Sunday, June 7, 2009

All for Love!!

“All of the Love of Jesus!”
Acts 11:19-30, 1 John 4:1-11, John 15:9–17
Rev. Glenn F. Merritt

In the Guinness Book of World Records there is listed the shortest sermon ever preached. It was given by John Albrecht, an Episcopal priest in Michigan. One Sunday, he stood in his pulpit to preach, paused for a moment, and simply said “Love!” Then, he sat down and they sang a hymn.

Some of Albrecht's members thought it was the best sermon he had ever preached.

That may be true but you won’t be quite so lucky today. No single word—even a word as powerful as “love”—can ever replace a sermon. Entire books—lots of them—have been written on how to love, when to love, why to love, and who to love. No word in the English language—in any language—is used (or should we say misused) more than often than the word love.

Love is also one of the most used words in Scripture.

Love is commanded more times than almost any other action in the Bible, more often even than obey, follow, or believe. In the Bible, the Psalms speak of loving more than any other book. In the New Testament, John writes about love more often than anyone else. His gospel and letters are full of love, like in our gospel and epistle lessons—“Dear friends, let us love one another,” and “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”

Oddly enough, Acts is the only book of the New Testament that doesn’t even mention love, let alone command us to love. Maybe the early church didn’t really need a reminder to love each other. They just did it. And, that brings us to our topic for today. What they did for each other, they did “all for the love of Jesus”--Not only their love for him but more importantly his love for them.

Our theme is “All for the Love of Jesus!—how we love because of Jesus’ love.
Let us pray:

Lord Jesus allow our lives to exemplify your life of love. Send your Holy Spirit to guide and direct our words and actions that we may love as Christ has loved us and as the early Christians loved one another. Motivate us by your gospel to love each other in response to your great love for us. Whatever we do, Jesus, may we do it all for the love of your name. Amen

Dear Christian friends;

In our first lesson from Acts, chapter 11, we learned that God caused the Church to explode in growth after Pentecost. It was an explosion of power and joy but most of all an explosion of love. Something great, something different, and something loving was happening in Antioch so the church in Jerusalem sent Barnabas to check it out.

In Antioch, “he saw the evidence of the grace of God and was glad.” The evidence of God’s grace is love—love for God and love for each other. This is what Barnabas saw.

The new believers at Antioch were was well stocked with love so much so that when a famine broke out in Judea and the believers in the Jerusalem were hurting and hungry, they new church responded with love in tangible ways. They did more than love with words. They put their money where their month was. Barnabas calls this response—“the evidence of the grace of God.” Love is the evidence of the grace of God.

Barnabas understood this all too well. He had grown up on the island of Cyprus as a displaced Jew before coming back to Jerusalem. He became a believer, and showed love—the result of God’s love found in his grace—in a concrete way by selling land and giving the money to the church for the poorer members of the faith community.

His heart burned with a desire to carry God’s love to those described by Paul as “separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.” (Eph 2:12)

So, through the Church, God sent Barnabas to strengthen the new church in Antioch. Barnabas looked up Paul in Tarsus and brought him along to Antioch. Together they taught the Christians God’s Word for a year.

The Antiochean believers responded with grateful gifts of love for those who were hurting and helpless just as God have loved them and saved them when they were hurting and helpless. To accomplish this God sent a prophet named Agabus to foretell about the famine that would occur in the Roman world. This gave the Christians a chance to prepare the gift of love that later they would send to their brothers and sisters in the faith.

After studying the Word, the believers at Antioch expressed their mature faith and love by sacrificing of themselves. No wonder they were called Christians after Christ who sacrificed himself for the whole world. Those who have been loved by God through Christ notice others in need and love them in Christ.

Still, it hard to summarize what Jesus has done for us in his great love and what we do in loving response by a single word.

In fact, the loving acts of our Savior could never even be summarized in a single book as John says at the end of his gospel, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that world be written.” (John 21:25)

But, in our Gospel lesson, we do learned a little bit about Christ’s love for us. Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” (V 9) Jesus loves us just as the Father loved him. The Father’s great love motivates Christ to love us greatly so that when we receive the Son’s love, we receive the Father’s love. John mentions this in his first epistle when he says “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1)

This is why John would later say, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:11) And, why Jesus would say, “Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)

But, we all know that it isn’t always easy to love as Christ and God have loved us.

There was an old couple sitting in their rocking chairs on their front porch. They had been married more than 50 years, but things had gotten a little rocky in their relationship. Things were not right between them. So the wife says to her husband, “Dear, things haven’t been good between us lately. Maybe we should get off these rocking chairs and get down on our knees and just pray that the good Lord would take one of us home.” He agrees and she mutters under her breath “Then I can go and live with my sister.” It isn’t always easy to love with a Christ-like love.

Still, such love is the litmus test of our faith. John reminds us—“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)

“God is love!” How many times have we heard that or said that without really considering what “love” really is and what it truly means to love one another? Love is the epitome of God and as you know, an epitome is a part that represents a whole. Everything we need to know about God is found in his love. Everything the world needs to know about us should be found in our love. It reminds us of the old campfire song “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love.”

In John, chapter 13, Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

This is to say that love for one another is the proof positive of faith and discipleship. Love is not what we do, it is what we are. Just as God is love; we are love!

Love is not something you can define, give a description to, or write a “how to” book about; it is something you are. “God is Love!” Define God, describe God, write a “how to be like God” book and you will find that really one word is all that is necessary—LOVE!

Still, how did God show his love for us? Some are not sure he has but he has in a real tangible way. He gave us his Son!

In an episode of the television series Mash, Hawkeye is on a bus which comes close to a group of North Korean soldiers. The bus drives off the road and hides behind some bushes. They are still within hearing of the North Korean soldiers, so Hawkeye tells everyone that they must be very quiet. He insists that a young Korean mother keep her infant from crying or they will be found and killed. She stops the crying and the danger passes. It is not until they are a few miles down the road that Hawkeye the mother had smothered her son to save them all.

He can’t believe it! It’s a dramatic story of love.

There is another love story even more dramatic. It’s the story of God’s love. Our epistle tells it like this—“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

Here, the Father—our loving heavenly Father—allows his Son to die to save us all from the dreaded enemies of sin, death, and the devil. His actions had nothing to do with our love—“not that we loved God”—and everything to do with his love—“but that he loved us….”

The love of the Father is made visible through the sacrifice of his Son. The love of the Son is made visible through self sacrifice at Calvary. The love of both the Father and the Son are made visible through our sacrifice for others but such sacrifice must always be for the sake of the gospel—all for the love of Jesus!

It is always His Love/ Our Response as John says, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:11) Why? “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

Now, what shall we do in response to such a great love? John says, “Believe in the name of his son Jesus Christ, and love one another.” (1 John 3:23)
It’s important to believe in Jesus and to love in Jesus’ way.

Paul Harvey tells this story—“A man was finally enjoying his greatest pleasure. He had gotten the sports car he had wanted all his life but now his wife wanted to drive it. Being a Christian and knowing that he shouldn’t be selfish he agreed and she drove away.

A few blocks from home she got into an accident and totaled the car. Can you imagine how she felt? She was physically okay. But you know how it is. She had to fill out an insurance report on the accident. When she reached into the glove compartment to get the forms and auto registration, she noticed an envelope clipped to the insurance forms.

She opened the envelope, and read this note, written in her husband’s handwriting: “Honey, remember it’s you I love, not the car.”

Remember, it’s you Christ loves, not all the possessions he allows us to use.

The Gospel clearly describes this kind of love as real love—fruit that will last into an eternity. Here John links together the Father’s love for Jesus, Jesus’ love for his disciples, and the disciples’ love for one another. Jesus’ love for his people is the clear motivation and the supreme model for the disciples’ displaying their love for one another.
In the context for this day, our love grows strong enough to be concerned about our neighbors’ eternal welfare. This love is an intentional goodwill, an active good that will work for another person. This love encourages believers to evangelize the world by sharing the power-filled message of Christ and his resurrection. We are not meant to keep this message to ourselves.

The Good News of Jesus and his resurrection spreads farther and farther according to our lesson from Acts. More and more people believe and turn to the Lord. Philip preached to the Samaritans and taught the truth of salvation to an Ethiopian. After relating in elaborate detail the conversion of the Gentile Cornelius, Luke turns to a brief account of the establishment of the first predominantly Gentile church.

He writes, “The Lord’s hand was with them….” The result? “A great number of people believed and turned to the Lord” (v 21b). It is utterly amazing that “the establishment” of the apostles and the Jerusalem Christians didn’t stifle the young and burgeoning Antioch Church.

“When Barnabas arrived (in Antioch) and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.” And the Antiocheans responded to the needs of the hungry and persecuted Judean Christians by sending an important gift to purchase food. God’s love in action!

Our text today helps us identify the divine dimension of love: its origin is God. At the same time, it describes the human dimensions, the effects God’s love has on us as we relate to one another.

From time to time we hear of an individual who has performed a supernatural feat. There is the true story of a woman who was driving with her child. She swerved to avoid a dog and struck a tree. She was thrown clear, but the child was pinned under the car. She panicked, and with adrenaline pumping, she raised a corner of the car up enough for her child to escape. Normally, of course, she never would have been able to raise the car. But in her love for her child, she was able to do something superhuman.

In the same way, by ourselves we are unable to love others as we ought. But empowered by the love of God, we are able to perform spiritual feats of love for others.

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