This is an excerpt of a sermon series on Christian understandings of love. So this is actually an excerpt of an excerpt. 

1 John 4:8, 11-12

8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.

When we don’t love one another, when we hate or are fearful or are mean-spirited, when we sin against one another then we are no longer of God and neither do we know God. This is why it is often said that sin is separation. When we sin against one another, we create space between us. It makes it harder and harder for us to share the same space. But pain and depression separates us from each other and God as well. The writer is reminding us that when love is not our primary mode of operation, when love is not our everyday practice, when we forget that everything depends on love then we have separated ourselves from God. Why have we separated ourselves? Because God is love. And if we are no longer loving, then we are no longer in relationship with God.

Hear me now. Love seeks and finds relationship. Love draws close. Love accepts and challenges, but it never destroys or seeks separation. God is constantly reaching out to us in so many different ways. God’s nature, the writer says, is love. Notice it doesn’t say that “love is God.” The text is very specific in putting God first. This is not about making love into God, but understanding that God’s very activity, God’s very nature is love. This is God’s first order of business. This is a revelation. When you begin to see God as a God of love first, and not as a God of power, a God of wrath, a God of condemnation, a God of manipulation, a God of money, a God of whatever…. You begin to understand that not even God is immune from becoming an idol to us.

In Deuteronomy, we saw that the land of milk and honey had many idols to choose from. Sometimes idols are easy to spot; other times they are not. Our very ways of thinking about God can become idolatrous because we can close God off and place God into a nice little, well-defined box. But love is open, and it doesn’t seek to put things in boxes. So if we are putting God in boxes then we are not loving God and when have made God into an idol. You gotta be careful in the land of milk and honey, honey. “It’s all about money ain’t a damn thing funny. You gotta have a con in the land of milk and honey…” As Melle Mel reminded us, you gotta have a con, or a hustle in the land of milk and honey… and sometimes we get so caught up in the con and the hustle, we become the hustle instead of becoming more like God. And that puts us close to the edge and nearly losing our heads.

Uh huh huh huh huh…

“11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.”

The title of the Sermon series is “Christian love and Communal Reciprocity.” And after all that talk of love. I want to focus in on that communal reciprocity. Verse 11 tells us that since God loved us so much that God would come into the world and live and die and be resurrected so that we could have life, then we ought to love one another. Loving one another is communal reciprocity. But before we are told to love as a commandment, we are told to love out of reciprocity. The audience is called “beloved” again. The writer is doubly emphasizing the point… You are loved by God in ways that are really beyond our comprehension. And because we know God loves us so much, we should practice reciprocity and love one another. Ultimately, love cannot be commanded. It can only be accepted and given freely.

Many of our churches, neighborhoods, families, and nations are sick because we don’t have communal reciprocity. Within these various communities, love is not our practice. Ambition and aggression are our practice. Ambition and aggression create winners and losers, but only love can create reciprocity. Within our churches and homes and definitely within our nation, love is sometimes not our practice. The desire to be right and have control is our practice. But again, trying to always prove we are right and have control only produces winners and losers, but only love can create community and reciprocity. Community literally means having unity in common. Community is when we enjoy and live in a shared space where everyone is welcome.

It’s not an easy thing, being part of community, but God calls us to this. Community can only happen when we love one another and operate out of the love of God. Reciprocity is the act of giving and receiving. This too can only happen when love abounds. Communal reciprocity can handle the fact that everyone is different only when it operates in love. In love, I can accept that we are different and that God has given us all different roles and things to do. But in love, I can never use the fact that just because I am different that gives me the right to be insistent in my own way or worse, make everyone see the world like me. No. Love celebrates our differences, but also calls us beyond our individual selves to recognize that we are stronger together than we are apart. Reciprocity means that we are open to both giving and receiving.

Brothers and sisters, no one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. I have to make this point. Preaching you up til you sweat and shout and make you thoroughly entertained won’t create a lasting membership. Having the best choirs in the world does add spice to worship service and great musicianship is often lauded in churches. Having a pretty building makes many people think that God is blessing a particular church and people believe that God is present where there is good, exciting preaching, great music, and pretty buildings. But these folks are wrong. Look at our Scripture. No one has ever seen God. The way God is experienced is primarily through loving one another. You see, that is why I know and I believe that this church’s best days are ahead. Because it’s not about my preaching, it’s not about our building. It’s not about the music we have or don’t have. Before all of that, it’s about God. it is about loving one another. This is how God lives in us. And when a church practices love, people feel the presence of God. If this love is not felt, we won’t have a church. Having great preaching and music and a beautiful building is no substitute for loving one another. We must ask ourselves, all of us, is that our primary motivation when we gather? Do we truly believe that God will be made present when we love each other and that when visitors come or friends come or family comes… that they will come here and stay here because they feel loved?

God lives in this church because we love at this church. God lives in our families because we love in our families. God lives in our communities when we practice love in our communities. Verily verily I say unto you, everything depends on love.

Have faith in love, hope for love, and love love…

©2015 M. J. Sales

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