God is Love
Leviticus 19:9-18 Good News Translation (GNT)
9 “When you harvest your fields, do not cut the grain at the edges of the fields, and do not go back to cut the heads of grain that were left. 10 Do not go back through your vineyard to gather the grapes that were missed or to pick up the grapes that have fallen; leave them for poor people and foreigners. I am the Lord your God.
11 “Do not steal or cheat or lie. 12 Do not make a promise in my name if you do not intend to keep it; that brings disgrace on my name. I am the Lord your God.
13 “Do not rob or take advantage of anyone. Do not hold back the wages of someone you have hired, not even for one night. 14 Do not curse the deaf or put something in front of the blind so as to make them stumble over it. Obey me; I am the Lord your God.
15 “Be honest and just when you make decisions in legal cases; do not show favoritism to the poor or fear the rich. 16 Do not spread lies about anyone, and when someone is on trial for his life, speak out if your testimony can help him. I am the Lord.
17 “Do not bear a grudge against others, but settle your differences with them, so that you will not commit a sin because of them.[a] 18 Do not take revenge on others or continue to hate them, but love your neighbors as you love yourself. I am the Lord.
1 John 4:7-21
Dear friends, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Whoever loves is a child of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 And God showed his love for us by sending his only Son into the world, so that we might have life through him. 10 This is what love is: it is not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven.
11 Dear friends, if this is how God loved us, then we should love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in union with us, and his love is made perfect in us.
13 We are sure that we live in union with God and that he lives in union with us, because he has given us his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and tell others that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If we declare that Jesus is the Son of God, we live in union with God and God lives in union with us. 16 And we ourselves know and believe the love which God has for us.
God is love, and those who live in love live in union with God and God lives in union with them. 17 Love is made perfect in us in order that we may have courage on the Judgment Day; and we will have it because our life in this world is the same as Christ’s. 18 There is no fear in love; perfect love drives out all fear. So then, love has not been made perfect in anyone who is afraid, because fear has to do with punishment.
19 We love because God first loved us. 20 If we say we love God, but hate others, we are liars. For we cannot love God, whom we have not seen, if we do not love others, whom we have seen. 21 The command that Christ has given us is this: whoever loves God must love others also.
31 After Judas had left, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man’s glory is revealed; now God’s glory is revealed through him. 32 And if God’s glory is revealed through him, then God will reveal the glory of the Son of Man in himself, and he will do so at once. 33 My children, I shall not be with you very much longer. You will look for me; but I tell you now what I told the Jewish authorities, ‘You cannot go where I am going.’ 34 And now I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.”
God is love.
God is love.
That is different than saying “God is loving.”
Or different than saying “God’s best feature is love.”
Or, sometimes God loves.
God is love. God is equated to love.
And remember equality goes both ways. If x is equal to y then y is equal to x.
If God is love, then love is God.
That might be a whole new way to think about God.
A lot of people think of God as a big magical unseen person out there is the sky of in a place called heaven and this magical person is controlling the world and depending on what you think, is maybe doing a good or bad job at it.
But think of God as love. Love is God. Wherever there is love there is God. Whenever someone helps someone there is God. When a mother of father holds their baby in the arms of unconditional love that is God.
When people make promises to love one other and mean it there God is.
When people keep their promises to love. God is there
When people are motivated by love to help refugees God is there.
When people feed the hungry, cloth the naked, visit the prisoner, and welcome the stranger God is there.
When people love God is there, and it doesn’t matter about gender, age, race, creed, skin colour, sexual orientation, religion, culture, politics, or whether the person is good or bad.
That is mind-blowing and in fact a whole lot of people don’t believe it, that God is love.
That god is love and only love.
Listen to a famous passage from Corinthians about love, but since God is love let’s put God in.
God is patient; God is kind; God is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. God does not insist on God’s own way; God is not irritable or resentful; God does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. God bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. God never ends.
Think of that. God is kind.
God does not insist on God’s own way.
This is a way to think about God that is different than the way many people think about God…. Many people think of God as some dictator in the sky who is making a list and checking it twice, going to find out who’s naughty or nice.
God is love. Love is God. God is not violent, not out to punish us or hurt us or get us or send us to some nuclear holocaust after we die because we didn’t say or do or believe the right thing.
God is love.
That is what made the message of Jesus so radical. That is not the way people thought about God.
The way people thought about God in ancient times, is that gods were magical people who lived in the sky and sometimes came down to earth.
They had all the power and we people on earth were just the playthings for the gods.
They could make life easier or better, or make life hard or intolerable, all at their whim, do the best thing to do was to try and appease the gods.
So try to stay out of the way, but if you can’t stay out of their way then the best thing to do is to offer them sacrifices to try and keep them happy.
Because if they get mad, or especially if they get mad at you, watch out.
Ancient peoples attributed sickness, death, accidents and all kind of maladies or sufferings to the gods. Some even would say something like: “As God wills”, or “as the gods will.”
So when Jesus came and told us that God was light and only light and in God there was no darkness, it was a revelation. When Jesus showed us God wasn’t a capricious monster ordering us around using us as playthings, it was life altering.
When Jesus told us that God didn’t make us sick or punish us, but that God loved us treasured us, valued us as God’s children, it blew the minds of people.
The story of Jesus and the gospel of Jesus and the church of Jesus grew because it was based on the principle. God is love.
God loves us and valued us. Women, Slaves children, the poor, the sick, ordinary people struggling to make ends meet… God loves us all.
God love not only Jews, but Greeks and Romans and Africans and everyone.
That God loved us so much that Jesus became our servant.
God loved us so much that Jesus took up a cross.
God loved us so much that Jesus would die for us.
God loved us so much that Jesus from the cross would say to the ones who were murdering him. “Father forgive them.”
Jesus basically said that if you want to know what God is like then look at me. Touching the untouchables. Giving grace to the graceless. Daring to not fight back or hurt or use violence, but giving out only peace and love, even to enemies.
And the church exploded. For three hundred years as that early church grew there was no New Testament on the store shelves to buy and read. There was no standardized system of theology. Many of the doctrines we hold dear like the Trinity and the doctrine of Christ’s divinity were not fully developed and flexible and open to debate and not fixed. There were many competing ideas about the Trinity and the nature of Jesus Christ.
But the church and the number of Christians grew on the principle of love. That Christians believed not only that God loved them, but consequently they should love on another.
Most Christians were pacifists and renounced violence.
Believe me they were far from perfect.
But they were known for their love and for following the God who is love.
I preach about God is love, a lot, because I believe that many Christians do not believe that God is love. They think about God has having a loving side…
But they also think that God hurts, punishes, excludes kills and damns people to brimstone and fire for all eternity.
Some people say. “But what about the bible Harry?” It is there is the bible, God killing and hurting and punishing and doing all kinds of things…
A whole lot of things are in the bible, but sometimes we forget what the bible is. We euphemistically call it “the word of God” as if it is God’s literal words which it isn’t.
May I remind you that we call it the Word of God, not because it is God’s literal words, or because it is perfect or inerrant, but because by reading the pages of the bible one is introduced to Jesus Christ who is the real Word of God, the real message of God. God come to us. God come to earth.
And if you meet Jesus, if you know Jesus, you know God.
But what about the violent images of God in the bible.
Yes, but the bible isn’t a road map or a set or instructions or God’s literal words.
It is 66 different books with different styles of writing all about God in some way,
The bible is a record of human understanding and interaction with this God of love.
And as the famous Biblical Professor Fred Craddock used to remind his students and anyone who read his books.
The bible was written in another time, in another language, in a totally different culture, before science, in different literary styles, and some of those literary styles were unique. The scriptures were often written and edited by someone else, someonetimes edited several times over hundreds of years with editors who changed what the last editor did. It was not written to you, but by someone else to someone else. We overhear the bible. We listen in, and after trying to understand, the culture, the language, the style, the editor’s point of view, the situation that was being addressed, we then try to make that difficult step of asking what this might mean for me or for us.
The bible wasn’t written to be understood literally in all places, but in many place it was to be understood metaphorically.
If you take it too literally God kills million of people with a flood, or kills the children of Egyptians.
But if you understand scriptures metaphorically then you can understand that love is trying to save you and be your ark when you are drowning in a sea of your own sin.
Love is trying to set you free from whatever oppresses you and keeps you in slavery.
Love is with you in the wilderness, when times are hard and you are struggling and you thirst for love or acceptance or a friend or some help.
Love is there with you as you try to find that promised land of fulfillment.
Love is the one commandment that fulfills all other commandments and rules, because if you love, then you don’t have to worry about all the other rules and commandment, they will all happen naturally.
If you read the whole bible through and take the whole thing in context I think you will find that the message Jesus taught is that God is love and loves you and therefore we should love one another.
And yet we really have trouble believing it is as simple yet as difficult as just loving.
Sometimes people have criticized me that I preach about love too much. That every sermon is about love. That I should preach more about having faith in Jesus.
But I do think that it God loves us and our faith in Jesus is not believing certain propositions about Jesus as much as it is that when we have faith in Jesus, when we believe in Jesus, then we trust Jesus enough to actually do what Jesus asks us to do, which is primarily to love one another.
It is easier to believe that Jesus was born of a virgin than it is for Jesus’ love to be born in you.
It is easier to believe in the doctrine of the Trinity, which is about the equality and mutuality, than it is to believe in equality for your neighbours, or for blacks or for gays; or to believe in mutuality in your relationships.
It is easier to believe that Christ died and was raised, than for you to die to self and sin and ego, and be raised to unconditional, universal and extravagant grace and love.
It is much easier to believe that Jesus is the Lamb of God who forgives your sins, that it is to actually forgive your enemies.
When you have faith in someone, it doesn’t mean you believe they existed or what happened in their lives, or that they have power. When I say I have faith in my mother, that I believe in my mother; it means I trust in her goodness, her faithfulness, her message, her truth, her way.
When we put our faith in Jesus, it is not so much about believing whether he is God or man, or whether he is equal with God and the Spirit, or whether he performs supernatural miracles….
But whether we trust him and his character enough to actually do what he asks us to do.
Love, forgive, practice peace, not judge, don’t worry, trust in God, help your neighbour, forgive your enemy…
I believe that God is love, but I believe that way we have faith in Jesus is to do what Jesus wants us to do and love.
And while that sounds so simple it is very, very, very hard to do.
We all grow up and as we do we learn fear, and violence and withdrawal of love. We learn rejection and unkindness and selfishness.
Our inner spirits made in the image of God are wounded and hurt, and for some even traumatized;
and while we can all sit here and agree that we should love on another, that we should love each other in church, that we should love our neighbour and the stranger and the enemy, sometimes our emotional self wants not to love.
Sometimes it wants to strike out and hurt because we have been hurt.
Sometimes it wants to build up our ego, because we have been put down.
Sometimes it looks for love and happiness in all the wrong places, because the messages we have learned in our culture about love and happiness are distorted.
Sometimes our emotional self wants to retreat into a shell and keep the rest of the world out.
Sometimes we want to tell people to get lost or use even stronger language, because people want to control us or use us, or manipulate us….
And that is why if we really want to love, we have to spend more and more time with the one who is really love.
It is about going deep inside ourselves til we find the Christ who lives in us.
It is about letting the outside shell die away so the Christ inside can be born or raised anew in us.
And the way to do that is to talk to Christ, to spend time with Christ to think about Christ, it is to see Christ whenever you see something that is good or true or loving, or caring or creative, or joyful.
It is to look for Christ in the simple things of life, like food and water and air and nature. In pets, or animal, in flowers and plants and trees.
It is to look for Christ in your relationships whenever someone listens, shows compassion. Helps you, gives you a smile or a hug or a cup or tea.
It is to look for Christ when you read a book or watch a movie or a television show.
It is to be aware whenever there is love and care and realize “Aha, it is God.”
Sometimes it is just good to sit alone and not talk to God, just to imagine yourself being held and loved by God.
The purpose of prayer is not go get God to do something to make you life better, but for you to sit and bask in that love so much that you are healed emotionally, that your spirit is revived and you start to become like Christ, like God, like the Spirit and not only love people, but start being love itself.
Listen to some words penned by Marianne Williamson.
They begin her book: “A return to love.”
When we were born, we were programmed perfectly. We had a natural tendency to focus on love. Our imaginations were creative and flourishing, and we knew how to use them. We were connected to a world much richer than the one we connect to now, a world full of enchantment and a sense of the miraculous.
So what happened?
Why is it that we reached a certain age, looked around, and the enchantment was gone?
Because we were taught to focus elsewhere. We were taught to focus elsewhere. We were taught to think unnaturally. We were taught a very bad philosophy, a way of looking at the world that contradicts who we are.
We were taught to think thoughts like competition, struggle, sickness, finite resources, limitation, guilt, bad, death, scarcity, and loss. We began to think these things, and so we began to know them. We were taught that things like grades, being good enough, money, and doing things the right way, are more important than love.
We were taught that we’re separate from other people, that we have to compete to get ahead, that we’re not quite good enough the way we are. We were taught to see the world the way that others had come to see it. It’s as though, as soon as we got here, we were given a sleeping pill.
Love is what we were born with. Fear is what we learned here. The spiritual journey is the relinquishment, or unlearning, of fear and the acceptance of love back into our hearts. Love is the essential existential fact. It is our ultimate reality and our purpose on earth. To be consciously aware of it, to experience love in ourselves and others, is the meaning of life.
God is love. Love and only love. This is not the lectionary scripture this week. As I kind of begin my 36th year of ministry and another year in the church and this congregation, this is what is on my heart. This is what I think so many people need to hear.
Maybe I am preaching to the choir, but I think it is the message the world needs to hear….
The God is alive and real wherever there is love.
And that God is love and loves everyone of us.
An aboriginal man tells the story of when he was a little boy and there was a kid in school who had some kind of mental disability. And the other kids were making fun of this kid who was different. And some of them picked up some little rocks to throw at him. And he picked up a rock to throw, but as he did he heard footsteps and he turned around and saw it was his father. He thought that he was going to be in big trouble and that he would be punished.
But his dad started crying and apologized to him. He said to his son: “Sorry son. I have failed as a father in teaching you to love your neighbour.” And he walked away crying.
The aboriginal man said, “It hurt me so much that I was the cause of my father crying..and I determined right then and there that I wanted to be like him and love my neighbour as myself.”
Sometimes as a man, as a father, as a parent, as a minister, as an official of the church, I want to cry and apologize to the children and the people of this world. “I am sorry that we did not teach you to love.”
And sometimes I look up into the crying eyes of Jesus and determine that I want to be just like him and love my neighbour as myself.