July 1, 2018
Today we return to our sermon series “The Ridiculous Journey.” Our series began with the question, how is it that “A Middle Eastern homeless man from twenty centuries ago, still stirs the souls and imaginations of many." Why is it that we follow a “nobody from nowhere?” What is it about “Jesus from Nazareth”that turned, and continues to turn, the world upside down?
And why is this journey, this decision to accept the invitation to follow Jesus ridiculous? Because it challenges us to forsake the well-worn paths of “convention” and take the dangerous “road less traveled!” Following Jesus inevitably leads us to the margins of life, to the challenging and uncomfortable places of life, to the places where “the least of these” are found.
In part two we were introduced to Jesus as the “Revolutionary,”God’s change agent in the world ushering in the Kingdom of God; a kingdom whose values and principles are in conflict with the world around us. We are reminded that Jesus appears “to make all things new,”in a world that doesn’t like change, let alone social and religious change.
In part three we were introduced to Jesus as the “Reconciler,”the one who not only reconciles each of us with God, but also challenges us to participate in the “ministry of reconciliation” unto all the world, to help bridge the gaps caused by the division of blind loyalty and allegiance assumptions; to take that humble stance of the “peacemaker”to be part of the Spirits work of gathering all of creation up and into the great love of God.
Today in part four of our series we are introduced to Jesus “The Lover,”Jesus as the love of God embodied for the world, that the world might know love, that the world might know God. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son ...”
Today’s first reading proclaims, “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” Love, it’s that simple - and that complicated! Complicated because we don’t all understand and experience love in the same way. We begin by asking, just what does love look like?
The ancient Greeks had six words to describe love. There was “Philautia”the “love of self,” which could be expressed in a healthy manner but also negatively in narcissism. There was “Pragma,”or “longstanding love,” the kind of love that you find in enduring marriages, going deeper and beyond the moments belonging to emotions or feelings. “Ludus,”or “playful love,” as observed in flirting and the early stages of romance. “Eros”was used to describe “sexual passion,” and physical desire. “Philia”was the “love of friendship,” the love experienced by families. And “Agape”was the word used to describe the most radical form of love; a selfless love, a “sacrificial love.”
In biblical Greek “Agape”is the most common word for “love” found in the New Testament. It is used to describe the love that is God, the love of God embodied in Jesus, and the love that will slowly develop inside of those who choose to follow Jesus, those who embark on the ridiculous journey, those who dare to really lean into the teachings of Jesus, to those who place themselves in the Holy Community, the Beloved Community, that is the Kingdom of God.
In 1995 Gary Chapman authored the best-selling book, “The Five Languages of Love.” He proposed that there are five basic ways that we experience and share love with each other. The first is “Words of Affirmation,”the intentional “verbal” sharing of affirmations, speaking aloud the encouragement of “I love you.” The second Language of Love is “Quality Time,”the carving out of time to be shared together, giving the other your undivided attention, the love of being present. “Sharing of Gifts”is another way that love is “spoken,” a tangible token of love, that meaningful and thoughtful gift that makes a difference. “Acts of Service”is the fourth language of love. For these people “actions speak louder than words,” lending a hand shows you really care! Helping with life’s chores, and in life’s struggles, speaks of love. And finally, there is the language of “Physical Touch.” Hugs, kisses, holding hands, sitting together, closely sharing life, and in doing so communicating love.
Yes, love can be complicated! Not everyone experiences love or communicates love in the same way! How does a person who experiences and communicates love through “acts of service,” someone who is perhaps the strong and silent type; connect with an extremely “extroverted” person who experiences and communicates love through “words of affirmation?” It’s not easy, in many ways we need to become multi-lingual, we need to learn how to share and receive love in the many ways it might be offered and received. We don’t all innately speak the same language when it comes to love.
Renowned professor and speaker Dr. Brene Brown, from The University of Houston offers insight into this matter of communicating love, in particular how “the God that is Love,” the God that wants be revealed as Love, the God who wants us to love one another, might go about communicating to humanity. She explains the problem in this way, you can’t speak in loose words or philosophical concepts because the love of God is too hard to understand, and our human default response would be to make it easy. She exclaims we would turn such an opend ended message of God’s love into “rainbows and unicorns,”- heart shaped candies with “xoxox” on them! So, God cannot just send us a “word” about love, God must become “the word” about love, God must embody love. Dr. Brown is emphatic that God “needs to send someone who will show us what love in the flesh looks like.” “Otherwise we would romanticize it!”
So, God does just that, from today’s Gospel reading, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” And this love of God, the word made flesh in Jesus, a word of grace and truth, cannot be romanticized. Dr. Brene Brown proclaims, “And then Jesus comes and says, ‘I am love.’ I sit with people you are not allowed to talk to, I do all the hard things, I make all the hard choices. I love the people that are unlovable, I feed the people that are not supposed to be taken care of, I do not tolerate shame, I do not tolerate attacks. I am love and it’s hard and it’s messy. And if you really love, big love, you will become dangerous people.”
Once again, we’re suddenly on what some people might call a “ridiculous journey,”living out the values and practices of somebody who “came out of nowhere”inaugurating the Kingdom of God in our midst. Dr. Brown concludes, “God is love, and Jesus is what love looks like - made flesh. And it’s hard, it’s not a default, it’s not unicorns and rainbows and fluffy stuffed animals. It’s about choosing what is right over what is easy. And we don’t want love to be that!”
It’s about choosing what is right over what is easy. Love is not a feeling, it’s a decision!
This morning Jesus once again invites us into the dangerous life of true love, the love of God, the love that is God. And why would we follow? It sounds all too risky and totally inconvenient. Yet we have chosen to follow. Why?
“We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) Perhaps we follow because we have caught a glimpse of what true love looks like? Pastor Rich Nelson writes, “It is only in God’s naked vulnerability on the cross in the form of Jesus, bearing the full rejection of all humanity and the ultimate betrayal—and still reaching out to us with words of forgiveness and grace—that we see what true love looks like.”Perhaps once you have seen and experienced such “true love,” grace that is truly amazing and mercy that is truly unconditional, the selfless sacrificial love of “Agape;”once such love has stirred your soul and your imagination, you can’t go back, because suddenly and forever you belong to holy love, you are wrapped up inside the love of God. Once again from our first reading this morning, “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 judgement, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”
Once again, as so often is the case, God’s Word comes to us as both comfort and challenge. To be loved so completely, so dangerously, so truly, is indeed overwhelming. It’s sets one free in a way that nothing else could ever do. And as this love sets us free it challenges us with moments of faith that call us do more than just receive this “Agape Love,”but to practice “Agape Love”in response.
I will give the last word in today’s sermon to Pastor Rich Nelson, the curator of our Sermon Series, he writes, “Love isn’t pretty. And it isn’t simple. And it isn’t easy. Love is more often than not messy, and complicated and excruciatingly difficult. But the alternative, to not love, is to refuse to truly be alive.” Love has come into your life to make you alive! Let us continue the Ridiculous Journey together. Amen.
1 John 4: 16b-21
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgement, 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. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 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. 21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.