Monday, October 17, 2016

Living Out Love: A Sermon

In my congregation, this year we are focusing on the theme, “Living Out Love Right Here.”  For this reason, we’ve been talking about love, which is always an interesting thing to talk about.  I think it's interesting, because there are so many different kinds of love, so many different ideas of what it looks like to love one another.

When we talk about Living Out Love, it's helpful to know we’re not talking about the weak-in-your-knees type of love that you might experience when you fall in love or have a crush.  We’re not talking about the type of love that someone feels for their beloved pet or children or spouse.  And we’re not even talking about love between friends, where the feeling is mutual and based on affection.

In contrast to all of those other types of love, including the kind of love you might have for a certain flavor of ice cream or musical group or pair of jeans, the kind of love that we are talking about is agapè love and what it means to live that out this kind of love in our daily lives.

In case you’re not familiar with the term, agapè is the Greek word for the highest kind of love that there is.  It’s the noblest word for love in the Greek language.  Agapè is not kindled by the merit or worth of its object, but rather originates in the object’s God-given nature.  Agapè delights in giving, desires only the good of the one loved, and keeps on loving even when the loved one is unresponsive, unkind, unlovable, and unworthy.  In short, agapè is unconditional love, and an overwhelming desire for the well-being of others.

Hopefully, it is obvious that this is the kind of love that God has for you, and for each of us.  It’s because God loves us with an agapè kind of love that led to God sending Jesus to be born as a baby, to Jesus to dying on the cross, and to God removing our sins from us as far as the east is from the west.  God did all this because he loves us, wants the best for us, and cares for us so very, very much.

It’s a gift to be loved like this and to know that our God is one who wants the best for us, who is always looking out for us and who will love us, no matter what.  These are promises worth letting soak in, and I hope you are able to do just that. 

Scripture is pretty clear, however, that it’s not enough to simply receive this kind of love.  That is where it all starts, but then, in order to be our best, we’re instructed to pass it on so that others may know this love as well.  In fact, as we hear in the Gospel of John, Jesus feels so strongly about us doing so that he gives it to us as a command: “My commandment is this,” he tells us, “that you love one another as I have loved you.”

Then, in 1 Corinthians, Paul reminds us that no matter who we are, or what we do, or how good we are at other things, if we don’t have this kind of love in us and living through us, we have nothing.  And therein lies the rub.  Because as we all know, loving others with this kind of love is not easy and doesn’t come naturally for many of us.

I’ve been thinking about our theme for a while, and thinking about it actually made me a little sad.  Because though examples of showing this kind of love for one another certainly do exist—in people like Patty Wetterling and Mother Theresa, for example, who have been mentioned in sermons the last two weeks, these examples are more the exception rather than the rule.

Much more often, it seems, we are quick to judge and point fingers or take sides, sometimes even against people we’d normally call friends.  Even throughout the church, we’ve come to view those whose opinions differ from ours as competitors rather than teammates.  And it’s not just young people who are forgetting how to talk to one another face to face, with respect and compassion.  Personally, I believe we could do so much better.

Even still, this is the world we live in, and it’s into this world that we live that we are called to Live Out Love no matter who or where we are— the kind of love that puts others first, that isn’t based on what the other person has done for you, that gives until it makes a difference, and that shows up even when you’d rather not.

It goes without saying that it is easier to give this kind of love to those you like than it is to those you don’t...and it’s easier to offer this kind of love when your own love-tank is filled rather than when you are running on empty.  But even still, we are called to show others this kind of love, no excuses.  And we are also reminded that ultimately, this kind of love isn’t really about us at all.  It’s about God, comes from God, and is something we can only offer others when we have first received it ourselves.

That’s why we light the Christ candle during a baptism—because in our baptism, we receive agapè love from God.  We are washed with the love of Jesus and marked with the cross of Christ forever—a reminder that love, and forgiveness, and worthiness will never and can never be taken from us.  And in our baptism, we are reminded that Jesus—the light of the world—now lives in us, and we are called to let that light live through us as well.

What all this means is that we have the power within us to live out agape love each day.  Most of us just aren’t used to tapping into that power on a regular basis.  Yet when we learn to do so, that’s when lives can, and do change, for the better.  In thinking about this, I’m always reminded of the pastor who came to talk to us during staff training the summer I was a counselor out at Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp.  Remember she told us, “God is radically in love with you.  And—God is radically in love with the person you can’t stand.”

Then, as I got to thinking about how to love someone you can’t stand like Jesus loved us, I was reminded of the book by John Maxwell called Intentional Living: Choosing a Life that Matters, and how in it, he describes five goals he has for himself every day.  His five daily goals are to: value people, think of ways to add value to people, look for ways to add value to people, add value to others, and encourage others to add value to others.

I had the opportunity to hear a presentation by John back in August, and after talking about his five daily goals, he shared the example of his father, Melvin, and how he added value to others in his own life.  It had come time for his father to move out of his home and into an assisted living facility, and the one they chose was a new one being built in his area.

His father wanted to be the first one to move into the new facility, though he didn’t have to be in any rush.  When he was asked why he was so intent on being the first, his father told him it was so he could be there to welcome all the other people who were making the transition from their own place to assisted living.  He wanted to be there to greet them and welcome them and reassure them that everything was going to be okay.

John also talked about how much he delights in being a grandparent and how he is teaching his grandchildren to add value to others each day as well.  He told us how whenever he is together with a grandchild, he asks them: How are you going to add value to people today?  And after one of these conversations, in response to his question, one of his grandsons decided that the way he was going to do it was to open every door he went through that day for someone else.

In the scheme of things, it might not seem like much to open the door for someone, but that’s what makes this example so great.  Because the truth is, adding value to others doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming.  Similarly, loving others as Jesus loved us doesn’t have to be hard, or hurt so-to-speak either.

However, doing something simple each day to add value to someone else is one of the most worthwhile things we can do.  It is a powerful legacy to create.  And it has the power to change the world for the better.  And when you think about it, adding value to someone each day is a way to love others as Jesus loved us.  Because the very essence of Jesus was that he valued people—all people—in his attitude, his words, and his actions.  So today, I invite you to ponder the love and value Jesus has for you.  And I invite you to wonder with God how you might add value to someone each day.

And whenever you feel like you just don’t have it in you to love like Jesus or add value to someone else, I hope you will remember that you don’t have to do it on your own strength and you don’t have to do it perfectly either.  Rather, the Holy Spirit is with you to empower you, and each day, God gives us the chance to start fresh and try again.

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