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.

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