Kenora 5th Sunday of Easter
2 May 2021
1 John 4:7-21
God of deep soil and luxurious growth, you call us from our shallow selves to find our depth in you: may we abide in him alone who can teach us who we are, Jesus Christ, the true vine. Amen.
“Beloved let us love one another, because love is from God.” (1 Jn 4:7a)
Our epistle lesson begins with this wonderful sentence.
It begins with this sentence, that attempts to describe how much love is a part of absolutely every aspect of life, of the world. After all, we are able to look at the world around us and we see so many places, so many hearts where love, God’s love is needed. Truly needed.
But most of all, we can see where God’s love is needed in each of our hearts, and in our lives, as well as in the lives and hearts of those we just thought of, those who came to mind when I spoke that last sentence.
This also brings us to the observation that it’s easier to love another than it is to love ourselves. A comment we hear when we preach on the topic of God’s love, when we preach on the concept of loving our neighbours as we love our selves, to paraphrase Paul’s teachings to the Corinthians. Our reading from 1 John for today tells us: “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
When we hear this sentence, I’d rather we didn’t look at this in the way that throws mud on ourselves. After all, we’ve all had, and continue to have challenges in our lives, when it comes to learning to love as we are loved, by God.
There are so many examples in the world that work against such love, that twist love, that uses love as an abusive tool, or a way to control. But using love, especially God’s love to control another is exactly the opposite of what John is describing to each one of us today. Rather it’s, the love that comes from God that we strive to share and to feel in our lives.
At the same time there are examples in the bible of what life looks like when we don’t accept God’s love in and for our lives, and the lives of those around us.
Looking at Adam and Eve, we can say that they didn’t understand God’s love and because of that, they were able to be deceived by the serpent in the garden. Yet, they did love God, and they did love each other, because God is love.
At the tower of Babel, we can see what the world looks like when humanity decides to see what heaven is like, but not from the perspective of learning to love as God loves us, but rather to strive to extend the reach of human influence, devoid of love, into heaven.
The prophets tell us what life is like when we willingly abandon the love of God, and instead embrace patterns of worship that do not center around love, God’s love for us, and our reciprocal love for God and, consequently, for each other.
And the exiles, especially those returning to the Promised Land, tell us how far we wander from God’s love, often willingly, resulting in a need, a desire for God’s love to grow in our hearts, in our lives, and in our generations.
At the same time, we look at the world around us and we see places, we see examples, we see humans misusing the love that God has given us against others, against animals, against all of creation every day.
Just looking at the news, every article, including the sports reports, are able to be seen to be a violation, a twisting for humanity’s own purposes of the love that God extends to us and to all of creation. This ranges from crimes against each other, to missing and murdered persons. We are able to see it in the actions of our governments to put profits and influence ahead of the care of all of creation, from current and future generations, to injuries that are intentionally inflicted on players and teams that change lives forever.
At the same time, we know that God’s love has the ability to impact absolutely every aspect of life, of our lives, of the lives of those whom we love, and even the world in which we live.
In the midst of all of this for the past year we’ve been chaffing against the Covid based restrictions and guidelines of governments and the diocese, all intending in a sense of love to keep us all safe. We, each of us desire to see an end to this pandemic but science can only move so fast to be considered safe and ethical in its actions and in the meantime that leave us masked.
It leaves us washing our hands. It leaves us restricting who we make face to face contact with all in a sense of living into this idea of loving each other as we are loved by God.
But more so, we chafe at these restrictions because we yearn to experience this sense of love as we are used to experiencing it, in hugs, in face-to-face encounters, in seeing each other smile and in all of the other visual clues we receive from and share between each other.
In all of this we have difficulty in finding the love that is described in the reading form 1 John, for today. It seems that we have difficulty in finding where love has any place in the world in which we live, yet at the same time, we know that “love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” (vs 7)
But this isn’t the whole of John’s message to each one of us, today. He also tells us, “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.” (vs9)
John’s gospel tells us: “14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:14)
And, in chapter 3, Jesus tells Nicodemus: “11‘Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. …16‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (Jn 3:11-17)
It would seem that for humans to grasp the love that God gives, that Jesus teaches, that the New Testament authors promote isn’t the easiest thing in the world. It’s something that we continue to struggle with still today, and every day.
In the 12th chapter of Romans, Paul is speaking to the Christians in Rome. He’s speaking to a community that is both Gentile and Jewish in origin, yet together espousing the belief in, and love of God.
In some ways the Christian community in Rome is a volatile combination as both want to be correct where worship of God, and love of neighbour is concerned; so Paul tells us: “9Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10love one another with mutual affection… 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another… 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Rom 12:9-18)
Every day, we continue to be challenged to leave behind the structures of the world around us, to let go of the false impressions or pale imitations of the love that lead us down the garden path and abandon us there to our own devices and definitions.
Yet, at the same time the bible returns time and again to the words we find in today’s epistle from 1 John “Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.” (1 Jn 4:11)
And we cannot only live this amongst ourselves, but we are also able to take this into the world with us, every day as we strive to live God’s love to the world around us, in the same way we see Paul advising the Christians at Rome. Moreover, we do that, we take this message into the community, into the wider world, into our relationships and associations even in the midst of Covid in the world.
With the work of the congregation, we serve our community in as many ways as we have people who call St. Alban’s home, and yet we all chafe at the restrictions and each have a desire to likewise reach out to the wider community.
Looking further afield, we are able to find the work that is being done by PWRDF (the Primates World Relive and Development Fund), the LWF (Lutheran World Federation) who both work hand in hand with other international aid agencies in regards to human dignity and care of creation.
There is much to which we contribute that spreads the love of God, that shows the world that love comes from God.
There is much we are able to contribute to in order to promote and live God’s love in and to the world. A love that we espouse, in our lives, and in the words we hear today in the epistle lesson. “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.” (1Jn4:9)
This is something that we continue to live today as we strive to remember that “everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” (vs 7b), as we strive, in all of the avenues of our lives, to be responsible stewards of all creation so that there is a future, and a sustainable land to give into the hands of future generations.
When we look at the world around us, we see tensions rising between groups, within communities, and throughout the nations of the world.
When we look around us, we see people chafing at covid based restrictions and recommended actions to slow the spread of the disease, meanwhile variants of the original virus spring up from all corners of the world.
And in the face of this fear, this frustration, this changing medical landscape, we have a tool that, in the end is more effective than anything else in our arsenal in our dealings with each other and our attempts to share the love of God with the whole world.
John tells us: “if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. By this, we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us his Spirit. … There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. … We love because [God] first loved us.” (vs12b-13, 18a, 19)