Secured in Love


1 John 4:7-21
6th Sunday of Easter
Mother's Day
Elizabeth M. Deibert
13 May 2012

Last week we the branches, were challenged to be fruitful, by abiding in the vine, Christ.   What does being fruitful look like?   Loving as Christ loves.   Today’s lessonfrom the 1st Letter from the Johannine community continues this theme of Christ’s love.   Written about a decade after the Gospel of John, probably around the year 100, it calls us to demonstrate authentic faithfulness to Christ through love.  God is defined as love, and that the two cannot be separated.   You cannot have God without love, or love without God.   Jesus Christ shows us what it means to be completely secured in love.  By His Spirit living in us, we too are secured by love and empowered to love.

Some preachers today will focus on the sacrificial love of mothers and how grateful we should be to them and inspired by them to love one another.  In those sermons, motherhood will be placed on a pedestal to admire.  And indeed many mothers, including mine, deserve great praise.  Equally many mothers who did their best under difficult circumstances, failed their children miserably in some big moments because they did not have the emotional, mental, or spiritual resources they needed to do the job.   This text reminds us that it is God’s love which inspires us to nurture one another in love.
Prayer

1 John 4:7-21
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 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.  (NRSV)

You are here today because somebody loved you and that love inspired you to draw near to the One who loves you best and to worship.   Some of you have had radical, transformative encounters with the living Christ, like the Apostle Paul, but others have come to understand God is love through people who were good expressions of God's love.  Verse 12 says,  12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.  By perfected, we don't mean flawless, but completed, reaching its full purpose and goal .

 John is saying: God starts it all. Being loved enables us to love not just by offering an inspiring example, but because love frees us from the things that would otherwise block us from loving, including guilt and fear. This is why, whenever the author speaks of the commandment to love one another, he nearly always brings it back to God first loving us. That love is enabling, the more we let it reach us and set us free.  (William Loader, textweek.com) 

“We never get beyond God's love for us in Christ and how that is lived out in love for one another. We are always drawn back to that central, and centering, claim. We know God's love, first and foremost, in the Son; and we know God's love because we have witnessed it in love for one another. This text may serve as a reminder that we never grow beyond our need to hear again the gospel of God's love in Christ.”   (Brian Peterson, workingpreacher.org)

Much of the anger that erupts within the church under the banner of loving God and defending God's truth often seems to grow instead from love of self and of the power that comes from winning the argument, even at the expense of the church's unity in love. The gospel of God's love for us in the Son sets us free from such loveless and fearful pursuits.  John will not allow the sacrifice of love for the sake of truth (as though they could be separated), and continually brings us back to the only place where we can learn how to love faithfully: the prior love of God for us in the sending of the Son.

“The opposite of love is not hate but fear,” William Sloane Coffin once said, as he preached on this passage.  If God is exclusively understood as the God of power, or demand, or even justice, then we approach God with fear — both in this life and in the life to come. 

But if understood first as the God of love, perfect love, then we approach God with confidence. God's love is perfect and our love is perfected because we trust in God's love. "We love because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19).   (David Bartlett, workingpreacher.org) 

In every human relationship, even the most loving relationships, there is an element of fear.  We fear abandonment.  We fear rejection.  We fear possessiveness.  We fear intimacy.  We fear failure.  We fear sacrifice.  We fear being known.  Love is threatening because it requires so much of us – both the one who loves and the one who is loved.  “Loving can cost a lot but not loving always costs more, and those who fear to love often find that want of love is an emptiness that robs the joy from life.”  (Merle Shan)

Perfect love casts out fear, for fear has to do with punishment.   At Faith and Film on Friday night at Peace, we viewed Kings Speech, which is the story of the transformative power of love, more than the power of speech therapy.   What the character Lionel Logue understood about stammerers which proved so helpful to King George th 6th is thta the stammering is rooted in fear more than in the mechanics of speech.  Lionel gave him the love of friendship, and through that was able to do what no expert could do: help him overcome the fear of making his voice heard.    This act of love changed the course of history, as do all acts of true love.

Theologian Paul Tillich said "The first duty of love is to listen."  To Tillich’s duty of love to listen, I would add that the flip-side of listening is asking good questions.  Keep the conversation alive by a deeper engagement of the other – not by mouthing off about yourself.   St. Augustine said, “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.   To invite others to share their stories, and then to really listen with attentiveness, asking meaningful questions is an act of love.
It is no small matter that these fifteen verses have 27 references to agape, the Greek word for love.   Agape is love because of what it does, not because of how it feels.   God so “loved” (agape) that He gave His Son. It did not feel good to God to do that, but it was the loving thing to do. Christ so loved (agape) that he gave his life. A mother who loves a sick baby will stay up all night long caring for it, which is not something she wants to do, but is a true act of agape love.
  
The point is that agape love is not simply an impulse generated from feelings. Rather, agape love is an exercise of the will, a deliberate choice. This is why God can command us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44; Exod. 23:1-5). He is not commanding us to “have a good feeling” for our enemies, but to act in a loving way toward them. Agape love is related to obedience and commitment, and not necessarily feeling and emotion. “Loving” someone is to obey God on another’s behalf, seeking his or her long-term blessing and profit.   C. S. Lewis once said, “Christian Love, either towards God or towards [humanity], is an affair of the will.

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.  God loves “might stand alongside other statements, such as ‘God creates,’ ‘God rules,’ ‘God judges’; that is to say, it means that love is one of God's activities.  But 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.  The theological consequences of this principle are far-reaching.”  (CH Dodd)

Mother Teresa, who proved she really knew God by the way she loved the unlovely 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.” Martin Luther King, Jr., who knew he could not talk about the love of God without being willing to love those who mistreated him said, “Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.” 
 
"Following Christ has nothing to do with success as the world sees success. It has to do with love." According to writer Madeleine L’Engle.   Soren Kierkegaard said, “When one has once fully entered the realm of love, the world - no matter how imperfect - becomes rich and beautiful, it consists solely of opportunities for love.” 

 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.  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.   We cannot do it, but God can do it through us.  Because God is love, and when God lives in us, God’s love is perfected in us.   May God’s love reign in our hearts and in our lives everyday in every way as we stand and sing…