April 29, 2018 Easter 5
Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22:24-30; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, our strength, and our redeemer. Amen. Psalm 19:14
Alleluia. Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Do you know that God loves YOU? Do you believe that God loves you? God does love you no matter what. God loves you when you are nice. God loves you when you are naughty. God loves you when you are not sure that God even exists and even if you deny his very existence. God loves you always. God loves you yesterday, God loves you today, God loves you tomorrow, and God loves you forever! God loves you.
My father died three Easters ago, April 7th, 2015. My father loved me and taught me to love. Sometimes it took me awhile to understand what he was showing me through his actions. Once when I was very young my sister Marsha and I were home alone. I don’t remember where my mother was, but Dad was out in the fields working. I don’t know what possessed her, but Marsha decided to climb up on the garage roof and rip off shingles. She liked to help Dad and had probably seen him do this. I do not like heights so did not join her. In fact I can just hear myself saying, “I don’t think you should be up there. Are you sure about this? You had better come down.” Next thing we knew, Dad came roaring up from the field on his tractor and came running. He had seen Marsha up on the roof. I don’t remember what happened next, but Dad quickly got Marsha down from the roof. There probably was some yelling. I don’t remember Dad ever hitting us. I just don’t remember what was said or done. What I do remember is Dad then giving Marsha a piece of Juicy Fruit Gum, NOT me, but her! It just wasn’t fair. She was the one in trouble not me, but SHE got the gum. It took me a long time to understand how afraid my father was. What if Marsha had fallen off the roof and was hurt or killed! What if Mum had found her first! I think that he was a little afraid of Mum. Was Dad mad at me because I had failed to convince my sister of the prudence of staying on the ground? No, my Dad’s focus at this time was solely on my sister and what could have happened. The gum was my father’s way of saying he was sorry for being so angry and scolding my sister. The gum had nothing to do with being good or bad. My Dad loved Marsha even when she was doing something wrong and wanted her to know he still loved her even when he disciplined her. He was so afraid of what could have happened.
My understanding of God’s love is shaped by my understanding of my father’s love. Our understanding of God’s love is shaped by our understanding of our parent’s love, the love of our aunts and uncles and extended family, teachers and our church family. I was loved and I returned that love and so it is easy for me to believe that God loves me and to love God in return. We sang the children’s hymn “Jesus Loves Me” often in the church I grew up in and I believed it.
Sadly not everyone’s experience is so positive. Some people lost a parent early in life due to death or divorce. Was it somehow their fault, eternally waiting to be found out and punished? Some parents are distant never having been loved they don’t know how to love. Some parents are never around working around the clock or serving in the military or away at sea on a ship. So we come to believe in a distant, uncaring God, a God who created us and then went on to his next project. Some parents are angry and abusive and we come to believe in an angry, vengeful God, a God we need to tip toe around lest he reach out and strike us.
My goal this morning is to tell you that God loves you, yes you. God loved you before you were born when you were just a sparkle in your parent’s eye. God loves you from the beginning of time. When God created the world, when God created humanity, God saw that it was good; in fact it was very good. God loves all of creation including you and me.
God wants a personal relationship with his people, with you and me. We read the stories of Adam and Eve, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, of Moses, Aaron, Miriam and Joshua and we hear of a God who talked and walked with his people, who was active in their lives. We hear of a God who was angry with the behavior of his people, who destroyed life with a flood, but regretted his decision and promised never to do it again. Of a God who sent Moses to free his people from slavery to the Egyptians and was repaid with a whiny, ungrateful people, who turned to other gods without a second thought, an angry God who considered destroying this people, but who was willing to be persuaded to give them yet another chance; a God who loved his people and wanted to be loved in return.
Most significantly for us as Christians we hear the stories of a God who loves his people so much that he sent his beloved son Jesus Christ to free his people from slavery to sin and who was repaid by the crucifixion of this son. God loves his people so much that he sent his son anyway so that Jesus could show God’s people what love looks like, how love acts, when to love, where to love, who to love and why to love. You remember those six questions we were taught in school to ask: who, what, where, when, why and how.
Who are we to love? We are to love God with all our heart and all our mind and all our strength. We are to love our neighbor as our self. We are to love our selves. We are to love all people. We are to love all of God’s creation. By loving our neighbor we are loving God. If we cannot love our brother or sister, how can we love a god that we cannot see? Who is love? God is love. If God is in us and we are in God then we too are love, made to love, to be love. If we are part of our neighborhood and our neighborhood is part of who we are then God’s love that is part of us will also be part of our neighborhood.
What is love? Love is an intense feeling of deep affection. Love is a great interest and pleasure in something or someone. Love is attachment, caring and intimacy. Love has many meanings: family love as for a parent, child or sibling; brotherly or friendly love, friendship; romantic love, physical love and attraction for another; and self-emptying, divine love as when a firefighter is willing to enter a burning building to rescue a stranger or a man is willing to die on a cross.
Where is love? Love is in our souls, our hearts, our minds, our very being. Love is all around us. Love is in the relationship between a mother and her child. When we send a child off to university or war, love is with us and with our beloved child. The spirit of God has been poured into our very souls and so love is in us, you and me and the love of God shines forth in all our interactions with those around us. God’s love is never ending and so can be shared freely and abundantly, there will always be enough for me and you and all with whom we interact.
When is love? Love is for all time, for eternity. Love always was, is and always will be. Love was present before the beginning of time, at the time of creation. Love is present in history. Love was present at our conception, at our birth, throughout our lives and will be present at our death. Love is present in times of war and natural disasters, sickness and health, in good times and bad times. Love is for all eternity. When are we to love? Always! Just as Jesus and Stephen at their deaths prayed that God would forgive their murderers, we are to love our enemies, those who hate us, bully us, and abandon us so that they too might come to know the love of God.
Why is Love? I do not know how God or love came to be, but I believe God always is, that Love always is. Why do I love? I believe that I love because I was first loved. My mother and my father loved me and so I love my father and my mother, my family and friends. I believe that God first loved me, that God loves my parents and that God loves me through my family, my friends, my teachers and my church and so I have come to love God, my family, my friends, my enemies, my church, the people of St. James’ and the people of Albion, not perfectly, but still I love.
How is love? “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7) We are to love freely and deeply because we are loved freely and deeply by a loving, gracious, merciful God, not because we are so loveable or good or kind, but just because God loves us. God loves me. God loves you. God is love. Amen.
Mother Darlene Kuhn
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