What Does Perfect Love Look Like?

1 John 4: 7-21   August 3, 2014 Some highlights from today’s reading: Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. No one has ever seen God, says the writer in 1st John. BUT if we love one another, God lives in us and God’s love is perfected in us. Do you see what the writer did there? No one has ever seen God – but it’s through our loving of one another that God’s love is perfected in us. It is seen. It is brought to life. It is embodied. What an amazing claim! The spirit of the word ‘perfection’ in Greek is about achieving a goal as opposed to something being flawless. So when you hear the writer saying that God’s love is perfected in us – the goal is for us to love others. That’s the goal! Which is also a terrifying thing, too, right? Because, as we all know, Christians have a terrible reputation of not loving one another behind closed doors and out in public. We are known for our fighting and for who we hate, for the Bible tells us so, right? So what chance does anybody else have to be loved by us, right? Being the hands and feet of Christ in the world – being the physical embodiment of God to other people – what an incredible gift we’ve been given. And a great burden. 10557402_10204784949727873_4719309682911545709_nBecause the call to following Jesus is an uncomfortable one. It’s not a call to comfort but to discomfort. Because if you truly follow where Jesus leads, well, you’re gonna put your body in some awkward and dangerous places. You’re going to put yourself out there for ridicule and hate. I imagine the teenagers and adults that immersed themselves in serving roles this week in Minneapolis and St. Paul have some idea of what that feels like. But I do hope it doesn’t take a mission trip to another place for all of us to experience being a physical example of God’s love in and to the world. Each and every day, people are watching what we will do, who we will be, and if they can see God in any of it. This past week, I went to a stewardship conference in St. Paul. I could preach a full hour or more on all that I took with me from those few days. But let me tell you these few things: First, each of the 11 speakers worked at shaking loose the term stewardship. The word ‘steward’ points to a life – how do you steward your time, your relationship with your partner or spouse. How do you steward your job, the food you buy. It’s about caring for resources that are all gift from God. How do you treat them – all of them? 2nd, one of the speakers said, the world is watching how the church spends its time and money. Do they see us reaching out to care for others or do they see us pouring money into our club houses and fighting about sex and money? And finally, the last speaker was the former bishop of the ELCA, Mark Hanson. And he ended his talk saying that God would know how we were stewarding all of our lives by examining the condition of the poor. We all took a deep breath there, let me tell you. Because he forced us to think about God in the flesh. He pointed to what perfect love looks like. Where are we to go? Who are we to be if perfected love is shown and lived through loving of other people!? 533797_10152750903055176_522623962_nMr. Rogers was the embodiment of God’s love, don’t you think? He was famous for this quote: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Well, let’s look for the helpers. What does perfect love look like?         10570408_10204407975585307_3722349304299826188_nIt looks like this Arabic letter N. Life in Iraq is a mess. In June the group ISIS, Islamist militants, began a reign of terror. They overran the northern capital of Mosul and began a violent march south, proclaiming the imminent destruction of Kerbala, Najaf, and Baghdad – all places of Shi’a religious and political power. They marked the homes of Christians to be killed or forced out of their homes. The mark they made on the homes is an Arabic letter ‘N’ for Nazarene – Jesus of Nazareth, Christian.  Here is a link to where I first read about this movement. WeAreN-copyA campaign called #WeAreN began across Iraq and across the world, including Muslims and other non-Christians, who could say that if one group is marked, we are all marked. That if they stood by in silence while others are marked for extinction, our time will come and there will be no one left to stand for us. They joined together in protest, prayer and used the media to proclaim, “We are Iraqi. We are Christians.” Not because they’d converted but because they could see God in the other. They could see humanity in the other. And that is enough, isn’t it?   What does perfect love look like? Egypt_MuslimChristianBrotherhoodIn January of 2011 in Cairo, Egypt, Muslims acted as human shields for Coptic Christians attending Christmas mass. Just a week earlier, a Coptic church had been bombed by extremists. amazing-photo-of-christians-protecting-muslims-at-30221-1321974013-1Or Christians protecting Muslims during their prayers also in Egypt. What does perfect love look like? 526289718A group of Orthodox priests stepped right into the line of fire to stop clashes between protesters and police in Ukraine. What does perfect love look like? gaza-articleLarge-v2On August 1st, the Jerusalem Augusta Victoria Hospital (AVH) dispatched a team of doctors and nurses to the Gaza Strip in order to extend a helping hand to their colleagues there and help to alleviate the suffering. What does perfect love look like? hate-protest-hoboken-westboro-baptist-churchjpg-b1cf50452a15131f_largePeople standing in between Westboro Baptist church protesters to communicate love in the face of their hate. Westboro is known as a homophobic and anti-Semetic hate group who protest high profile funerals. The things and people they hate are astounding. slide_342164_3536495_freeOne of the most powerful WBC counter protests was the 1999 Angel Action wall of love outside the courthouse where Matthew Shepard’s accused killers were on trial. Yet when Fred Phelps died, the founding pastor of Westboro, this is the picketing that was done at his funeral. d6b647bc77e0f1efb70e35a085d3c6b9b645dca15837b8b2b3387252ce5635f2 Groups have begun to show up to counter protest with ironic signs but mostly with their presence – standing up as a sign to the hate. That love shows up. It was at one of these that a Westboro member came across into the peacefully assembled group lined up across the street. And as he crossed their line, some began to push him and shove him down and kick him. A woman who was with this same group – this same group who came to protest the evil – fell onto the man, yelling for her friends to stop. Now that is what perfect love looks like. Perfect love looks like taking a risk, large or small. Perfect love is recognizing God in someone else, even an enemy. Perfect love is hard. IMG_3541We are marked, people. We are Christians, so people expect something, don’t they? And the bar, quite frankly, is set pretty low. I have 2 stories to tell you from this past Monday’s root beer and hymns where over 500 people gathered together as community.

  • One marked person approached me and said, “I’m a life-long atheist. And I just want to tell you how much I appreciate how this church has navigated in this town. Thank you.”
  • Another marked person approached me at the end of the night and said, “I’m a lesbian. I work in this town but I don’t live here. I am so thankful your church exists. It’s so important to know it’s here even though I can’t be here. Thank you.”

hate-protest-hoboken-westboro-baptist-churchjpg-b1cf50452a15131f_largeNo one has seen God, the writer of 1st John says. But if you don’t love who you can see, then how is it you can love God who you have not seen? Back up. Read that again. Perfect love is messy and directly connected to other people. Perfect love is our lives of faith we live every single day. In the face of relentless daily news that is bad, we are tempted to believe that this is our reality and we can do nothing. We are tempted to believe that hate is stronger than love. But we know better. We know that love wins. Each and every time. For God is love and love is God. And that’s who we are people. We are people of God’s love. And that is a powerful thing. Thanks be to God.

Comments

  1. Tears…big, truthful, heartfelt tears. This is is what perfect love looks like. Thank you. I needed exactly this today.

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