God is love

If you want to know what the Christian faith is about, you need look no further than I John 4 - God is love!

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God is love

April 9, 2014 – I John 4:7-12

 

            On the New York Times website on Sunday, there was an op-ed piece by Akhil Sharma, an American novelist of Asian-Indian descent.  He told of getting severe writer’s block, rendering him unable to finish his second novel.  He labored fruitlessly for seven years. 

At last Sharma had a breakdown.  He collapsed on the sofa and couldn’t get up.  A few days later his concerned wife phoned a good friend of his, who immediately drove three hours to see him.  His friend took him out in the car, drove around and listened to him weep. 

            When he got back to the apartment, he returned to the sofa.  But Sharma realized that something had shifted.  He still felt the great weight of his unfinished novel, but, when he remembered his friend’s kindness, he was soothed.

            Not long after, Sharma got up from the sofa.  He ventured out to a nearby park along the Hudson River.  He realized he needed to find a way to get outside of himself, because, he said, his mind had become uninhabitable.  But he wasn’t sure how.

            His parents were devout Hindus.  When he was 10, his older brother was severely injured in a swimming accident, which left him unable to walk or talk.  His parents brought his brother home, refusing to give up on him.  Sharma said his parents brought in a long line of strange people who promised to heal their son with bizarre rituals.  They never did.

Although he himself was not religious, this willingness to try strange things rubbed off on him.  Sharma remembered reading in a Readers’ Digest that his parents had had at home that, if one felt sad, one should pray for other people.  It sounded crazy to him, but he tried it.  He prayed for the nanny pushing a stroller, for a young woman jogging by, and for a little boy pedaling his tricycle.  He prayed for them to receive the things he wanted the most – good health, peace of mind, financial security.  When he got home and sat at his writing desk, unable to write, he prayed in the same way – not for himself, but for others who came into his mind. 

            In addition, he straightened out small things he had been doing, things about which he had felt guilty.  He stopped stealing Splenda from a local Starbucks even when he didn’t buy coffee.  He became a diligent recycler, where before he had been haphazard and careless.

              This too may seem strange, but praying for others and straightening out things for which he felt guilty slowly freed him from the trap of his mind.  He was able to finish his novel.

            But, it seems, he wasn’t done.  Sharma read an interview of an actor who said that when he needs to change his behavior toward someone, he merely thinks, “I love you, I love you,” as he is talking to the person.

            So, when his father called on the second anniversary of his brother’s death, and spoke of his grief and his sense of abandonment, Sharma kept repeating to himself, “I love you; I love you,” while his father talked.  He didn’t tell his father he should focus on the future, as he may have done in the past.  He told his father to think of how brave he was to care for his son for so long – 28 years – and of how much courage that took.

            Sharma concluded, “However odd my reasons may seem, I am glad that I said this.”

 

            His reasons may seem odd to him, but they don’t seem odd to me and I doubt they seem odd to you.  Praying for others and practicing confession and repentance are for us ancient practices with daily benefit.  Consciously seeking to act out of love is at heart of our faith and our life.

            Not only that, this change in Sharma’s life was precipitated by the kindness of a friend.  The friend did not lecture him or advise him or criticize him.  The friend treated him with love.  It was a small thing, but it was enough. It was enough to allow Sharma to begin stepping out of his troubles and his preoccupation with them.  His journey to loving others began when someone showed love to him. 

 

            This experience is at the heart of Christian faith and life.  And nothing says this more clearly than 1 John 4.

            Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.

            There is nothing more important than this: love one another.  It is not that we are already perfect in loving one another.  It is not that we fail now and again to do so.  But this is what we always come back to.  This is our primary intention.  This is our central aim.  This is the heart of our aspiration. And it comes from the fact that God is love.

            God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

            I believe that each one of us has the capacity and the desire to love.  This has been given to us by God from the beginning.  It is for me what it means to be created in the image of God.  But there is so much stuff that gets in the way – misdirected desire, secret guilt, self-preoccupation, fear of death, to name just a few.  This makes it very difficult to engage our capacity to love and realize our desire to love.  So, we fail to love others and we fail to love God.

            But in sending Jesus to die for us, God has swept away everything that blocks us from loving God and loving each other.  God has cleared a path to our hearts.  God has opened a way from our hearts to others, so that we can live as God created us to live, as God has loved us to live.

            Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

            This takes us back to the beginning of the gospel of John – “No one has ever seen God.  It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” (1:18)

            No one has ever seen God.  When we look at Jesus and see how he laid down his life for his friends, we see what God is like.  When we look at how we have been loved by others – parents, family, friends, even strangers – and the kindnesses small and great that they have done for us, we see what God is like.  When we look at how we have loved others, however tentative, however faltering, however incomplete, we see what God is like.  And we see also how God continues to work on us.  God is not done with us.  When we love others, God is perfecting his love in us.

            So, my dear friends, let us love one another.  For love comes from God and, when we love, we know God – for God is love!