Listen to the sermon here:
Scripture: Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10
“What the world needs now…” Are you old enough to remember? What the world needs now is love, sweet love. Let us pray: Help us, your people, to grow in love for one another, to grasp more fully the mystery of your Godhead, and so to become more perfect witnesses of your love in the sight of all people. We ask this through Christ our Savior. Amen
We have the law – The Ten Commandments – which serves us well. If everyone could be led to follow these ten statements on how to live a good life, we would not need courts. There would not be the myriad of laws which extend from those original ten. If anyone here earns a living as part of the enforcement of the law, never fear. We will need you until Jesus comes again. Love and respect can be part of law enforcement. In fact, love needs to be everywhere; in every aspect of society, absolutely everywhere. Love needs to be obvious while also being a silent, creeping, contagious force.
How, we ask, can that happen. Some people would never shape up by hearing sweet tones in our voices. Well love can happen even in firm, no-nonsense style directives. Governing by fairness is showing love. Learning the truth about people and situations is showing love. Respect is showing love.
If we believe that God created every single person on this planet and planets beyond; that each person is made in the image of God; that each person has some of God within that dirty, unshaven, smelly body with blood-shot eyes, it changes our perception; it haunts us until God brings us to our knees and says “Love me, you fool! That is me in that body.” Or, that conniving, well-dressed person who deceives many people slowly, but surely; if this person has quietly stolen our total invested money, or has taken our money for a job never completed, or a relative who borrowed money from us with desperate pleading and then never repays the money even though better times are happening in the relative’s life; then revenge and bitterness want to rush in and overcome our actions and rush in and eat away at our very flesh, both body and mind.
Yes, bitterness, anger, anxiety do work as poison in our system. What we need now is love, sweet love. There is no better medicine for wholeness within us. Alongside Pastor Martha, Barbara Brown Taylor is a great preaching model for me. She has just written a book called Learning To Walk In The Dark. She uses a quote from a person who is physically blind. Listen to what this person says about this physical condition. “Since becoming blind, I have paid more attention to a thousand things.” Barbara goes on to say about an inner light, “One of his greatest discoveries was how the light he saw changed with his inner condition. When he was sad or afraid, the light decreased at once. Sometimes it went out altogether, leaving him deeply and truly blind. When he was joyful and attentive it returned as strong as ever. He learned very quickly that the best way to see the inner light and remain in its presence was to love.”
To love. This is not a securely-wrapped blob which is handed from person to person or which sits somewhere in our minds or hearts. To love is something we do. We smile and share a flowing love. We invite Jesus to fill our beings with his love and when Jesus does not stop and love is bursting from ourselves it finds the path of least resistance to someone near us. Picture love flowing through the town like the river in heaven from Revelation 22:1and 2a. “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city.”
This Lamb is Jesus whom we believe to be seated at the right hand of the Father. Jesus is the source of love. It is possible that a person who thinks he or she does not believe in our God, shows incredible love in manner and action. The thought is that God is working in this person without permission without disclaimer but the love is present – not as a clump of cells but as a flowing dynamic. Basically and obviously, Jesus shines in passing love and in teaching love and acting totally from love.
Jesus is the one who gave these words to his disciples on the night in which he was betrayed: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35) This is a mandate. The Thursday in Holy Week is called “Maundy Thursday” a derivative from this word “mandate.” It is a commandment – a law – about love. A commandment to love.
Is love something that can be commanded? Is love not something that needs to be born in us so that it is part of our nature – natural for us? Some people inherit this characteristic, some do not. Jesus obviously knows that it is something we can allow to happen if we open our hearts and ask Jesus for help. We can practice being loving. As unnatural as it feels to some of us, it can be achieved, not by ourselves but because it flows from the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – three persons which form the Trinity that is God.
I, myself, was born with a sense of fairness – more like law. I was not born with a strong sense of being loving. But gradually, God has moved me to see that not only is love a commandment, it works. As a public school teacher, I gradually learned that it was not law that develops good behavior and learning, it is the “love approach.” In my journeys now as pastor or shopper or walker on sidewalks, I see and hear parents using variations of law or love, not to mention plain annoyance and anger. I see which one works. I see which one brings peace to the participants’ souls – both parents and children and people who happen to be near. It is the loving approach, it is the patient approach, that works. Love can be learned. Love is contagious. Love can prevent some health problems.
If you are wondering if the governing bodies in the United Church of Christ are helpful to us in practical ways, here it is. You have heard Pastor Martha make reference to the daily devotional which comes from our national UCC and is available at firstname.lastname@example.org. You may ask for it as an automatic daily e-mail. One such devotional is written by Vince Amlin. He titled it “Fierce Love” based on Song of Songs (sometimes called Song of Solomon) 8:6. “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame.” (Song of Solomon 8:6) Vince is saying that “fierce love” was demonstrated when his mother gave a kidney to his father which is much more intense and tedious than “gave a kidney” sounds. The process is long and miserable. Vince also gives us a glimpse of a recent widower mooning over his 60-year old wedding photo. He includes a young wife staying positive in the midst of a separation she did not want. Vince tells of the persons who waited years to be allowed to adopt their son; the spouse who has become more caregiver than lover; the couple staying home for the weekend to sit beside their dog in his final days. Vince likens this fierce love to a raging flame, strong as death.
As strong as death. “Yea though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil. For thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” (Psalm 23) Death sometimes means the actual expiring of earthly life. Death sometimes means the end of our rope, hitting the bottom. Death can mean a soul- and mind-wrenching loss. Death can mean political oppression of all degrees or social evils as in our human trafficking which translates into slavery. Death can be addiction.
Then we find the rod and staff of our Savior. Yes, the shepherd. The shepherd who speaks lovingly. The sheep of his flock know his voice and follow this particular shepherd – no other shepherd. We find this statement in John 10. Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. … Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. … I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Oh, that we find that we are one of this flock; that we know the voice of our shepherd, Jesus.
“The Lord makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters. You restore my soul, O Lord, and guide me along right pathways for your name’s sake.” (Psalm 23) Green pastures and right pathways. Are our homes green pastures and right pathways? Are our homes a place where each person, from baby through parents, knows the shepherd’s voice? If every word that is said in our homes lingers forever, what percentage of those words would be loving? Do we remember or know that every word we say or scream, rather vulgar or respectful, lingers in our children’s being – mind, soul, where self-confidence and comfort levels develop? There is absolutely no substitute for love, genuine love, firm love, respectful love. There is no false sweetener something like the false shepherd in John 10.
Do you know what our false shepherds are today? Violence on TV, in the movies, in comic books, in our homes. Yes, in our homes. Which is going to win? Will it be an intentional drive of love or an intentional infusion of destruction? We need to choose sides. Will we as families or as single persons care enough to give love such as we give blood willingly? Or will we move on the side of violence and hatred?
Guess who went through a violent death because his love for us was so deep. Yes, our shepherd, our Lord and Savior. And who gave birth, nurtured this Lamb who was destined to sit on the right hand of God to become our Shepherd; who provided a loving home, who stood at the foot of the cross surely with pain equaling the love, who is known to have seen the resurrected Jesus? Yes, the mother of Jesus. Who accepted Jesus as son and gave this Son of God the earthly love of a father? Yes, Joseph. This Savior, this shepherd grew to maturity in a loving home.
Let us remember that the children in our midst are planned by God to be great contributors to society and pleasing to God. Let us lock the door on stifling, unloving ways of living that will prevent our children from experiencing the fullness of life as God intended. We honor parents and friends who provide a safe, loving environment which will encourage the full blooming of potential, fed and led by love. Amen