Sermon For May 10, 2015 ~ “Nurturing Love”
Romans 8:31-39 ( http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=298220900 )
“A Love For all Occasions”
Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Cleveland, Ohio ~ http://www.FranklinCircleChristianChurch.org
Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher ~ E-Mail: PastorAllen@FranklinCircleChurch.org
Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Pastor’s Blog: https://nearwestclevepastor.wordpress.com
A video of this sermon can be found at: https://youtu.be/OxNIqcgISvY
I love you. I say that not so much as an introduction to my sermon as a statement of fact. I love you. I am also well aware that even as I say those three simple words they will be heard in a multitude of ways, perhaps even in as many ways as there are people in this room. For some of you the phrase will take on a decidedly romantic quality, and for others perhaps a more spiritual quality. For a few, you will hear it with some suspicion, wondering how I could say that when I don’t know you well enough to do so. Others will be miffed for how could I say that when I haven’t done this for you or that for you. I understand all of this. I say it nonetheless because it is as true as is the fact that I am standing before you here and now. I love you.
Love is a complex human emotion, and it is imbued with all of our memories from the first imprinting after birth to the most recent encounter or even thought we had this day. But even as multifaceted and complicated as it is, it is clearly one of the words and concepts scripture uses to define the fundamental relationship God has with us and we are to have with God and one another. 1 John 4:7-8 says it in unmistakable language: Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
For the love of God, could it be any clearer? And if that wasn’t enough, Jesus, the very embodiment of God’s love as the next few verses makes plain, tells us in no uncertain terms the fulfillment of all the requirements of God is to love: “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 is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’
“There is no other commandment that is greater than these,” Jesus says, without a hint of irony or sarcasm and without wincing a bit in that all-knowing sort of way you’d think messiahs would do. How can Jesus say love and all of scripture point towards love knowing that as human nature would have it we would cause each other, even those of our own faith and family, irreparable harm through wars, lynching, beatings, ostracism, name calling, gossip, parking lot conversations, and hate texting? Does it not make a mockery of faith to read these words in church knowing there will be little evidence of them lived out in the world around us or in our very own lives, or at least seemingly so?
And yet God, even more surely and profoundly than I can possibly muster, says it to us again, more firmly and more often: I love you. I love you. I love you.
This section of the book of Romans, Paul’s love letter to the church and his epic theological treatise, builds a case for faith, especially a faith that is not beholden to the whims and incertitude of the human condition. Paul proposes that since all of us, every last blessed one of us human beings, sins and falls short of the glory of God, we need God. The apostle also builds the argument that if we rely only on human means for dealing with this sin or covenant-breaking – first and foremost using the law to address sin – we will never, ever come out right. Law has its uses in order to address grievances. But there is one thing the law simply cannot speak to and it is the very essence of God: love. So how do we have a faith that honors the law but moves beyond it in order to live into love? Well, we put our faith in God’s wily, wonder-filled, unpredictable Holy Spirit and we follow the ways of the very incarnation of God, Jesus Christ.
And here is the very best way to put our faith in the Spirit more fully and follow Jesus more closely: believe with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength that God is for us, loves us, and will never let anything come between us! So then the essence of all faith is to trust that the very author of life, the very creator of the universe, the very savior of the world loves each and every one of us and will never, ever, ever stop loving us! Nothing can separate us from God’s love, and as I made it clear before, love is the most important thing we can do, feel, think, believe, imagine!
But this trust is hard. Trust remains one of the most difficult things we humans so, especially when it’s wrapped around love. We’ve been hurt so many times before. We’ve loved and lost. We’ve squandered our love on silly things and thoughtless people, and we’ve ached for love that never came, that never even knew our name.
I would offer three thoughts on both trust and love, which is to say faith and love, which is to say our relationship with God and one another. How do we move beyond the law and live into this love? We specialize in those who are either the hardest to love are those who are the least loved. We must love those who are most unlovable, at least by the world’s standards, For that is what Jesus did. That is why congregations such as Franklin Circle Christian Church are so incredibly important, because we proclaim and live out this kind of love. We understand that there are those who society has kicked to the curb who need our love the most. I spoke of this last week when I shared the biblical mandate to love the poor, the orphan, the widow, the immigrant, the quartet of the vulnerable. I have tried to focus on two: our children and those who are in abject poverty. They lead us to the deep core of the love of God. One would think that serving them would be depressing, but, in fact, serving them inspires us and empowers them.
The second notion is that a profound understanding of humility allows us to trust more deeply and love more fully. Humility is knowing our rightful place in the scheme of things, thinking neither too highly nor too lowly of ourselves. In the Quaker tradition, it is the sense of being in the place just right: Here is where I am, let me live fully into my place in the world. To love humbly is to stand at the dark edge of the chasm and to throw your heart into the darkness, and never, ever expect it to come back. God is in that darkness. Somehow, how I do not understand and cannot expect, that love comes back to me.
And the third awareness I offer you in our attempts to trust and love more is that forgiveness transforms everything. We must know that no loving will be perfect. The ability to step back, take assessment of a situation or relationship, and either ask for or offer sincere forgiveness changes the chemistry of both trust and love. Now, the forgiveness I’m talking about is not one that lets injustice off the hook. Nor am I talking about an easy nor cheap forgiveness where someone always gives in just because it is easier, of less complicated, or quicker. I am talking about a prayerful, discerning, honest forgiveness that truly transforms the heart, thus transforming the persons involved. It is not mechanical, you cannot “put the coin in” and “get the forgiveness out.” It is organic, and must come from within. But when forgiveness flows, it releases you and frees us all.
Love, the kind that is able to overcome all things that might separate us from God and one another, is offered first and foremost to those the world finds hardest to love, it is shaped by authentic humility and genuine forgiveness. May every “I Love You” be shaped by inclusiveness, humility and forgiveness. Then we will truly know God and be like God. Amen.