospel in One Word is Love. Love the Lord and love your neighbor; Love, love, love. Glory to the Father, glory to the Son, glory to the Spirit, Three in One. As it was at first, is and evermore shall be; world without end. Amen, Amen. The Gospel in One Word is Love. How profound is that? Is it true?
One of the Jewish scribes heard Jesus engaged in a dispute one day, and seeing that Jesus was doing quite well in answering His detractors, he put to Him this question: “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus answered, “The foremost command is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second command is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
And the scribe replied to Him, “Right, Teacher, You have truly stated that He is One; and there is no one else besides Him; and to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself is better than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that the man had answered so correctly, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” Mark 12:28-34
If any teacher, any wise man, any prophet, any religious figure in all human history has ever taught about love and what it means, this man was Jesus Christ. The Jews counted it righteous to love their friends and to hate their enemies. Jesus corrected this. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven… For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? …And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? …Therefore be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-48 His point was, if God can love your enemies, and even love is own enemies, and do all that He can to show them the light of His perfect love, to lead them out of darkness to His own eternal shining love, you must count it your own duty to love them as well. Be like God and love them too.
As He prepared for His own great trial, Jesus gave His disciples His new commandment: “…that you love one another, even as I have loved you…. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another.” John 13:34-35. The mark of Jesus’ followers became an unbreakable, deep-seated and holy love. Their love for each other was love unto death. They lived and died for each other. And they loved people of every nation, color, tribe, religious background, and gender because they knew that Christ had come for every man, woman and child. They were no longer a religion of one race, but of all mankind. It took love to do that. God had loved all people from the beginning. It was right that His people should love all mankind as well.
Jesus explained this to the Jewish ruler, Nicodemus, who came secretly to Him by night. He said a sentence that has become the one-verse Gospel of Christians everywhere: “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16
Why love? Why not honor? Why not valor? Why not honesty, or peace, or rigid obedience, or diplomacy, or the nurture of children? These are all high values for God’s people, yet love is still the main thing. Faith, hope and love are universal to Christ’s followers, but the greatest of these is love, says St. Paul.
What is love? We use this 4-letter L word as a noun or a verb, even a lovely adjective, and it may mean a mere preference for one flavor ice cream over others, and that could change tomorrow. Love is passion, or heat: or it is attachment, parent with child, husband to wife, friendships, association, membership, the feeling of a citizen for his or her country. Love is a sickness. Love is a kind of knowledge, the odd connection that gives signals to two souls in their own world. These and many others are the ways we apply the L word. What did Jesus mean by that word? Love one another.
This love is a self-giving for the benefit of another, with knowledge of them and of what would do them the highest good. It is sliding the balance over the beam from your own rights and designs to the good of the other. You don’t so much care for yourself as you care for him or her. You live in order that the beloved is blessed.
The opposite of a thing can speak much about that thing, and the opposite of love is not hate. Hate also thinks of the other, and attaches to the other, though in a negative way. But a relationship without love is not hate, it is indifference. It is being able to walk around her with no feeling at all, not to care what she is suffering, not to want to know her needs. Indifference, sharing no common human empathy, dehumanizes the other, makes a person into a thing, and a thing to be used or to be avoided, an “it” and not a she or he.
Love, on the other hand, sees the person and cares what is desired, and what is best, and tries to give that best from right here inside, love from the heart. Perfect love is to give one’s life to save another, Christ said.
If love is so self-sacrificing, then, how does love conquer all? In the beginning, God made a human in His own image and likeness. This was not to say we looked like God, for God is spirit and has no physical image. We were made like God, and unlike the animals, because we were given a triune nature: a body, a soul, and a spirit. One human person has these three interdependent but distinct natures. Our body has physical senses, and registers the complex and intricate processes that happen within our biological beings. The soul reasons, feels and decides for us. Thought is not a function of a brain, but of that intangible mind that transcends our physical nature. The spirit believes, hears and communicates in wondrous ways of which we may have little consciousness. Our spiritual nature comes alive by the grace of God and has direct communion and fellowship with God, and is able to love as He loves.
And when God made us in His images, male and female is how He made us, so that the image of God in us was only fully reflected back to Him through the union of a man and a woman in a life of love.
God made us dangerously free, capable of making choices, able to determine the course of our lives, and even to act wrongly. He did this that, in time, He might see, coming back to Himself, those of us who would choose to love Him. This is to the glory of God and is the reason for which He made us. To choose to love Him over every other choice, every other relationship, every other urge or desire or passion or person: that was His purpose in our existence.
What about commandments? What about obedience? Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” John 14:15“If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words.” John 14:23-24 We have the ten commandments; we have the many rules and demands of the Law; but we have the One Great Commandment to Love. It is one, though it is given as three, like the Trinity: Love God, love neighbor, love one another. It’s three and it’s one: Love. If we follow love in earnest, seek love at a higher cost to ourselves than any other thing we search for, love will lead us to obey Him in order to please God whom we shall then love. Thus, pertaining to loving God and your neighbor, Jesus said, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
And so the beloved disciple, St. John, wrote the churches under his leadership to hold love as their highest cause. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was displayed in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another… If we [do], God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us…” 1 John 4
It was for love that we were created, in the image of God, because God is love. It is love that we were made for, and if we love God first, and each other as we love and concern ourselves over our own needs, we do His most perfect will and bring glory back to God. And His new nation, the Christians, who dwell everywhere, but whose country is not in this world, love each other with the love that is native only to that better country, and it gives testimony to this world that there is a heaven, and that heaven is good.
That’s the ideal. Humanity did not go in that direction, and the greater part of humankind still does not bring glory to God. We are unable to love as He loves. Instead of God, we have chosen ourselves to love and give our highest and best to. This broke our relationship with God and it broke our own hearts. Our spirits died and we lost the intimacy we had with God at first. There was nothing in us that could repair us, no one worthy enough among us who could make a bridge back to Him. No saint, no sage, no scholar, no priest had the answer. We groped around in the darkness. Only God could provide the bridge, only He could repair the damage that we caused. The Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. God so loved the world…
Love is the reason He came. Love is why He let Himself be cruelly treated. Love is why He was willing to die. Love is how He rose again from death to eternal life, not as deity alone, but also human, a resurrected eternal life, the first of us to achieve it, leading us back to the Father. A bridge of love.
Gospel means good news. Is there any news better than this: God loves you and He sent the most precious and beloved Person He loves to be our Savior? Jesus shows us His Father for they have always dwelt in each other. The Father, Son and Spirit have always been One God whose triune nature lets Him experience love, the love of another, within One God. His love for us is therefore not out of need. He needs no other. His love for us is therefore generous.
The good news is that He loves us enough to suffer for us, become man for us, die for us, and lead us to heaven, making a place there for us. The Gospel in One Word is Love.
“And we have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him… We love, because He first loved us.”
You are born from love, to love. Love is how His nature takes your own and makes it His. You don’t know how to love, except that God’s Spirit in you gives you that love. Let Him love you, and love through you, and see through your eyes the people He loves, and how He loves them. Let Him love the other through you, and in so doing, you become love.