Love Like God

1 John 4:7-21
Valentines Day – Transfiguration
Elizabeth M. Deibert

I saw a guy hovering around the chocolate display at Publix. He was mumbling aloud, “My wife wants some chocolates with nuts, and I don’t know which one of these boxes to get her. I reckon I’ll just get her some Snicker bars and put ‘em in one of those Valentine’s bags.” I wanted to tell him that some Giradelli with almonds or Hershey kisses with almonds might be more romantic than ordinary Snickers bars, but then I figured he was not really looking for my opinion – just talking to himself.

This is the day of roses, jewelry, perfume, wine, chocolate, greeting cards, lingerie, and candlelight dinners. We spend money on expressions of love but do we spend ourselves loving, loving like God. While we can thank Geoffrey Chaucer for the association of romantic love with the feast of St. Valentine, it seems that the original Saint Valentinus, the presbyter of Rome was a Christian martyr. Legend has it that he was arrested and imprisoned upon being caught marrying Christian couples and otherwise aiding Christians who were at the time being persecuted by Emperor Claudius in the 3rd Century. Helping Christians at this time was considered a crime. Claudius took a liking to this prisoner -- until Valentinus tried to convert the Emperor. Then he was condemned to death.

So we have come a long way from a priest trying to share the good news of Christ’s love with a politician – to red hearts and idealized romantic love, which we think we can create ourselves with the right box of chocolates or bottle of wine.

John tells us that love has everything to do with God, that God is the definition of love. John tells us that we cannot claim to love God or even know God, if we do not love one another. John tells us that the supreme act of love was the act of God sending the Son into the world – that we might live through him. That’s the only way we grow in love is by living through him – he who was the perfection of humanity and divinity gave us love, shows us how to love, fills us with his Spirit of love, calls us to love like God.

RS 1 John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8-9 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 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. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us,and his love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15 God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16 So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Those who say, "I love God," and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

Loving one another is so vital to the church's ministry, witness and mission that we cannot afford for there to be any illusion about love: true love is a gift from heaven to earth; false love is a mockery of the Son of God. There is no doubt that John would spare no mercy on this culture and much of our allegedly "Christian" understanding of love. A lie he would call it. (from a sermon on this text by Richard Deibert)

We will never understand the fullness of love unless we start with God. And when we start with God we start with the understanding that God is love, not that God loves, but that God is love. There’s a big difference in saying God loves and God is love. Love is not just one of God's activities. To say ‘God is love’ implies that all God's activity is loving activity. If God creates, God creates in love; if God rules, God rules in love; if god judges, God judges in love. All that God does is the expression of God's nature, which is — to love.” (CH Dodd)

We love not as an act originating in ourselves, but because God first loved us! And we are the community that loves more bravely than any other — whose love more closely approaches the brave, risk-taking love of Jesus — because we see in Jesus how much God is for us and how little God is against us. We can love bravely because we are bravely loved. We can love with absolute confidence, uninfested by fear, because Christ is here in this world with us, for us. And when we do so love, God lives in us and changes lives through us.

If we live in deep trust in the love of God, then there is nothing to fear, no one to fear. There is a huge cavern inside us yearning to be filled. Many people try to fill it with love of people, love of material possessions, love of entertainment. Those loves will never satisfy ultimately because the cavern can never be filled with those. But God’s love is so great it can completely fill us with a deep sense of security such that we are not so desperately needy of the love of others. Then our love for others arises from a self-fulfilled position, not a needy position.

Those who are needy can appear to love others but their love is infected with self- interest, with the desperate need for a reciprocal relationship – one that meets their own desires. They are looking for love, not looking to love. Our culture is very confused about love because we define love from a human point of view, not from the position that God is love. And if we want to understand love, we need to understand how much God loves.

To experience true love, we must be willing to open ourselves up and sacrifice part of our heart and our soul. We must be willing to give of ourselves freely, and we must be willing to suffer. That’s the kind of love Jesus Christ lived and died for us.

C. S. Lewis said, “There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket-safe, dark, motionless, airless-it will change. It will not be broken; it
will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

Mother Teresa said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” She said, “We can do no great things; only small things with great love.” She also said, “Love until it hurts. Real love is always painful and hurts: then it is real and pure.”

Reinhold Niebuhr said, “Justice requires that we carefully weigh rights and privileges and assure that each member of a community receives his due share. Love does not weigh rights and privileges too carefully because it prompts each [one of us] to bear the burden of the other.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, who could not talk about the love of God without being willing to love those who hated him, said, “Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.”

Our scripture from the first epistle of John says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear;” Oh, what a world we might have if fear were overtaken by love, if all who claim to love God began to prove it by their fearless love of other people. It can begin right here, Peace, in the lives of each of us. It can begin with a commitment on our part to be fearless lovers of the all people, who are not concerned for our own well-being out of a fearful protection of self, but who trust God enough to love bravely, to really love like Jesus loved.

In the story of the remarkable and unlikely friendship of millionaire art dealer Ron Hall and homeless illiterate Denver Moore, told in their book, Same Kind of Different as Me, we see the struggle in both men to set aside fear and live into love. We see how love is propelled by Deborah Hall, who had a deep enough appreciation of God’s love to push both men beyond their comfort zones into a deep and lasting friendship, not just a “catch and release” acquaintance.

We cannot achieve this fear-free, unselfish love, apart from our participation in the Holy Spirit, apart from our oneness with Christ. We can not do it, but God can do it through us. When God lives in us and we abide in God, God’s love is being perfected in us, inasmuch as we prayerfully and willingly open our lives to be transformed into the likeness of Christ.