Mother’s Day, Being Born From God, May 10, 2015

1John 5:1-9, Common English Bible

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.

This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands.

In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world.

This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.

Who is it that overcomes the world?

Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ.

He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.

For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.

We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son.

The word of God for the people of God, thanks be to God.

 

            When we say we love God, Jesus’ father, then we also say we love Jesus who is God’s child. When we say we believe in Jesus, because of the love between God and his son, we become Jesus’ brothers and sisters. Then we cannot only love God and Jesus, we are commanded because of our love of the parent’s and the child’s love for us to love all of God’s children—all of them.

            In this kind of love relationship there is no, “Mom love’s you more.” There really are no favorites with God. God is always and forever reaching out in love to us. As believers in Christ, we are challenged to know and take action realizing that:

·      Every injustice done to a child of God—anyone created by God—is a reminder of the injustice done to Jesus

·      Every violent act committed against one of God’s children is a reminder of the violence committed against Jesus

Jesus told his disciples:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments…whoever has my commandments and keeps them loves me.

            Jesus was born of a woman—none of us are motherless when it comes to our human birth. Jesus experienced having a mother. We can only imagine the ways Mary loved and cared for her son—her son who was the Messiah. Being a mother is a huge responsibility. Many women have become mothers without physically birthing a child. Many women have been mothers to other people when their own birth mothers were not able to fulfill the role. I believe that Jesus, because God is his father and our father, often loved and cared for people as a mother cares for her children. I believe that’s because God also loves us as we see mothers loving their own children. It requires love empowered by the Holy Spirit to love others who are not blood of our blood and bone of our bone.

            Throughout the New Testament, the Greek word “kosmos” is used. It usually refers to an interconnected network of Powers—political, economic, cultural, ideological—that have nothing to do with loving people because they are created by God. These powers set themselves up to become our idols and to dominate our lives. Walter Wink refers to this system as the Domination System that consists of:

·      inequality

·      patriarchy

·      economic injustice

·      hierarchism and

·      racism

with the system being maintained by violence. In small and big ways we all participate in the Domination System and even believe, though Jesus railed against it, that it is the way things are—reality. We even find ourselves defending the Domination System because we are convinced by the Powers—the kosmos—that any alternatives are worse.

            It’s like trying to imagine cars, trucks, trains, airplanes, spaceships, and ships that are fueled by something other than oil. Yes, we have electric cars today and hydrogen powered cars are being developed, and it’s hard for us to conceive of all forms of transportation and power being fueled by anything other than fossil fuel or oil. Just like it’s hard for us to imagine solar power or wind power taking the place of electricity fueled by coal or nuclear power by fission no fusion that requires radioactive elements. We are convinced that the devil we know is better than the devil we might get if things change. Why? Because we are Pharisees—we are part of the Domination System.

            We have come to believe, just as the Pharisees believed, that not participating in “the way things are” will result in chaos and terrorism.

            Jesus exposed the Domination System and offered us the love that Mary had for him and that God had for him. Jesus offered us God’s love—freedom and liberation from the Domination System. Walter Wink says, Jesus’ love is to be loved “not despite our sins or because of our achievements, but simply because we are intrinsically of immeasurable value to God.” This completely undermines the Domination System’s power to convince us that our value is based on what we can earn or based on what we can contribute and that we are never going to be good enough.

            Our belief in Jesus and our faith in what Jesus has done for us through his life, ministry, death and resurrection is our recognition that the Domination System is nothing but a lie. We are now able to recognize the truth that God loves us completely and unconditionally.            

            This is the same kind of love that empowered Mary to become pregnant with Jesus and carry him in her body for nine months. This is the kind of love that meets the every need of a newborn baby—feeding, diapering, sleepless nights. Unconditional love that makes babies thrive. Unconditional love that God uses to make us more like Jesus each day so that we can love as Jesus loved.

            In John’s gospel Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” Three times he asked Peter and three times Peter said yes, and each time Jesus told Peter to “feed my sheep.” Feed my sheep is God’s unconditional love—the love of a mother that provides the basic life necessities for a newborn baby—food, clothing, a place to live, protection and security. Again, this is easier to do for blood of our blood or bone of our bone or making a commitment to do this when adopting or fostering children.

            To truly break the Domination System we must feed all the sheep—even the ones who are most vexing—the most challenging ones. The ones who never seem to get it together. The ones who keep being in need and keep needing to be fed.

            We do this with dignity, too. Just as a mother loves with dignity—a love that creates a state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed in her children. This is the unconditional love of God.

            Jeremy Smith, a United Methodist minister serving as Minister of Discipleship at First United Methodist Church in Portland, Oregon often writes for the blog, Hacking Christianity. Here’s a story from a posting of his from this past Thursday:

            About five years ago, I was traveling with a wise elder minister [meaning an ordained elder—not indicating age]. We drove through a town and saw two different churches side by side.  The United Methodist church ran a clothing store where clothing was sold for 25 cents, jeans for $1, shoes for $2, etc. The other church advertised free clothes, jeans, and shoes.  Neither was open at that time in the evening so I had no idea of which was busier.

My travel companion and I had the following conversation:

Jeremy: Well, I hope the Methodists don’t get put outta business.

Elder (craning her neck to see the churches): I would hope so, because that means that everyone is clothed and taken care of.

Jeremy: I meant that the other church is giving clothes away while the UM church is selling their clothes. Seems like an easy choice.

Elder (twinkle in her eye): You think the UM church is selling clothes? They aren’t. Anytime you can buy something and feel a bit more like the rest of the world, you are getting dignity in the deal. So they aren’t selling clothes. They’re selling dignity.

Whether it is a thrift store for clothes, vouchers sold for the homeless shelter, a meal for a few cents, or putting 18 cents in an offering plate, by allowing people experiencing poverty to participate in the very system that excludes them gives them a little dignity. Giving dignity clears out that stain of unworthiness [The Domination System’s lies] a bit at a time. What a great gift and ministry!

            Recall that John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, read the book of 1John, five chapters, daily as his morning devotion. Recall that 1John is a commentary, an explanation of John’s gospel—a way to help us better understand and hear the message of John’s gospel.

            Reading 1John daily is a way for us to become more like Jesus by not only remembering that our belief in Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection provides us with salvation and eternal life—reading 1John daily also reminds us of Jesus’ last command to his disciples—love as I have loved. To accomplish loving people, as Jesus loved requires the power of the Holy Spirit within us. Dignity—honoring and esteeming each person created by God—is what unconditional love looks like. When we love others as Jesus loved, then we are feeding his sheep—all people who are created by God.

           My challenge for us is that we commit to reading 1John for the remaining 21 days in this month. What time of day you choose to read 1John is your choice, and reading the entire five chapters or listening to them over the Internet daily is the goal. Before you begin to read, pray first for each of us in this congregation to love people as Jesus loved, and pray for each of us to be open and ready to show the love of Jesus each day to those all around us are in need of Jesus love—in need of knowing that the Domination System is a lie and that God’s unconditional love, dignity and freedom from the ways things are is the reality of the life God gives us.

Sermon, May 3, There is No Fear in Love

1 John 4:7-21, Common English Bible

Dear friends, let’s love each other, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God.

The person who doesn’t love does not know God, because God is love.

This is how the love of God is revealed to us: God has sent his only Son into the world so that we can live through him.

This is love: it is not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as the sacrifice that deals with our sins.

Dear friends, if God loved us this way, we also ought to love each other.

No one has ever seen God.

If we love each other, God remains in us and his love is made perfect in us.

This is how we know we remain in him and he remains in us, because he has given us a measure of his Spirit.

We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the savior of the world.

If any of us confess that Jesus is God’s Son, God remains in us and we remain in God.

We have known and have believed the love that God has for us.

God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them.

This is how love has been perfected in us, so that we can have confidence on the Judgment Day, because we are exactly the same as God is in this world.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment.

The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love.

We love because God first loved us.

If anyone says, I love God, and hates a brother or sister, he is a liar, because the person who doesn’t love a brother or sister who can be seen can’t love God, who can’t be seen.

This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also.

 

            Parker Palmer writes this story:

            For 11 years, I lived and worked in a Quaker living-learning community of 70 people called Pendle Hill, where our lives were so closely entwined that people could easily draw close to each other — and just as easily become alienated. But “alienated” is a mild word to describe my feelings toward one woman there. I thought of her as the Devil’s Spawn, dispatched directly from the Hellfires of Hades to destroy all that is green and good about life on Earth.

At Pendle Hill, residents gather every morning in a Quaker meeting for worship, 45 minutes of communal silence broken only occasionally by words spoken from the heart. One morning, I arrived late, and the only seat available was — yes — on a bench next to her. I came close to leaving. But somehow I managed to sit down, close my eyes, let my inner turmoil settle, and slowly forget that next to me was an agent from the Dark Side.

Half an hour later, head still bowed, I opened my eyes and found myself looking directly at this woman’s upturned hand as it rested on her knee. There, spotlighted by a shaft of sunlight, I saw the faint but steady throb of an artery in her wrist, the elemental beat of her very human heart. In that silent, sunlit moment I knew beyond words that here was a person just like me, with strengths and weaknesses, hopes and disappointments, joys and despairs.

            Palmer’s story brings to life this statement from our scripture passage:

If we love each other, God remains in us and his love is made perfect in us.

When we, like Palmer, recognize that even people we choose to demonize or dislike because of our own very good reasons are human and created by God, we, as Christians, cannot hold on to this way of thinking about other people.

            We love others because God first loved us and, as we love others, God’s love is perfected in us. Remember that our 20th and 21st century definition of perfect or even perfected causes us to think that being perfect or perfected means that we are pure, blameless, without fault—everything in place, everything in order and nothing incorrect or left undone—this is our definition of perfect. Being perfect or being perfected in scripture is about the Holy Spirit working within us to shape and mold us into the complete and whole person God created us to be. It’s a lifelong process—a daily process.

1 John tells us:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment.

The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love.

We love because God first loved us.

            I am convinced that fear is the force that drives us to exclude, judge, and separate ourselves from others who are not like us. Fear is what causes us to believe that all Muslims are radical terrorists who want to take over the world. Fear is what causes us to believe that all African Americans are going to resort to violence, looting and destruction of property as the news has reported this past week from Baltimore.

            I am also convinced that fear is the force that drives people to become radical terrorists or to resort to violent behavior, regardless of their faith tradition. Through coaching, teaching and mentoring by their leaders, people become fearful that others have more than they have and that they will never be able to have what others have. Fear is used by leaders of all types to fuel the flames of hatred along with fueling the flames of convincing people that they are not good enough and that they don’t have what they deserve in life. Fear is used to portray our military opponents as evil and immoral. It works well.

            1 John clearly tells us that this fearful way of living is not the life style of Christians. Because God first loved us, we live confidently. Because of what Jesus has done for us, we dare not ever live fearfully. We are confident because we are no longer concerned about God’s judgment against us. Jesus lived, died on a cross, and rose to full life again so that we as believers that Jesus is God’s son know we belong to God and that God is with us now and forever no matter what happens in our lives. This is perfect love—what Jesus did for us.

            When we declare that we are going to follow Jesus, then we are filled with God’s perfect love. This is what the Holy Spirit does inside of us. We cannot force fear out of our minds no matter how hard we try. We cannot do it.

            God’s Spirit, Jesus abiding in us, and the Holy Spirit breathed into us by God, can do this. Our confidence of what God has accomplished through Jesus is what gives us the ability to love others as God loves us. This means that we cannot be fearful of people who are not like us. This means that we are called to love people who are not like us.

            Clarification here. This kind of love is the love that recognizes each person as created by God. I’m not talking about the giddy, romantic or even erotic love that we most often think about when we hear the word love. I’m talking about the kind of love that causes us to value, care for, love each person we meet simply because God created them. This kind of love doesn’t consider whether someone is worth loving or not. This kind of love, love generated within us by the power of the Holy Spirit, is love that reaches out to people who need to know the perfect love of God.   

            Chapter eight of Acts gives us the story of Philip, one of Jesus’ disciples who continued to spread the gospel—the Good News of the salvation of Christ after Christ’s resurrection and ascension:

            Philip was instructed by an angel to go to the road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza. He meets an Ethiopian eunuch who was returning to Ethiopia from Jerusalem, where he had been to worship, presumably in the Temple [now this would be a problem because eunuchs were not allowed to worship in the Temple and the people who first head this story would know that fact—the fact that this man was a eunuch—his sexual identity—that he had been castrated is what excludes him from the Temple].

            This Ethiopian was reading from the book of Isaiah—one of the suffering servant passages from what we know as Isaiah 53—and he realizes that he needs help to understand the passage [now this part of the story should also cause us to stop and think that something is amiss here—strange, odd—because most people and especially an Ethiopian eunuch would not have possession of a scroll or even the education level to read it—which is a big clue to us to stop and think about the purpose behind this story]. I can relate to this eunuch—I need help in understanding scripture, too. Philip, like Peter, Paul and most likely all of the first disciples, heard these words from Isaiah and immediately thought of Jesus—this sounded just like the Jesus he knew and loved so well. So Philip takes this opportunity to tell the Ethiopian eunuch about Jesus. The eunuch instantly accepts what Philip tells him about Jesus and says he, too, wants to be a disciple of Jesus. He recognized that the Jews will not welcome him into worshiping and serving God, but Philip recognized him as one created by God. Philip doesn’t delay. Philip, through the power of the Holy Spirit empowering him to love as God first loved him, baptizes the eunuch at a nearby body of water. They go their separate ways—rather mysteriously as Philip just disappears from sight—and the Ethiopian eunuch goes on to live as a disciple of Christ. We are left to consider what all of this means to us today.

We are one in the Spirit

We are one in the Lord

We are one in the Spirit

We are one in the Lord

And we pray that all unity may one day be restored

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love

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            Let us end in prayer as we prepare to experience the power of perfect low at Christ’s table.