Scriptures: Jeremiah 33:14-16 Psalm 25:1-10 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 Luke 21:25-36
Looking at everything through the lenses of love can change our lives, can change a family, can change a congregation, can change the world.
It is an amazing concept but the more we think about it the more puzzling and impossible it seems. How can I love that person who is making my life miserable? Some people find themselves in impossible situations. Abuse of all kinds is like a poison in our society – worse than asbestos. Some situations seem way beyond the realm of love.
Many, many people need to be rescued. Some of us work with people who seem to be ruling our lives in unpleasant or cruel ways. Some of us may have people living on the floor above us or the floor beneath us or beside us who make our lives unpleasant and challenging. We need to be careful that we are not making someone else’ life miserable.
We may have had, or have parents, who made life one terrifying day after another. It may be very hard for us to be loving parents when we have not had parents who modeled that for us. Some couples became couples before they realized the harsh personality of the spouse. Circumstance don’t always allow the trapped person to become free.
Some of us have been hurt by unloving teachers. Loving teachers are the greatest asset our school systems have. Being firm but loving is no easy trick. I was a teacher. I know.
Some of us did not even have loving pastors. Pastors should be loving as Jesus was loving. Jesus was loving as a shepherd needs to be loving. The word pastor comes for the pastoral role of being a shepherd of people. Just as sheep need to be guided gently, people are the same. People need to feel the care, the love. A shepherd who is rough with the sheep will get nowhere. Even sheep dogs need to be loving.
Our first advent candle today will represent “love.” The reading in “The Upper Room” asks us to think of a person who is not easy to love. Then, we are to focus on this person all week and ask God to help us to turn our anger, our fear, our disgust, into love. No easy task. How much do we believe that God can change our feelings to that kind of turn-around? We won’t know if we don’t try.
However, please understand that if we are being abused verbally, physically, or in other ways, we probably need to be removed from that situation. Easier said than done. It is like being trapped in a lion’s den as was Daniel. God protected Daniel. God does not always rescue us except by the help of people. People who love people are ready to rescue us. It still is not easy. It takes courage. Even if we are willing to be persecuted ourselves, we may have children or elderly relatives who are part of the picture. They need to be rescued. They need to feel love.
Love is what brings the good that is in us into the open. God gave each of us gifts to share with one another. Not jewelry, not perfume, not new tools, but the essence of ourselves. Talents to share, be it a gentle bedside manner, or a love of cooking, or a love of singing, or the natural ability to be happy. Hear the words of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 3:9. “How can we possibly thank God enough for all the happiness you have brought us?” The “you” whom Paul is thanking are the people from the church in Thessalonica.
We have these gifts buried inside us. If we don’t use these gifts, the kingdom of God on earth is not all that it could be. Do we want to be accused of squashing the kingdom of God on earth? By no means do we want to be responsible for that? When we come into the full kingdom, do we want to be greeted by the Father who is saying, “Why did you not use the gifts that I gave to you?” Why did you hide your abilities under a bushel?” Do you still have them? Let’s see them. Oh, you can’t find them because you did not use them and they disappeared. Shame on you!” But here is where we find true love. The Father shows His extreme love. The Father says, “Welcome. Enter. But here in this complete heavenly kingdom you will show your abilities. Watch! See what happens when you share the gifts you have!”
Returning to the earthly kingdom of God, more words of Paul come to us from the Contemporary English Version of 1 Thessalonians 3:12. “May the Lord make your love for each other and for everyone else grow by leaps and bounds. That’s how our love for you has grown.”
Looking at the words of Jeremiah from the Old Testament, in Jeremiah 33:14, we read, “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” So Jeremiah is writing when there were two kingdoms – the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. In verses 15 and 16, Jeremiah is referring to the coming Savior as a righteous branch. He is saying that the branch is for David. The concept of love is not mentioned. Here we are hearing justice and righteousness.
It is interesting that the designated Psalm 25 for today is supposedly written by David himself. David is speaking to the Lord. And here we find the idea of love. In the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), David uses the word “love” as the gift of the Lord for the Lord’s people. David says, “Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!” David also says, “All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.”
Jeremiah used the terms “justice” and “righteousness.” If we are to be just and righteous, is love required in the process?
John, my friend, can be found at demonstrations seeking justice for the homeless people. These people are not homeless by choice. Who would actually want to be homeless? John wants these people to have a roof and walls instead of the town spending money on a fancy fountain to lure people into town. Justice.
Alice, another friend, can be found with the homeless who gather for a meal which she has helped to prepare. Before the meal comes into sight, Alice preaches about how these people should be living – mostly the ten commandments. She wants these people to know what God says about our behavior, our living rightly, our righteousness. Alice may be thinking about taking her message to a town council meeting. The adult book stores should be chased out of town by law. A media drive should promote respect for the police personnel. Increased drug rehabilitation should be encouraged so that people who need encouragement and support and love are not looking for these needs to be met by false gods.
It is right for us to follow Alice’s lead toward righteous living for ourselves and for the people who don’t know that there is a guide for righteous living. However, justice and righteouness will likely not happen unless there is love.
We wonder how justice and righteousness fit into the theme of “love.” Right here it is. Behind justice and righteousness, love needs to exist! If we don’t seek justice and righteousness with love as the base, as the foundation, as the driving force, it will not work. Going about this endeavor to promote justice and righteousness out of anger will produce nothing except a lot of irritated people. The cause will be lost and, besides, anger multiplies. What good is a bunch of angry people, seeking justice or hammering righteousness in the faces of council members?
Love is the force that is disguised by gentleness and patience, by reasoning, by compromise, by wanting for the other person what we want for ourselves. So we both want the same piece of land! So we both want that particular last item on sale on Black Friday! So we want to spend our money differently than our spouse! We need to put the other person’s perspective in our own minds and hearts. Why does that other person want the object so badly? Is the other person’s need greater than ours? Does the other person’s perspective seem more fair than our own reason for wanting whatever we want?
This is where our Advent Candle idea is needed – asking God to transform our hearts to loving the person who seems to be at odds with us.
The writings we have from Luke 21:25-36 do not appear to be about love. Let’s look more closely. We read that some things are predictable. Our seasons are rather predictable. As warm weather approaches we can expect to see leaves sprout on our deciduous trees. We might carry that idea further and say that as night approaches we can expect darkness and toward morning we can expect light. But some things are unpredictable, such as weather. The second coming of Jesus will be even more unpredictable. We are warned by Jesus to be ready! We should not be caught with personalities which are not loving. We shall not be caught being unjust to our brothers and sisters – all of which are children of God. We shall not be caught breaking God’s laws. We shall be righteous or at least trying to be righteous. All of this preparation is based on love. Love is not just a word. Love in an attitude. The deeper the roots of love in our personalities, the better. Start nourishing these roots now. We need the watering, the reading of the Word. We need the nutrients: the praying, the singing, the praising, the gathering for worship. The marketing message is BE READY!
Holy and Loving God, renew our capacity to love. In your name we pray. Amen