April 29, 2018

When Love Comes To Town – April 29, 2018

Passage: 1 John 4:7-21

Back in 1988 Bono and his bandmates in U2 wrote a song in tribute to the great bluesman BB King and famously performed it with him on their album, Rattle and Hum.

I was a sailor, I was lost at sea
I was under the waves
Before love rescued me
I was a fighter, I could turn on a thread
Now I stand accused of the things I've said

When love comes to town I'm gonna jump that train
When love comes to town I'm gonna catch that flame
Maybe I was wrong to ever let you down
But I did what I did before love came to town

I was there when they crucified my Lord
I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword
I threw the dice when they pierced his side
But I've seen love conquer the great divide

When love comes to town I'm gonna jump that train
When love comes to town I'm gonna catch that flame
Maybe I was wrong to ever let you down
But I did what I did before love came to town (by U2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IzWITVlEKfk)

John, the Elder, writing to a community of new Christians, whom he simply calls “God’s beloved,” writes to tell them what can happen, what needs to happen in their lives, when love comes to town. Love has come to town in the person of Jesus Christ. “God’s love was revealed among us in this way,” he tells them, “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.”

So the first thing that happened when love came to town is that they met Jesus. Of course, they didn’t meet him in person, they met Jesus in his story and they encountered the way that Jesus’ story had changed John the Elder and his companions. They learned how Jesus overcame death and hate by his atoning sacrifice. They heard how Jesus reached out to broken and needy people, touching and healing them. They heard how he healed those who were sick. They heard how he embraced the untouchables in society, how he ate with the hated tax collectors and sinners. They heard how through listening and deeply connecting to people who were lost – like the woman at the well, or the Gerasene demoniac, or Zacchaeus the tax collector - how Jesus brought healing and new life. They heard some of the amazing things Jesus said. They heard how he died and how God raised him from the dead and how he appeared to his disciples. They received with joy the good news of Jesus’ love for them and welcomed Jesus’ living presence through the power of God’s Spirit to live and dwell within them.

“God is love,” John told them. And Jesus is the living embodiment of God’s love. The way that we receive that love, the way that love of God can abide and live in us, is to let God’s love flow through us in loving others. We cannot see God. But when God’s love flows through us in loving others we see God in action.

Love can conquer broken hearts and broken lives. Love can transform a hardened and angry heart. Love can heal that which was broken. Love can help someone make a new beginning. But the one thing love cannot do, John tells them, is hate.

Our children are learning that lesson in the Dare to be Different curriculum based on the young adult novel by Madeline L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time. Meg Murray, the protagonist in that story and her little brother Charles Wallace, learn that darkness is growing throughout the universe. The darkness is evident in people’s cruelty, in bullying, in greed and hatred, and in categorizing and judging people according to race or wealth or appearances. “It” (a horrific and evil being) is the seemingly all powerful force behind the darkness. It captures Charles Wallace and imprisons their father. Meg has to fight It. But how? She first tries to hate It and all It represents. She hates the meanness and cruelty and all that the darkness does, with a righteous anger. And she’s absolutely right to do so. Everything that It represents and does is wrong. And yet Meg cannot overcome the power of darkness with hate. Only love, Mrs. Whatsit shows her, can conquer the power of It. For It does not understand love, does not have the capacity to love, minimizes the power of love and is ultimately overcome by love.

John the elder tells the beloved community that anyone who purports to love God but hates his brother or sister is a liar. Hatred of your brother or sister is incompatible with the love of God. What does that love that comes from God look like? Well, it looks a lot like the love that Jesus shared. So much of human love, before real love comes to town, sees love as an investment. We love that which has value to us. We love that which can bring a return on our investment. We love and invest in our children because they come from us, belong to us and we want them to do well in the world. We love someone romantically because he or she is attractive, is a prize. We love our own: representatives of our own party, of our own clan, of our own ethnicity, of our own family, or our own nation. “God’s love,” in contrast, “doesn’t seek value, it creates it. It is not because we have value that we are loved by God, but because we are loved that we have value.” (William Sloan Coffin, The Courage to Love, New York, Harper & Row, 1982, p. 11, quoted in Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, Claudia Highbow, Pastoral Perspective, 2008, Louisville, KY, Westminster, John Knox, p. 468) When we let God’s love work through us we don’t love another because of his or her intrinsic value to us, and not because of what he or she can give us, but because that person is made by God and loved by God. God’s love does not seek a reward or any recompense. God loves those who are worthless every bit as much as God loves someone you or I might deem worthwhile. Loving another with God’s love helps the person loved find their worth. We may never have seen God, but when we witness love like that we are looking into the face of God.

What can happen? What ought to happen in our lives when love comes to town? When love comes to town we, who are unworthy and lost, are found in God’s love for us. We are found in the love of Jesus who offered his very life for you and me and for all the millions of broken, hurting, lonely and lost souls on this planet. When love comes to town we take the miracle of our own redemption as a gift to be shared with others, a gift to be shared especially with those who need it most – those who are despised and broken and oppressed and hurting in this world. When love comes to town we realize that righteous anger at the growing darkness and hate so abundant in our world isn’t enough. We need to love those who God loves in spite of the hate, in spite of the darkness.

When love comes to town we learn that the sacrificial love of God is at the heart of every Christian virtue. We learn that the best we can do without love is but a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. Justice without love is mere legalism. Faith without love is ideology. Hope without love is self-centeredness. Forgiveness without love is self-abasement. Courage without love is recklessness. Generosity without love is extravagance. Care without love is mere duty. Fidelity without love is servitude. Every virtue is an expression of love. No virtue is really a virtue unless it is permeated, or informed, by love. (Fr. Richard P. McBrien, quoted in Homiletics magazine, May 6, 2012)

Every one of us has fallen far short of loving others as God in Jesus has loved us. As Bono and his bandmates in U2 put it, “maybe I was wrong to ever let you down, but I did what I did before love came to town. If we want to say, as I believe most of us do, that we love God, we need to learn to love more fully, more completely, more sacrificially our brothers and sisters.

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