Editors Note: The following is a sermon presented at the Vineyard Church of DuPage this past January.
One of my favorite movie scenes of all time happens to be the wedding scene in the Princess Bride. No matter how many times I see it, I crack up anytime I hear the preacher droning on… “Love. True Love is what brings us together today.”
In a sense we could probably say this to each other every time we met here at the VCD. Don’t believe me, it’s right there in our mission statement: “Experiencing the Kingdom of God by loving God, loving each other, and loving our community.” When John told me that he wanted to use that as a mission statement I was thrilled, because I am convinced that love is the key that unlocks the Kingdom. Time after time in scriptures we are told that Jesus stopped what he was doing and brought the Kingdom through healing, and the prophetic pronouncement. Time after time. Why would he stop what he was doing and do something else. Was Jesus ADHD like me? Did he find it easy to be distracted and do stuff for no reason. As much as I would love for God to sanctify my distractability, this is not the case, because time after time scripture tells us that Jesus was moved by compassion, he was moved with love for the people around him, and so he moved in the Kingdom power to do Kingdom things. He was moved with compassion for the hurting so He healed them. He was moved with compassion for the fate of his people, so he spoke prophetic words of truth to the powers at large. He was moved by the disciples struggles and trials and so He taught them how to be like Him.
John the apostle named the Beloved as given as that on memorable phrase that so many have memorized. “For God so loved the world that He gave his only son that whoever would believe in him should have everlasting life.” When we speak of this passage we often focus on the last part, the believing part, the everlasting life part, but I would like to challenge you today (just as one of my professors did last semester) that the greatness of this passage, the Gospel in this passage, the good news in this passage is found not in the end, but at the beginning. For God so loved the world. Let me say it again for God so loved the world. And again because I do not think we really get the power of the passage: God Loved the World so much that he sacrificed his only son so that He might draw all men and women to Him.
Or as the apostle Paul has written: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” Once again the power in that verse is not what Jesus did. That is huge and we should never forget it, or be ashamed by it. But what is all the more amazing, wonderful, and miraculous is that while we were enemies of God, he still loved us. He loved us even as our sins nailed him to that tree. With every excruciating wave of pain as the splinters of the wood bore into his whipped and bloody back, he loved us. As the thorns pierced his brow, he loved us. He did not have to do what he did, the mockers were right, at any time he could have called legion upon legion of angels to bear him away. If this thought does not bring tears to your eyes, and pain to your heart then you need to seriously think about your life. Think about this, would you have done this for someone who loved you, much less someone who hated you.
Do this with me, close your eyes, and imagine the face of someone you really just don’t like. Someone who just makes your blood curdle. For me that person is Karsten. He was the son of a German immigrant who moved to Birmingham in my 7th grade year. Karsten made my life miserable. He turned my friends against me. He called me unspeakable names. He questioned my manhood. He criticized my physique. He hated me; maybe you have someone like that in your past. If you are a perfectly loving person with no one of that sort, then think of someone horrific. Think about Hitler, or a child abuser or someone just loathsome. Picture them in your mind, and then picture yourself dying for them. Dying a horrible, gruesome, painful, death. A death that takes a lifetime to come to pass. A lifetime of horror all for that person, that despicable, hateful, vile human being. Be honest with yourself. Could you do it? Could you go through with it? Because I have to confess I don’t think I could die for Karsten. For my mom, sure. For Larkin, my bro, absolutely. For many of you in the room, maybe. For Karsten, never. God help me, I don’t think I could do it. And yet that is what Christ has done. He died for Karsten. He died for Hitler. He died for the you-know-what that gets drunk, beats his wife, and rapes his 10-year-old daughter. Christ died for each of these people, because he loved them. As we sing in the Vineyard:
Nail pierced hands, a wounded side
This is love, this is love
The Holy Heart was sacrificed
This is love, this is love
I bow down to the Holy One
I bow down to the Lamb
I bow down to the Worthy One
I bow down to the Lamb
The Son of God died for us
This is love, this is love
He walked the hill and bore the cross
This is love, this is love
I do not know about you, but I think I have trouble grasping this idea, because, well I have such a confused definition of love. I use the word ‘love’ liberally. I mean here is a part of the bio from my blog:
“His great loves remain UT football, baseball, Sydney Bristow (RIP Alias), and “doing the stuff” at his Vineyard church. He cannot understand why Jennifer would pick the antichrist Ben Affleck as a partner, how snow can fall on his spring break, or why Presbyterians are obnoxious everywhere you go. He regrets the lack of a great love of the opposite sex, but has consigned himself to life of chastity and makes a swell bachelor. He cooks, he cleans, he philosophizes. He is, however, always open to anyone who might want to save him from himself.”
I love my parents. I love my country. I love the South. I love the University of Tennessee. I love football. I love spaghetti-o’s. I love a piping hot cup of hot chocolate on a cold day. I absolutely love Natalie Portman. I love George Clooney. I love being loved, and being in love.
And in all this talk of love, I lay awake at night and wonder: am I missing something? Have I gotten confused, and lost my way? Have I, as the country song says, “forgotten to remember what I thought I knew.”
Over the holiday I was reading the memoir of one of my old professors, I man I love. As I read it I became more and more relieved because he, too, confessed to being confused by love.
Quote pg. 202
Another great example of our confused feelings about love is dramatically seen in the movie The Darjeeling Limited. The movie is about three brothers who have grown apart, but try to regain their love and trust for one another on a railroad journey through India. In my favorite scene in the entire movie, two of the brothers played by Owen Wilson and Adrian Brody reach the limit of their tolerance for one another and come to blows. There they are rolling around the floor of the train grasping at each other, and swinging wildly and yelling, “I love you,” “I love you too.” Meanwhile the third brother is standing over them screaming, “I love you both, but if you don’t stop I’m going to mace you.” Isn’t that like us. Believe me I have been in some churches that this is an accurate portrayal. I’ve even been around some families like that. I mean in my family we love one another, but that doesn’t mean that some punches haven’t been thrown, and some glibness endured. I Love you, stop hitting me. I love you but I think you love some long dead author better.
I think it is important to state that despite our discrepancies and faults we are called to love one another. To be little ‘christs’ in the world. This ideal was so great as to infuse the teaching of Christ. When asked what the greatest commandment was, Christ answered, “Love the Lord your God with all heart, soul, and body; and love your neighbor as yourself.” And for anyone who might be tempted to narrowly define the term neighbor, he told a story that if he was with us this morning he might tell it like this:
Good Samaritan Story
Wheaton College Professor
A soccer mom – late picking up her son. She meant to call 991, but….
Pastor of Wheaton Bible Church – late for a board meeting to discuss outreach.
Gay Rights Activist
In finishing up his story, Jesus has said this:
“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
In the eyes of Christ, there is no difference between you, me, and Hitler. He loves all of us equally, and as the cliché goes, he would have died for just one of us. It is this type of love that is expected of us. In his final prayer before the cross, he prayed:
“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.
“Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”
God has called us to love himself, to love others, and to love ourselves, and it is in this love that we reveal to the world. All of our lives, and all of our hearts ought to be directed to understanding what it means to love our God, to love each other, and to love ourselves with this same sacrificial love with which he first loved us. I cannot do justice to this concept in the ten or so minutes remaining in this sermon, but allow me a fellow traveler to offer up some brief notes on love, and what it might mean.
First of all – He loved us first.
First Commandment—I am the Lord, your God who brought you out of Egypt.
Bill Mallonnee —These things I thought were jewelry turned out to be chains.
Second – We must respond to Him.
First Commandment (continued): Therefore you should have no other Gods before me.
Sometimes he chases us and sometimes we chase him.
We have a right to ask of Him whatever we will. He has a right to answer in whatever way He chooses.
1) Means of Grace- we put ourselves in the way of God. FAST.
2) No other gods- we will place our ultimate trust and confidence in him.
In discussing the work of religion, Martin Luther wrote :
“the greatest idolatry…. concerns only conscience which seeks help, comfort, and salvation in its own works and presumes to wrest heaven from God. It keeps account how often it has made endowments, fasted, celebrated Mass, etc. On such things it relies and of them it boasts, unwilling to receive anything as a gift from God, but desiring by itself to earn or merit anything by works… just as if God were in our service or debt.”
— The Gospel of the Us against Them–
Story of Elijah on Mt Horeb:
11 Then He said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; 12and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
13So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
14And he said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”
How many times have you felt like that……
In this age with our “culture-war” there has been a temptation among American Evangelicals and Fundies to maintain we good versus them bad.
Rich Nathan writes: Quote page 27
In light of this the Vineyard has presented not a boundaries idea of the world which separates us and them, but an open-ended but Christ centered view of the world. All of the world stands not based on rules of being in / out. But on there focal point. The important thing is to be focused on Christ.
1) Someone may be close to the cross, but looking away.
2) Someone may be far away, but looking toward it.
Excurses: Love means telling the truth.
1 Peter 3: 8-15
Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called – that you might inherit a blessing. For “Those who desire life and desire to see good days, let them keep their tongues from evil and their lips from speaking deceit; let them turn away from evil and do good; let them seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you;
1) Importance is unity and love. Doing no evil oneself.
— G.K. Chesterton- I am the source of evil in the world
2) No fear of the world.
3) A defense (answer) means that a question or challenge has been presented. This means a dialogue is taking place.
—- Model is Christ —
1) Honestly answered questions of Pharisees and Sadducees.
2) You see his anger not towards the sinner, but directed at the religious hypocrite. His anger was at the oppressor. Spoke love to the sinner, and judgment to the religious.
We speak to the authority (permission) we are given by both:
1) By God. Has he given you a place of authority? Is this an area that you see him working?
That does not mean that one might not have to say some hard things, and put your self in harm’s way.
Mike and Sexual Harassment at the Inverness Chick-fil-a.
Angela’s question about gays and hell.
2) By others. Are they asking you a question? Have they given you permission to speak freely? How well will they respond to what you say?
I laugh when people tell me they cannot talk about God in their workplace or classroom. I have had the great privilege of leading co-workers to Christ in just about every job I have had. Likewise I spent 16 years in the public school system of two different states, and have had similar success sharing my faith in these halls as well. And I can honestly say I have never had anyone complain about my public stance. I think this has been for two reasons. First I have always felt that a man (or woman’s) life speaks more highly than anything one could do or say. I agree with the line that we are called to preach the gospel at all times, and at times we may even use words. In every school or office I have sought first to be a good employee, a good friend, and a calming presence. I have focused on these people as people to be loved, not objects to be won. I have attempted to enter into their lives in a nonjudgmental way, and have sought to provide a ‘safe’ ear and an even ‘safer’ mouth. This means that I listen first, and more. I talk less, and I never gossip. What is said to me, stays with me.
I have found that people long to share their life with others, and I let them no I feel privileged to share theirs, and in sharing theirs, I get to share mine. When you are safe to talk to, people will open up and ask hard questions.
“Should I move in with my girlfriend? She wants me to make a commitment to our relationship, but I don’t feel ready for marriage.”
“My boyfriend wants to have sex, but I am looking for more than that. Do you think I can date without sex?”
“The other night I felt like I was wasting my life. If God is real, I know I am going to hell.”
In each of these cases I took the chance to open a dialogue with the person, and talk them through the issues at hand. We looked at the motivations they had, and I asked them to tell me about what they were feeling. I listened, and from time to time offered an opinion. Never did I pretend to know the answers, and never did I push the person to make a decision. I spoke the truth to them, and left it at that.
Earlier I mentioned Elijah’s depression and his response to God’s inquiry about why he was hiding in a cave at Horeb. Here is God’s response:
“15Then the LORD said to him: “Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria. 16Also you shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel. And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place. 17It shall be that whoever escapes the sword of Hazael, Jehu will kill; and whoever escapes the sword of Jehu, Elisha will kill. 18Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
God’s response is that He is not weak, and we are never alone. He always has a people called by His name.
Crawford Lorrrit’s colorful announcement of a similar discussion between Moses and God at the burning bush. He has a sermon entitled “Any Ole Bush Will Do.”
I don’t know about you but I want to be that bush. I want to be on fire. I want to burn with passion for God. I want to be known as someone who loved God passionately, and gave his life for God, and for neighbor. I want this because I know that the only way I can be whole. I also know that I am not alone in my struggles. I have my brothers, and my sisters. I have my God.
As I mentioned earlier, over the break I read Calvin Miller’s memoir, Life is Mostly Edges. I consider Calvin a mentor and a friend and was enthralled, as always with his work. Calvin’s struggles with the idea of love provided me with tremendous comfort. And I would like to close by reading a bit more from his work. I am going to read a little about his marriage.
When one takes their marriage vows, they promise to love, honor, and cherish till death do us part. These are serious vows, not just because of the commitment they pertain. But they are also serious because they stand as a sacrament, a visible sign of the Kingdom of God. When a man leaves his family and clings to his bride, they become one, and in that becoming one, they show us what it is like to become members of the Kingdom of God. We leave the world, and cling to our God, and become one both with him, with ourselves, and with each other. As Jesus has said that unity of purpose and being reveals the love of God to the world. The love of a God who takes his people out of Egypt and sets them free.