Sermon – Light in Love and Love in Light 4

Deuteronomy 6:1-6; 1 John 4

Farmville Presbyterian Church

April 28, 2024

– Taking on love itself


We have had a tough but loving week this last week.  We have done our best to walk with the Sandford family in their grief and to hold Jack in our hearts as we entrusted him to the arms of our Heavenly Father.  Again, our Fellowship Committee rose to the occasion with grace and hospitality.  Our church family provided a meaningful time of worship.  I must say that it was a very telling worship service for the life of Jack.  There were lots of people from lots of places and lots of times in his life.  I told Frankie yesterday that the service was a testament to their life, their connections, and the way Jack blessed so many over his many years.

In short, it was all about love.  He was easy to love.  While we all wish we had more years with Jack, it was also easy to see his place in God’s love for eternity.  But that was not the whole story with the Sandford family.  No one knew that their oldest child, Sandy, was nearing the end of his walk as he returned home to see his father.  Sandy was Leigh’s father, if you remember Leigh who lived with Jack and Frankie for 10 years here.  I don’t think we can know what Sandy knew.  Not long after seeing Jack, he became very ill and was transferred to Lynchburg where the full extent of his very serious situation was uncovered.  He was not coming home.  There was also love at the heart of this story.

We struggle with what to do with love.  Other things get in the way.  I have to commend House Speaker Johnson who saw past the political bickering of his own party to provide help and aid to people in real need.  As a man of faith, he drew on his love and appreciation of people in faraway places to direct his decisions, even if it hurt him with his party.  There are always competing voices, competing claims, competing values to love.  We are driven by greed, fear, ambition, pride, and idolatry – none of which work well with love.  Try being selfish and truly loving at the same time.  It doesn’t work.

In English, we also only have one word for love, and it is so overused and misunderstood, occupying a place in 95% of all songs ever made, 100% of songs if you just look at country music.  In biblical Greek, there are three completely different words for love to help us navigate what kind of love we are considering.  There is the romantic kind, the friendly kind, and the one that is connected to God and the life of Jesus.  You may have heard the term agape before.  This is the best of love.  But love is also a problem.

Love is demanding.  That might not be a surprise to some of you.  If you are in a significant relationship with someone who makes a lot of demands.  Oh, the things we do for love.  My wife will be happy to tell you about the two most important words that she teaches her students – nothing to do with Drivers’ Education.  The two most important words she gives them are “Yes, dear.”  You have to learn to say “Yes, dear.”  You can ask her whether her husband has learned that lesson or not.  I’m not sure what grade I am going to get in that class.

Love is demanding, though.  That is what John tells us and the author of Deuteronomy, for that matter.  There in Deuteronomy 6 we have one of the most important verses in all of the Old Testament.  How do we know it is so important?  It is the one Jesus quotes when asked the greatest of the laws.  He quotes this very passage: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  Literally, the most important part of the law that governs everything about our lives is that we have to love God with everything that we have.  Tell me that that is not demanding.  We don’t think of it that way because it is dear to us.  When Jesus had ever opportunity to highlight any other law, he turned to love.  We want love to be our law.  We want to be loved and to love. This is the most basic fundamental need – to be loved – because if we are loved, we are important and we matter.  If we love, we will be cared for and provided for.  If we love, we have a future and hope for tomorrow.  If we love, we have meaning in this world, but if we love as Jesus tells us we MUST love, then it demands everything.  And not just to God because you also know the second of those commandments, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  By the way, also pretty demanding.

John takes us right there.  John has been building in this direction the whole time through this letter.  He is piercing right through the lies that these people have been living.  He is confronting the divisions of this group of hearers who have tried to say sin is not an issue with them.  It is reasonable to think they have not been treating each other very well.  This is a conflicted group, and honestly, the only answer for a conflict is love.  You cannot claim to be of God or with God or from God without love.  People have tried.  John calls out false prophets who refuse to accept the heart of God’s love, the death of Jesus on the cross.  People have tried to claim God is on their side as they persecute another, as they condemn another, as they throw stones at another, as they deny basic human rights to another, as they refuse access to opportunity or education to another, as they demonize another, or as they make another less than human.  This has been done in the name of God.  This has been done under the guise of being in the love of God.  That, friends, is the work of antichrist.  That is the opposite of God’s love, the opposite of Christ.

If we cannot love our sister or brother, we cannot love God.  If we cannot love children of God around us, we cannot share in God’s love.  That is demanding.  Love is not easy.  Love is the solution to the world, but it is also the problem.  We all must love better.

Our world changed after 9/11.  There was such anger and outrage following the attacks.  If you are too young to remember that fateful day, your entire life has been shaped by our cultural outrage.  Pretty much everyone (including myself) was fine going after those responsible with extreme prejudice.  We began to see those as different as a threat in a way we never had before.  Of course, that got rolling a cycle of massive violence that we are still suffering through to this day and will likely continue through my lifetime.  If I had been more thoughtful or reflective in that time, I would have come faster to the conclusion that the only response to hate is love.  Ireland is living with the legacy of that lesson lost.  Rwanda is another terrible example of this lesson lost.  How many places across this world have gone to war because they look at the face of the other and see an enemy?  You do not even have to do anything.  You just have to be different or have different beliefs.

If you cannot love your sister or brother whom you CAN see, there is no way you can love God whom you CANNOT see.

We are all driven by different things.  Some of us are driven by what pleases us the most, some by gain, some by status, and some by loyalty.  I’d like to believe that there are at least a few of us who are motivated by love, the good kind of love.  I’d like to think that there are at least a few of us who are willing to love even though it is hard to love sometimes and demanding.  I’d like to think that there are some who will love even when it is unpopular or seems un-American.  I’d like to think that people might even be willing to sacrifice for the sake of love as our Savior did and invited us to do likewise – to love as we have been loved.

When we do meet our Lord face to face, I am absolutely convinced that we will be judged and that our examination will consist of one question: how well did you love?  We will all then stand in our legacy looking for the love of God.  By the grace of our Lord, there is hope for us, but for now, is there hope for our brother, our sister, our neighbor?  That is up to us to love.  To God be the glory.  Amen.