Friday night at the “Keep saying Yes to Jesus Revival”, our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, gave a rousing sermon on the power of love as the basic law of God that has the power to transform us, our churches, our communities, our nation and the world. Bishop Brewer added that there’s a fundamental need to invite the Holy Spirit into our hearts to perfect that love – we cannot get there on our own.
I knew that was where our revival would go. I’ve heard Bishop Curry several times in the last year and he continues to share that message across the church and across the world – just as he did at the royal wedding last year. I worked with Bishop Brewer for four and a half years and knew what was on his heart in preparing for this revival. Saying “Yes!” to Jesus is saying yes to the Lord who is love. Love is not merely something Jesus does, it is who he is. God is love, Jesus is God. That is where the Gospel always goes. There are a couple of points about love that we need to keep in the forefront of our lives.
The first is to understand the direction we intend to go when we are talking about God and when we are talking about love.
“God” is a very fluid term, culturally. We live in a culture that upholds freedom of belief and religious practice as a basic human right and we are conditioned to respect others’ beliefs, as we should. That right leaves the term God wide open to mean whatever the person using it intents it to mean. That can easily lead us to think that whatever someone thinks is fine, as long as they are sincere about it. But that cannot be true!
Remember that God is who God is. He is not waiting around for any of us to define him. He is calling us to pursue him and to follow him. Our contribution to the conversation is that God came into the world in the person of Jesus Christ. And so, if you want to learn about the nature of God, his character, his will, his tenderness, his mercy and his judgment, study Jesus. Listen to the testimony and counsel of his disciples. That is our task here, always lifting up his Word so that we can stay on the right path as best we can.
Likewise, love is a very fluid term. You love your parents. You love your kids. Falling in love is different. Staying in love is different from that. Some of you have been married a long time! Stand up if you’ve been married over 50 years. You think they might have good counsel newlyweds? We love chocolate or a movie or a place or a memory. It doesn’t mean the same thing in each case. And we know people use it much more crudely and sloppily that that. People often confuse indulgence or lust with love.
Here too, just as with God, we should think about love as a direction toward that perfect end, which is God because as the Apostle John wrote, God is love. We pursue it imperfectly, we make mistakes, we stumble along the way, but we are on the way. We will never fully understand it in this life, but we approach it. Love is described in scripture, tested in experience and exercised in time.
We look at this beautiful passage from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians and think, “Oh my. If only…”
It is commonly used at weddings. A couple of years before I went to seminary, I was asked to read it at a funeral. That was one of the incidents that nudged me toward ordained ministry. It was in that context that I saw it’s healing power.
God is patient; God is kind; God is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; God is not irritable or resentful; God does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. God bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. God never ends.
What if we put Jesus’ name in there? What if we put yours? Now we have a challenge!
The purpose of all this is not merely to help us be better people and to get along. Love in a marriage is not primarily meant to enable the couple to put up with each other’s idiosyncrasies and habits. It’s much bigger than that.
Why did God walk in the garden with Adam and Eve? Why did God start talking to Noah? Why did God speak to Abraham and Moses and the Judges and all of the prophets? Why did God send his only Son into this broken world? Why did God send his Holy Spirit upon the disciples gathered on the Day of Pentecost? Why is God present with you when you pray? Why is God present with us now and always?
In every case it was and is and shall be because God loves his people. God loves his creation. God loves you, and you, and you. Love is God’s nature and it is what God does to accomplish his will in everyone.
And when he commanded, “Love your neighbor as yourself” it is with the very same ultimate goal. God intends to work through our love to accomplish the work he intends for everyone.
This is true for every relationship we have and everyone we encounter – familiar or stranger. What if a stranger walked into the church in the middle of the day and asked me to pray for him or her? What would you expect me to do? What if I wasn’t here, what would you expect Lisa to do? What if you were the only one here, what should you do? What then should you do when you have the opportunity to pray with anyone?
So keep an eye out for those odd opportunities which you will have to bear God’s love. It pleases him. And it will bless you.