Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

cross_punch_flower_283079_tnOne of the attractive aspects of this church during my call process was the choice to use a verse of scripture as its mission statement: We love because He first loved us. It is found in 1st John, Chapter 4, verse 19.

Now whether we love in general or love Jesus and reflect that love in loving others, the love spoken of is the same love extolled by the Apostle Paul in today’s reading.

From the context that it appears, the love which Paul extols is a product of the Holy Spirit just as faith and hope are and that makes sense as Paul uses the word agape which was used at the time to describe God’s love for humanity.

Faith, hope and love—the greater gifts for which we should strive and the more excellent way to achieve all three is to focus first on love. But as Jesus reminds us, it is relatively easy to love the lovable and we should.

The greater task is to love the unlovable and to show patience when patience is strained as it often is when we really want something. But always the internal dialogue needs to take place—it this something I need to sustain life or do I want it. We should apply an analogous standard toward others, asking ourselves what is blocking us from treating the other person as someone lovable? For sure, God loves them; the challenge is for us to respond to God’s love by responding to one who is unlovable in the eyes of the world.

I was reminded of the ministry of Mother Teresa when I saw nuns from her order offering prayers at the grave of the Haitian archbishop who died in the earthquake. No one is more unlovable than a person left in an alley to die, and yet Mother Teresa found Christ’s love in caring for those otherwise condemned to die alone.

Time and again Paul calls the budding Christian church to act toward others in a way that mimics what Jesus has done for us. Forgive others because we have been forgiven. Love others because God first loved us. Love without reservation because God accepts and loves us without preconditions.

Yet nowhere does Paul say that this radical way of loving in response to the way God loves us will be easy. It requires endurance and forbearance even as our hearts can break.

Love was the message Jesus brought to his fellow citizens of Nazareth and yet that love was not reflected by those who knew him but in a different context. Their amazement and good feelings were quelled when they realized that Joseph’s son couldn’t be bringing this good news.

And they became enraged when Jesus cites Elijah’s sojourn in Sidon with the widow and Elisha’s healing of Naman the Syrian general of leprosy as God’s love reaching out to non-Jews. For them God’s love and concern should solely be the province of the children of Abraham.

How often do we see examples of people’s being cut off because what they say strikes too close to home? Yet anger as a defense has no place in the lives of the faithful. And the Exodus experience demonstrates God’s displeasure at whining.

Yet so much of present day communication has ceased to be conversation but instead is a monologue of anger and whining. What do they accomplish?

What’s the God standard? Love and caring for doing the right thing and living in truth—that is the God Standard. May God lead us more and more into living God’s standard because God loved us first.