To Love God
Sermon: “To Love God”
Before I landed in seminary and later become ordained, I lived overseas for a year in Budapest, Hungary. I taught English as a Second Language in a College for Foreign Trade. When I returned home from living in Hungary for a year, much of what used to define me had changed. My favourite drink, Dr. Pepper (do they even have that in Canada?)—anyway, they didn’t in Hungary. It tasted horrible to me when I got back to Texas. Like prune juice! Karaoke, supposedly, was invented while I was away. I had no idea what people were talking about when they mentioned karaoke! And my once favourite music (a born and raised Texan)—had been country music—but when I got back, it depressed me. When I was in high school, every time I broke up with a guy (or rather if the guy broke up with me), I vowed not to listen to country music until I was over him. It was too sad, too depressing. Most of the time you can count on hearing a song about love, and a love that wasn’t working out—or quite what you’d hoped for. Songs singing about people down on love, or asking for one more last chance, or driving by to find your spouse’s truck is parked at your best friend’s house. Depressing! Is this what love is all about? Love that lets us down, love that doesn’t stay, love that fades at the hint of tough times….a love like that doesn’t begin with God.
We come to church (in our case week after week online) to learn that we need to love others with the love of God. Loved by God….what? I hope you’re saying from your couches “we respond in love!” That’s us North Lonsdale. It’s who we are. We learn to love our enemies and we learn to love our brothers and sisters in Christ across all boundaries of race, gender, and nationality. We know that this love is radical, and that it looks different than any other kind of love the world knows. We believe it, and the Scriptures encourage us to live that kind of love out in our lives. Quite a bit different than the love those country songs sing about.
Today’s Scripture tells us with a bit of a twist how to come about this kind of love. I John challenges us that in order to love God’s children, we need to love ‘the parent.’ Kind of fitting on this mother’s day, as well! As children, today, we especially honour our mothers and love them, and express how much we love them and appreciate them. Love the parent. As God’s children, we need to love God. God created us, gave us this life, gave us new life through his Son Jesus Christ, and gave us his Spirit through the death and resurrection of his Son. You would think it would be quite easy, or even natural to love God. But, we are human, and we are born with a sinful nature, and even God has to show us how to love, despite the fact that we already have every reason to love God.
Love is a word with multiple meanings. I love ice cream, but I also love my husband. There’s a drastic difference in the two loves. Loving my husband also required of me to make a commitment before God to love him through better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness and in health. This indicates that love must not always be an easy thing, but a commitment thing!
Some people are creative enough when they get married to write and memorize their own vows. I’m fine with that, though I had enough to remember on my wedding day, so it wouldn’t have been wise of me to memorize anything! We used the traditional vows. Every time I hear them today, I’m reminded of my own wedding. The commitment I made to love. I love ice cream. But ice cream eventually melts, or gets eaten! I love my husband, but there’s more to love than just a feeling. It’s backed by a commitment and said with vows.
Dealing with families and relationships involves a bit of creativity and sometimes conflict. However, I once heard the great quote that “conflict is the price of deepening intimacy.” It’s not something to run from, it is something to grow from. And it’s necessary to genuine love.
Today, God is showing us through Scripture how to love him. He says to obey his commandments. That seems like a love that doesn’t have much feeling at all—kind of stale. But read on…this kind of love is so rich, it gives us the courage to keep our commitment in marriage, to reach out to the lonely and the depressed, to interact with someone from another culture or country, and to pray for, even love, our enemies. The “feeling” of love pours out of obedience to God. And I John tells us that God’s commandments are not burdensome! True burdens come when we fall short of obeying God. And we obey God because of his saving grace for us!
Some people have the image that Christianity is full of rigid rules that are no fun, when in reality keeping to the commandments makes life less burdensome, and brings joy!
Now get this: our burdens are lifted by water and blood! We’re not used to seeing those two words together. When we sing about being “washed in the blood of the lamb,” it doesn’t really sound like that would get us clean, does it? Think about the old hymn “There is a Fountain filled with Blood.” The first line sings There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins; and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.” Sounds a bit gross! But, being washed in the blood of the lamb does cleanse, and it brings new life.
I John makes a distinct point of saying not by water only, but also the blood. There is an interpretation of this that the water refers to the waters of Jesus’ baptism, and the blood refers to Jesus’ death. But have a saving effect on us. Our first step in loving God, is accepting and trusting Jesus as his Son. The water and the blood are life giving, and the love of God flows out of his sacrifice for us. In loving God, our natural response is to love God’s children.
Whenever we baptize someone into the body of Christ, we baptize using the child or adult’s given first name. We don’t baptize them with their family name or surname. Why? Because they are now joining a bigger family---their Christian family, and the new church parent is God! We love God by loving those whom God brings to us. By committing before God and our congregation to raise those up in the church, week after week, to stand by them, support them with faith that comes from God, the Father Almighty. No matter good times, or bad, sick or in health, rich or poor. Anyone want to get baptized? That is the church. That is the commitment that keeps us strong and gives us courage, and as we love God’s children, we are loving God.