Bible Text: 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a; John 3:16-17 | Preacher: Rev.M. | Series: Getting to Know You | Well good morning again to you all! We are continuing again this morning in our current sermon series titled “Getting to Know You”. This series, again, is utilizing some of the scripture passages that you all submitted a few weeks back. These passages are ones that are either personal favorites, ones that bring joy or comfort or hope, or they may even be ones that you found challenging in some way and you wanted another voice or perspective on them.
Now last week we talked about the difference between fairness and justice using two of Jesus’ better-known parables, “The Laborers in the Vineyard” and “The Prodigal and His Brother”, or maybe more commonly known as, “The Prodigal Son”. And the main point that I hope you took away from that message is how fairness and justice are not the same thing, and that we are thankful that God treats us with justice and not fairness as we can never live up to what is truly fair by our sins. God is just with us through God’s love and grace, so freely given.
Now today’s message is titled “How Does God Love?” and we will be focusing on the words from our two readings this morning, from the Gospel of John chapter three and from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians chapter thirteen that we just heard a few moments ago.
Love can be and has been, described as countless things and in countless ways. Martin Luther King Jr once said that “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” The ancient Chinese philosopher and writer Lao Tzu said that “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” American science-fiction author, aeronautical engineer, and retired Naval officer Robert A. Heinlein wrote in his book “Stranger in a Strange Land” that “Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.”
The Bible is many things to many people, but I believe its truest and most important value is as a history of a relationship between God and a people, as told from the perspective and understanding of that people. And that relationship is one of love, or at least love from God. As humans we have not always been the best at following those commandments about loving God and loving neighbor. In fact, if we look at a vast majority of the Old Testament, humanity spent more time showing God hatred, indifference, selfishness, and apathy.
And while many people have argued, and continue to, that the God of the Old Testament is an angry God or a vengeful God, not the loving God we believe we find in the New Testament, I would argue otherwise. I would argue that the God we read about in the Old Testament is just as loving as the one we read about in the New Testament, just maybe not always in the way we expect. And I think the easiest way in clarifying this position to look at the God we read about in the Old Testament through the lens of a loving parent.
If you are a parent, or someone who has helped care for and raise children, I think you will understand this. As a parent we love our children. We want to see them grow, succeed, be happy, and so much more. But when our children break a rule or do something wrong, we hold them accountable don’t we? And we don’t do that to be mean or jerks. But rather we hold them accountable because of how much we love them and want them to grow and learn and be the best them that they can be.
When we look at the Old Testament, we find God making a covenant with the people. A covenant is a legally binding agreement that outlines the expectations of both parties. And every time the Israelites broke the covenant, what did God do? Did God give up on them? Did God say, ‘You know what? You aren’t worth it.’? No. Every time the people broke the covenant God held them accountable to the covenant and stayed with them. Just like a parent may deny a child a special treat or privilege when they do not follow the rules.
God could has just as easily, or maybe even more easily, just walked away from the Israelites and left them alone. God could have found a different group of people to lead and care for and love. But like a good and loving parent, God did not give up on the Israelites and instead tried to help them learn from their mistakes, how to be the best people they could be, and held them accountable to the covenant they made together.
And God loved humanity enough that God realized that the old covenant wasn’t working, it wasn’t enough. And so, God did something unheard of. God flipped the script. God took love to a whole new level. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
God didn’t back down or give up on humanity. God didn’t say, “You know what? This isn’t worth it anymore. I’m done.” No, God looked at the world, looked at creation, looked at humanity and instead said, “This isn’t working. My children are harming one another, they have forgotten what love can and should look like. I need to show them by my own example just what love really is.” Here again God could have just up and left us, but again God stuck around and used love to write a new covenant with humanity and creation. God stuck it out with us and did something unexpected and unknown through God’s love of the world.
But I want to expand more on God’s love. Let us look back again at the words from first Corinthians chapter thirteen. “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” Other translations have the ending there as “love never fails,” which I kind of like better but I think both communicate the same thing ultimately.
Now here’s the thing. This passage gets read at weddings a lot. A whole lot. It was read at mine and Sarah’s wedding. And it wasn’t until later in life that I came to understand that this passage is not talking about our love for our partners or even family members. This passage is not talking about our love at all. No, this passage is not talking about human love, but rather it is talking about God’s love.
Think about it. For those of you who claim to love someone, whether a spouse or child or whomever, does your love always live up to this description? Is your love always patient? If you have had children, I think you know that your love has not always been patient, despite your best efforts. Is your love always kind? Most of us would probably say yes, but I would argue that the word kind can be understood to mean many things. How about your love not being envious or boastful or arrogant or rude? Have you ever been jealous when in love? Have you ever let your love for someone, or something, ever lead you to boastfulness or arrogance?
How about not insisting on its own way, or not being irritable or resentful? Can any of us really say that someone we claim to love has not been at the receiving end of some resentfulness from us? Even the smallest bit? Or what about not rejoicing in wrongdoing, but rejoicing in the truth? Pretty sure we all have stumbled there in one way or another. Does your love bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things? Again, I’d be willing to bet that we all have some failings in the love we show, that we carry, that we lean on, that we hide.
But all of that is okay and to be expected. We are human. We are not perfect. We cannot live up to the impossible expectations of God’s love and grace and the covenant. We just can’t. Now that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try and make the effort. We absolutely should be trying every single second of every single minute of every single hour of every single day trying to offer and live into the love that is described here in Paul’s letter.
But this passage is about God’s love. And this passage is not meant as a measuring stick of just how far we fail from mirroring this same kind of love. Rather, this passage is a reminder to us that no matter what, God will still love us. God’s love endures our sins and failings. God’s love is patient and is kind. If it wasn’t, I am pretty sure the Israelites would have been ditched long ago. God’s love rejoices in the truth. God’s love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. I think we see that on the cross in the sacrifice of Jesus.
And just as importantly, God’s love never ends, it never fails. That’s the Good News right here in print people. This passage is a loving reminder that no matter how badly we mess up, how cruel we may be to someone, how much pain we cause, how far we seem to fall away from God – God’s love never fails, it never stops, it never gives up on us. And that is exactly how God loves. God loves unconditionally. God loves enough to sacrifice God’s only Son to save the world, not condemn it.
And that is an important designation I want to point out. The Gospel of John does not say that God loved the whole world, except for these specific groups of people, that God sent God’s only son. No, God’s love is for the whole world. And further, Jesus was not sent into the world to condemn the world, but instead to save it. What a concept huh?
What is we could carry that same idea with our own love and when we share the love of God? What would our world look like right now if we stopped trying to play gatekeeper of God’s love and instead tried to copy it. What would this world look like if we stopped trying to figure out who isn’t worthy of God’s love and instead focused on sharing God’s love. What if, what if we spent our time and our energy following Jesus’ lead in trying to save the world and stopped condemning people who we disagree with or think are somehow not worthy enough of God’s love?
Especially since when it comes down to it, we have NO, and I mean absolutely NO, authority or say in who God loves. That is not ours to try to control or contain. Because I’ve got news for some people. The power of the Holy Spirit, the love of God, those are not things we can control anyways. We might think we do, or we can. We might think of ourselves as those gatekeepers sometimes. But the reality is that we have no authority or position to try and make decisions like that.
I cannot tell you how many stories have been shared with me over my time in ministry from people who were told that God didn’t love them, or they weren’t welcome, or they weren’t worthy of God’s love. It makes me sick thinking about it. Of all the things in Scripture that people like to argue about and debate you probably wouldn’t think that the idea of whether God loved everyone would be one of major discussion. And yet…General Conference 2012 that is exactly what happened. There was a vote held asking the question if people believed that God loved everyone. And it passed…by only a slim margin.
I will never forget that day for as long as I live. I sat in one of the open rooms at my seminary, working on homework, and they were livestreaming the conference in so we could watch. And it took a second for what was going on to really hit me. I was confused. Were we really voting on whether or not we believed God loved everyone? Isn’t this one kind of a give me? And then I saw the results. It passed by just over fifty-four or fifty-five percent, I think. In that moment, the world froze for me. What in the hell was going on? Did we really need to vote on that, and did it just barely pass?
People can argue until they are blue in the face about the context and theology of all different parts of the Bible. And believe me, they will, and they do. But this just seemed so simple. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
And God’s love was not limited to the limits of human love. God’s love is patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not arrogant, not rude, not irritable, not resentful, one that rejoices in the truth, on that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. God’s love never ends and never fails. Period.
So, here is my challenge to you today, and it is one that I hope you carry with you every day for the rest of your life. Try every day to love the way God loves. Try to mirror that love described in first Corinthians chapter thirteen. Try to be someone who works to help save the world instead of someone who is only interested in condemning the world. I think we owe at least that effort to God for God’s love and grace given to us and all the world. Amen.