When Love is the Way
Indianapolis First Friends Quaker Meeting
Pastor Bob Henry
October 6, 2019
1 John 4:20-21 (NRSV)
20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
This morning, on this World Quaker Day, I want to return to where we left off last week, which was, what does it mean for Quakers to again embrace the way of Jesus rooted in love.
One Sunday after a Meeting for Worship in Oregon, I had a member come up to me and inform me that my preaching about love was simply a social gospel and not the “true gospel of Jesus.” Finding this interesting yet a bit confusing since I was teaching on Jesus’ actual words about love, I stated that I thought love was big enough to contain both a social gospel and whatever he was claiming the gospel of Jesus was (between you and me, I saw no difference between the two). So, I asked him to help me understand how he saw the gospel of Jesus. He emphatically and with wagging finger said I should spend more time preaching about sins and how to get right with Jesus. Saying, “People need to know they are sinners and in need of a savior – that is the gospel.”
So, what happened to the gospel being about good news? – actually I am pretty sure the word “gospel” literally means “good news.” When did it get turned into knowing we are sinners? Let’s be honest, I think we all know too well that we miss the mark, that we fail, make bad choices, seek revenge, hurt and slander others…I could go on and on…
But do we all know that we are loved? [Pause]
I believe that may be getting more to the root of the gospel – the good news that our world so desperately needs and is hungering for today. I have shared before that in Oregon, I would often end our Meeting for Worship with a benediction that included the phrase, “God loves you, God is not mad at you, and God will never leave you nor forsake you.” Just speaking those words changed people’s lives. I would see tears flow as I said them. People would remark that those words gave them hope because for too long they had been told God was made at them and didn’t love them unless they lived an impossible life.
Telling people they are loved, showing them they are loved, and allowing them to love in return is more than just good news, it was the way of Jesus.
Take for example the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Brian McLaren points out that
“Jesus makes an audacious statement: God generously showers both the good and evil with rain and sun. In other words, God’s love is completely nondiscriminatory. God loves us not because we are so deserving and lovable, but because God is so loving, without limitation or discrimination.”
Actually, Jesus emphasized this point by saying that true perfection and maturity which we should aspire toward, is love without discrimination because that is how God loves.
How often is our love discriminatory in our world today? [Pause]
Jesus showed us through example after example that love is the center of everything he did.
· His disciples see a bunch of pesky kids and want to send them away – Jesus welcomes them.
· His disciples see a woman from another culture hated by the Jews and wants to send her away – Jesus listens to her and meets her needs.
· A crowd refuses to acknowledge Zaccheaus – Jesus sees him and treats him with dignity and respect – even goes to his home for a meal.
· A group of nobility at a formal banquet looks down upon a disreputable women – Jesus sees her as someone who has loved much and so must be forgiven much.
And there are so many more examples…even at the end of his life as he is giving his farewell speech to his followers, Jesus makes it simple, summing it up very Quakerly I might add, by saying
“You are my friends. Love one another as I have loved you.”
Jesus’ life so moved the Apostle Paul, that he migrated from being a rule-giver, all about religious correctness, and even killing those who did not follow rightly to saying this, “The only thing that matters is faith expressing itself in love” (which happened to be our text from last week).
We must remember that Jesus and Paul were both good Jews – they would have known the centrality of love from early on. This was the major theme of the Great Shema of the Jewish faith from Deuteronomy 6:4-8, which reads:
4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
It all began in love and Jesus went even further with this …by quoting and then adding on to the Great Shema (something that would have received the attention of every Jew.) Jesus said, Yes, love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength, but there is a second as equally important, love your neighbor as yourself.
So, what does this mean for First Friends and Quakerdom in general. I think this is where Brian McLaren is speaking to our condition. Brian says that what needs to happen is that churches/meetings “need to become ‘schools’ or ‘studios’ of love” teaching people to live a life of love, from the heart, for God, for all people (no exceptions), and for all creation.”
I think our own Friends Committee on National Legislation identified their own migration to these thoughts, when they went from bumper stickers that read “War is Not the Answer” to “Love Thy Neighbor (No Exceptions).”
Brian McLaren had me imagining what it might be like if all the churches and meetings here in Indianapolis decided to take people at every age and ability level and help them become the most loving version of themselves possible. Now, that is a beautiful thought.
I have a feeling the “Church” might be more effective at helping people face the challenges of life – challenges that normally would make them bitter, self-absorbed, callous, or hateful, and instead help them to be more open, courageous, loving, and generous. People may even begin to recognize where they are straying from the way of love and help people get back on the path. Too often, I sense we don’t believe our actions, our love, can change our environment or the greater world, so we have given up.
Yet, just think about that for a moment. One of the greatest fears people have in our world today is not being loved – not being loved by parents, children, spouses, friends, co-workers, even churches.
I was reading an article on the Luis Huete website this week about someone most of us know, who could be the spokesman for those fearing not being loved. That person is Michael Scott on the T.V. show The Office. The article said that Michael Scott (played by Steve Carell) is a clear example of someone who fears not being loved and the consequences of being ruled by this fear. Whenever Michael gets involved, things almost always get botched up. It’s not because he lacks intelligence, but rather it is because he endlessly yearns to be the one who saves the day, or comforts someone, or has the funniest one-liner… because he wants to be the “World’s Best Boss” (as the mug on his desk exclaims) and the way he has achieved that is by making himself “necessary” to others.
I think the world is filled with Michael Scotts – the reason we love The Office is because deep down we all can relate – we all fear deep down not being loved. Many in our world are longing, searching, and hungering for someone to love them for who they are. But, what if the church made it a priority to address that fear of not being loved?
Brian McLaren says it this way…
“Imagine what would happen if for the next five hundred years, our churches put as much energy into the formation of generous Christlike disciples as we have put into getting people to believe certain things or show up at certain buildings or observe certain taboos or support certain political or economic ideologies or keep certain buildings open and people gainfully employed. Imagine how differently love-motivated teachers and engineers would teach and design; how differently love-directed lawyers and doctors would seek justice and promote well-being, how differently love-driven businesspeople would hire, fire, budget, and negotiate; how differently love-guided voters would vote; and how differently love-guided scholars would relate to students and their subjects. Imagine!
My hope is that we will begin moving from just imagining this to living it out. Here at First Friends, I believe we are already on this path and doing many things to help produce love-motivated, love-directed, love-driven, love-guided people. Actually, in the “The Great Spiritual Migration” Brian McLaren shares a description of a church trying to live this way. As I read the description, I thought it so easily could describe us at First Friends. It reads,
It’s probably important to start making it clear that we’re not the ones who “finally got the Bible right.” Neither do we possess the secret to life, exclusive access to God or “Seven Steps to Satisfaction.” We are, however, powerfully draw to the person of Jesus, his teachings, and even more so, his life. So we are experimenting, and failing, and building a community that collectively follows his Way; hoping, trusting, and even doubting that it might seed something beautiful in the world. Namely; full and abundant life for all creation. We think the TRUTH about LIFE may just be LOVE and LOVE may just be the WAY.
That describes First Friends rather well!
Well, as I conclude this morning, I return to the fact that it is World Quaker Day. This is actually only the 6th annual World Quaker Day put on by Friends World Committee on Consultation. As I was looking at the materials and theme I noticed the first line of FWCC’s mission which reads,
“Answering God’s call to universal love….”
How appropriate to what we are talking about.
As well, FWCC’s theme for World Quaker Day is Sustainability: Planting seeds of renewal for the world we love. This is a good reminder that this way of love we are talking about includes a love for our earth as well. Not only are we learning to love our neighbors and ourselves but the earth that is our home. In The Brother’s Karamazov, Dostoevsky captures this universal love for all of creation – may it be our sending thoughts this morning.
“Love all of God’s creation, both the whole of it and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s Light. Love Animals, love plants, love each thing. If you love each thing, you will perceive the mystery of God in things. Once you have perceived it, you will begin tirelessly to perceive more and more of it every day. And you will come at last to love the whole would with entire, universal love.”
May this be so!
As we enter into Waiting Worship, I would like to read the queries for us to ponder and for those listening online.
Do we know that we are loved? Who is letting us know?
In what ways are we discriminatory with our love?
Where do I sense fear in not being loved?
In what ways does/should First Friends produce love-motivated, love-directed, love-driven, and love guided Friends?