The transforming power of love. A report on Duncan’s sermon on 1 John 4:7-21

Power of love

Report of Duncan’s sermon on 1 John 4:7-21

The theme of the passage is love. Duncan began by saying that he’d been reflecting on the subversiveness of God before standing up to preach. Today, our minds may be full of political and sporting events, and these seem very important to us. But what if, from God’s perspective these are very marginal , while what really matters is the stuff which ordinary people are doing?

Focus on love

Duncan and Shona had been at Eilidh Macritchie’s wedding yesterday, and he commented on the range of songs about love which were played. And love is the theme of any number of songs – Duncan listed 14, all of which have love in the title, and referred to a myriad of other love-focussed pop songs.

And in choosing the songs this morning, Jonathan had selected ones which emphasise the love of God.

And love, Duncan said, is the deepest focus of scripture. The greatest commandment Jesus shared was all about love. And there wouldn’t be much left of John’s first letter if you removed the word ‘love’. In the 14 verses from 1 John which we read, love is mentioned no fewer than 26 times.

The four loves

But what did John mean by ‘love’?  Duncan reminded us that where in English we have just one word for ‘love’ in all its guises, in the Greek language in which John was writing, there are four words for love:

Fourlovesstorge – comes closest to the English word ‘affection’, and includes, for example, the love a parent has for a child.

philia – refers to the bond of long-term friendship

eros – is about being in love, or loving someone, the pre-occupating of all those songs about love

agape -  which C. S. Lewis, in his book The Four Loves – defines as ‘unconditional God love.’  It’s a love which persists regardless of changing circumstances, the love which the Apostle Paul in his  great passage about love in 1 Corinthians 13  says never fails, never gives up, always hopes, always trusts, always thinks the best of another.

 

God’s unconditional love

So when John tells us in 1 John 4:7 ‘Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God,’ the word he uses is agape – unconditional God love.

And not ‘unconditional God love’ in a general kind of way. John defines the love of which he is speaking in verses 9 and 10:

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.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

God’s unconditional love, according to John, is seen in a person – Jesus – in relationship with the world, Jesus, who gives his followers an example to follow.

love-one-another-1-638Love as Jesus loves

Our aim is to live as Jesus lived in relationship with other people. And that means loving our brothers and sisters.

John starkly tells us (v20) ‘For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.’

This is important. Following Jesus is not so much about the beliefs about Jesus which you have in your head and on your lips – but about living out the Jesus way of love in your daily life.

When he was reading the passage on his ipad this week, Duncan noticed that on some previous occasion he had highlighted part of verse 17, the words ‘in this world we are like Jesus.’

Jesus fully represented the love of God in the world – and we are to be like Jesus!

The Jesus Way

Duncan reminded us of Eilidh’s dad Iain Macritchie’s ordination as an Episcopal  priest in Inverness Cathedral in January 2014.  Among all the drama and colour of the service one thing stood out for Duncan.  The gospel reading took place from the central aisle of the Cathedral, and the whole congregation stood and gathered round the person doing the reading.

The Episcopal Church, by this emphasis on the significance of the gospel reading highlights the significance of the Jesus story. We can only grow in understanding of what Jesus was like in his relationships and lifestyle by listening, reading, and getting to know the gospels.

What does it mean to be like Jesus in the world? John is telling us that in lives beset with challenges, we should get to know Jesus, and see how he loved and then love as he loved.

The Jesus Way is not so much about thoughts or words, but actions. In the words of the Nike advert ‘just do it.’

God expresses love through us

And, Duncan said, John assures us that God is with us  – indeed, within us as Jesus symbolised in his parable about the vine in John 15.  ‘If we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.’ (I John 4:12)

Sir Winston Churchill said that ‘we make a life by what we give.’  ‘Jesus,’ Duncan said, ‘through his self-giving love and his stories invites us into this agape, life-giving way of living.’  And Jesus is with us, as individuals and as a church, willing us on.

Faith under fireLove in action

Duncan concluded by quoting from Andrew White’s  (‘The Vicar of Baghdad’) book Faith under fire (2011) (p55, p54)

Andrew White described his Baghdad Church, where he was Vicar until 2014:

I have often said that St George’s is the best church I have ever been part of, and it is the best for one reason: its love.  I have never before been loved as I’ve been loved by these people – and I have never loved a group of people as I love the people of St George’s……Whenever I ask a member of the congregation why they come to St George’s, without fail they will say it is because of the love the people have for one another. When you are surrounded by so many atrocities cause by hatred, love becomes all the more important. And our love must be holistic – we first love God and then we love each other.

Love is not the reason I stepped into the fire, but it is love which keeps me here…. I am constantly aware that the love of God will never fail me. God will never fail me. I have no fear of living in the fire, but rather an immense joy because I know God’s love and the love of the people around me. Perfect love casts out all fear. What I have is God’s perfect love. ‘And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.’  (1 Corinthians 13:13)

And Andrew White describes the power of love shown out-with the church:

Often people who seem ‘unlovable’ begin to change when they are loved. I have seen this happen many times in Palestine and Iraq. The most radical example of this was Sheikh Talal Sidr. He was one of the founders and former leaders of the Islamic resistance movement Hamas, which is committed to the destruction of the State of Israel. When I started working with him – and loving him – even Christians told me that I should not be doing so. But he became the biggest proponent of peace I have ever met. He left Hamas and when anyone asked him what he was doing now, he would say, ‘I am pulling up thorns and planting flowers.’ When I asked him why he had changed so much he told me it was because we loved him.

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