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Love Has Won, Uniting

. 7 min read

21-22
Apr 2018, Christ Mountain Top
Call
to Worship, Psalm 23
Children,
John 10.1-18
Message,
1 John 3.14-24, 4.16-21, 5.1-5.3
Our
world today is deeply divided, polarized. We live our lives and perceive the
other in caricature. We have lots of enemies (and I’m not even thinking of
foreign affairs and military power), and we’re quite content to hate them.
We’ll protest that we’re not “haters.” Good enough. But in John’s language, we either
love or we hate. There’s not any middle ground of “meh.” So, if we’ve got
people in our lives that we really don’t love … John might be asking us some
pointed questions.
Chris
Swallick – Yankee fan. Me an Oriole fan. Jeffrey Maier. Married
couple who are Yankee and Red Sox fans. Chris: That might be tougher than
Republican and Democrat. John tells us that we cannot love God and hate
brothers or sisters. That is, if we have hatred in our hearts toward someone
else, we aren’t in the love of God, we are, to some significant degree,
separating ourselves from God. God always loves us, no matter how ridiculous we
are, but that does not mean that we cannot cut ourselves off from God by holding
onto hate.
      To address the Republican-Democrat thing….
The Scripture commands us to pray “for all those in authority” (1 Timothy 2.1-2). When Barak Obama was president, a
lot of folks couldn’t stand him or his policies. What did I say to them? “Pray
for him.” It is an act of love. Now that Donald Trump is president, a lot of
folks can’t stand him and his policies. What do I say? “Pray for him.” It is an
act of love. Our friends in recovery, working the Twelve Steps, understand
this. They learn to pray for those who have hurt them, and find in that prayer
a freedom they did not have before.
      Love in 1 John is not some cozy feeling,
an affectionate regard. Love is chosen. Love is intentional. “We love because
he first loved us” (1 John 4.19). We weren’t loved by God because we were
already good. We weren’t loved by God because we shared God’s vision and
policies for the future of the planet. We weren’t loved by God because we were
so stinkin’ cute. We weren’t loved by God because of our party affiliation. We
are loved by God because God chooses to love us, as messed up as we are. And
this love we now share, because we were first loved by God, is not just for God
in return. It is for others! “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 also” (1 John 4.20-21).

In
The United Methodist Church, globally, there is significant stress around
issues of same gender relationships, particularly in terms of marriage and
ordination. There is a significant portion of the church that is progressive in
its leanings. There is, I think, a larger portion that is traditionalist. And
there are a lot of folks that find themselves in the middle of the debate. Our bishops
are attempting to find a “way forward” that allows us to be one, and various
advocacy groups seem to be preparing for the possibility of division. There is
grave concern that the church may not be able to be United, instead becoming “untied.”
      That’s why we are hosting a series of
conversations around this question, beginning this afternoon at 4 pm. We need
to develop the capacity to have conversations with persons with whom we
disagree, before the conversation could be forced upon us. We have to get
beyond the caricatures of “liberal nut jobs” and “conservative bigots” and
instead relate to one another as sister and brother. Those on all sides of the
debates need to get past their fears, particularly their fears of those who are
different from them, to respect and honor people, made in God’s image and bought
with the precious blood of Christ. We need to get past our fears, and it is
hard to do so. We also need to get past our exclusionary thinking: If you don’t
think the way I think, there’s no way you can be my brother or sister in
Christ. Christ Church is the most ideologically diverse congregation I have
ever served. Whether it is the question of same gender relationships or of
political affiliation, we’re divided. And I have the blessing of being your
pastor. It really is a joy. Because, despite our divisions on the issues, we
are united in the love of God.
      The Scripture clearly calls us to “love
our neighbor” and to “love our enemies.” That kind of includes everyone, like
‘em or not, agree with ‘em or not. AND, the Scripture (as in these selections from
1 John) makes clear the special call to love our brothers and sisters. Remarking
on the unity of the church, John Wesley said, “Though we cannot think alike, may we not
love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?
Without all doubt, we may”
(Sermon, “Catholic Spirit”).
      “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the
Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child”
(1 John 5.1).
Here
in our Mountain Top community, we are caught up in conflict. The Crestwood
School District has been in the news daily. Competing narratives of financial
stress, negotiations, proposals, and accusation fill the air. And I get to be
your pastor – and not just the pastor for folks who walk through these doors
but pastor in and for the whole community. I get to pray with parents. I get to
pray with teachers. I get to pray with seniors on fixed incomes. I get to pray
with Joe Gorham, the superintendent of the school district. No, I do not have a
policy solution to offer. I have something much more profound: the love of God.
Advocate for your position, strenuously pursue your agenda. What you have to
say needs to be heard. AND, love your adversary. Pray for him. Pray for her.
      What would it look like if, in the middle
of the controversy, someone took a breath and delivered hot coffee and a box of donuts to
their adversary, for just a moment to share the love of Christ Jesus? It may
not change the terms of the conflict. It may not change the results of the
argument. What it does, however, is accept and assert the biblical call to live
as “ministers of reconciliation” and provide the foundation for a
reconciliation once the conflict is resolved. That is a hope and gift that
every community in conflict, that every family in conflict, that every marriage
in conflict, desperately needs – hope for reconciliation beyond the terms of
the conflict, hope that we can be known as “the beloved” of God rather than as
an adversary.
I
have applied the teaching of 1 John on loving brothers and sisters to the
divisive conflicts of our time. It seems appropriate, given some of the things
that are before us. But this single application is far from an exhaustive list!
Let’s highlight a few more:
1 John 3:17-18  How does God’s love abide in
anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet
refuses help?  18 Little
children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
      We don’t always see the needs of brothers
or sisters, because most of us are private about those things. One of the
things we do as a church is provide donations to what we call the “Pastor’s
Discretionary Fund” which is used only to help persons in our church and
community with significant unmet needs. In addition, we offer partners who can
help individuals and families develop workable plans to take control of their
finances. Together, because of your generosity, we have been able to give
families heat and hot water in the middle of a cold winter, or help them keep
their car. Because stories like this are private, I can’t begin to tell you how
much it means to those who receive such a gift. I am blessed to be your pastor,
and to be the conduit of your generosity. So, thank you, and please continue to
give. It is a practical expression of love.
And,
one more application for good measure: How many of you are good at criticizing
yourself? At self-judgment? How often do you face a decision in fear that you
may actually end up doing the wrong thing, for example, that the intervention
you plan in your child’s life is only going to backfire? How often do you
question whether God accepts you?
      1 John 3:14  We know that we have passed from death to life
because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death.
      1 John 3:19-23  And by this we will know that we are from the
truth and will reassure our hearts before him 
20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than
our hearts, and he knows everything.  21
Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God;  22 and we receive from him
whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.  23 And this is his commandment,
that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one
another, just as he has commanded us.
      1 John 4:17-18  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.
      We are going to make mistakes as parents,
no matter what we do. We’re going to fail our friends, no matter how hard we
try to avoid it. We’re going to disappoint ourselves. If, however, we live in
love, if our actions are taken not out of our own needs and desires but in love
for the other, we can have confidence before God and confidence that we are
headed in the right direction even if we make a few mistakes along the way.
      Perfect love casts out fear. We know –
that is, we can have confidence in this as fact – that we have passed over from
death to life if we love one another. God answers the prayers of those who love
one another. Our hearts stop condemning us when we love one another. You want
to live in confidence? Then share the love of God in practical ways with
brothers and sisters, with neighbors and enemies.
Resources:
Marianne
Meye Thompson, 1-3 John, IVP NT
Commentary Series
C.
Clifton Black, First, Second, and Third
Letters of John, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol XII
John
Wesley, “Catholic Spirit”,
http://www.umaffirm.org/cornet/catholic.html