Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Compelling Love of God - 1 John 4:7-21

1 John 4:7-21  New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

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.  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. 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.  Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; 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 of his Spirit.  And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world.  God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 
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.  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.  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.  We love because he first loved us.  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. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters[d] also.

Fred Craddock is a great preacher and a great story-teller, and one of the stories I’ve heard him tell had to do with a trip in which he and his wife went back to their native Tennessee.

They drove up to a small restaurant in Gatlinburg.  They were tired and hungry and still had miles to drive that day.

Fred looked up and saw a gray-headed older man going from table to table speaking to the customers.

Fred turned to his wife and with a great fatigue said, "Oh, I hope he doesn't come to our table. I'm so tired."

But, lo and behold, there he came and stood by their table.

He said, "What do you do?"

"I teach homiletics – I teach people how to preach", said Craddock.

"That's good," said the stranger, "I have a preacher's story for you", and he pulled up a chair and sat down. 

Fred Craddock recalls how angry he felt when that stranger intruded on his time and sat at that table.  Fred was just so tired he really didn’t want to hear another preacher story – but Fred said that even though he was tired and exhausted, this was a story worth hearing.
The stranger said, “I was born not far from here - just over the mountain. My mother had never been married, and the shame that fell on her fell on me. When I went to school they called me such horrible names that I would take my lunch and go out onto the playground and eat alone. I just hated the rejection and the ridicule and mockery.  But the worst was on Saturdays when I would have to go into town. I could hear people whispering behind by back, 'Who do you think his father is? Honestly, who's his father?’

"I didn't go to church because we didn't feel we were good enough. Then, when I was 14 years old, a minister came to speak at a school assembly. He moved my heart. He was so warm and inspiring, I decided to go and hear him preach in his church. And I would go in and then leave immediately after the sermon was over. I didn't stay around because I didn't want them to say to me, 'What's a boy like you doing in church?' I dreaded rejection more than anything else.

"One Sunday I didn't get out early enough. When I got to the door, people were blocking my way out, so I had to stand in line. Then I felt a hand on my shoulder, and I turned around, and there was the old preacher: He asked, 'Who are you, son?  Whose boy are you"', and I said to myself, 'Oh, my God that question that has haunted me all my life. And, again, I will be rejected.

"The old preacher said, 'That's all right, son. Don't answer. Yes, I see a family resemblance in you. Yes, you are God's son. God in heaven is your daddy, boy! Go claim that heritage for all you're worth. Go out, boy, in pride. You're God's child!"

The old man, sitting there at the table, sharing his story, then said, "Those words -' You are God's child' - were the most transforming words I'd ever heard. They changed my life forever."

At the core of the Christian Faith is the simple but profound fact: God loves you just as you are! Nothing you or I could ever do will change the heart of God toward us. Regardless of who we are, or where we came from, or what we have or have not done with our lives, God loves us.

In our New Testament lesson for today, we have a wonderfully clear statement of how much God loves us.

The Apostle John said, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.”

That is a powerful love, to allow your son to die for someone else’s redemption.

I have only one son.  He and I get along together great.  I often give thanks that I am fortunate to stand in the middle of three generations of men who got along together so well.

Now I love you guys.  I love y’all a lot.

But I’m going to admit that I don’t love you enough to give my son to die for you.

That’s no insult to you.  I don’t want you to take it personally.  It’s just that I love my son a lot more.  He’s the only son I have.  I don’t want him to die.  

But IF for some reason, I did decide that your life depended on my son having to die, and IF for some reason I had the power to make that awful decision, and IF I decided to let my son die so you could live – we’ll buddy, let me tell you…

…You had better be on the telephone every day telling me how much you appreciate me and how thankful you are to me that I gave my only son to die for you.

And you’d better show that gratitude by buying me lunch every other day and twice on Thursdays!

And you’d better tell everyone you see what a great person I am that I gave my only son so you could live.

Now, I’m not God.  In many ways, I am nothing like God.

I’m too selfish to give up my son so you can have life.

But God loves you more and He DID give his son to die for you.

But there is one way God and I are both alike.

If a Father gives a son to die for you – the Father expects a response from you.

What is your response to God’s love?

Is it to go home for lunch and turn the television on and to think without much thankfulness, “Yep, God gave his son for me to live.  God loves me.  Yadda, yadda, yadda….

Or do you respond in some other way?

God’s love is compelling, and it compels us to respond in some way!

The Apostle John in the New Testament has the answer!  This is what he said in the New Testament lesson… “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.”

Love is the main response that we should have to God’s love.

It stands to reason, then, that our most natural response to the reality of being loved by God is to love.

First – we should love God back again. When Jesus was asked, “what are the two greatest commandments,” his response was “Number one – love the Lord thy God with all your heart, mind and soul. This is the first and greatest commandment, "said Jesus.

The second greatest commandment, Jesus told us, is to love others. Not just those we know and love, but those whom we do not know and therefore may not love. And not merely love them with a polite kind of acceptance, but love them with the same self-giving love with which God has loved us.

God’s love for us is so compelling, because it was so absolutely committed to us.

I love that old story about the chicken and the pig.

You remember, the two of them were out for a stroll on a hot summer morning. After a long and tiresome time they came upon a restaurant with a sign that read "Ham and Eggs".

The chicken said, "Let's go in; I'm starving." The pig responded adamantly, "Not me, pal. For you it's merely a question of a small donation, but for me it's a matter of total commitment!"

I would hazard a guess that for most of us in this room this morning, love is a matter of small donation, not total commitment.

Some time ago, one of my colleagues in the ministry told me about an experience he’d had.  He was in his church office and a high school classmate stopped by to talk with him--he had not seen him for many years and so it was a surprise visit.

After the usual greetings, the classmate said that he was so depressed--that he was so lonely--that he had no commitments--to anyone or to anything.

And then he said, "you know, it's awful being committed to nothing."

My friend said that he was tempted to preach a stewardship sermon to his classmate--"go get committed to something or to someone" is what he was tempted to say.

Instead, something urged him inside to ask this question: "Is anyone committed to you?"

"No one," he answered--"and it's a terrible thing when you don't belong to anyone."

This verse in John tells us that we do--that we belong to God--that we are loved by a God who yearns to hold us close, be committed to us and who claims us as God's very own.

God loves us – he is so very committed to us. 

What are you going to do about that?

And now unto God the Father,
God the Son,
And God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, power, dominion and glory, today and forever, Amen.
Copyright 2015. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.