Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Sermon – “Question Time” (Acts 2:6-12)


In many ways Pentecost is my favorite Sunday of the church year. I never tire of reading from that second chapter of Acts: of the sound of the mighty, rushing wind filling the whole house, of the cloven tongues of fire resting upon each of the disciples, of their suddenly speaking in other tongues “as the Spirit gave them utterance”. Then, just beneath them, on the other side of the window, were those devout Jews “from every nation under heaven”—men and women from all those strange, exotic-sounding places like Parthia, Media, Elam, Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, Libya and Cyrene. It is an amazing story, and somehow it never loses its freshness for me. If anything, it becomes more fascinating with each passing year.
For the most part, our focus in the narrative tends to be on the experience of Peter and the other disciples in the upper room. After all, what happened to them was nothing short of spectacular. The wind, the fire, and not least the sudden ability to communicate in languages previously unknown to them, along with the transformation of Peter from a man who had been afraid to admit his allegiance to Jesus to a bold proclaimer of the gospel—all within a space of minutes—truly staggers the imagination.
It is natural that our attention should be drawn to what the Holy Spirit was doing inside the walls of the upper room Yet Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, was well aware that the Spirit was very much at work in the people outside those walls as well. In fact, Luke uses no fewer than four different verbs to describe the impact that the events of Pentecost was having on them: “bewildered”, “amazed”, “astonished”, “perplexed”. Eugene Peterson catches it well in his translation in The Message: “… they were thunderstruck. They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on… Their heads were spinning; they couldn’t make head or tail of any of it. They talked back and forth, confused: ‘What’s going on here?’ ”

Are not these Galileans?

In the midst of all their confusion we hear them asking three questions. You’ll find the first in verse 7: “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?” Half a world away and twenty centuries later the implications of that question are lost on most of us. But the fact was that among the city sophisticates in Jerusalem Galileans were regarded as bumpkins. Galilee was a backwater, far from the beaten track. They didn’t even know how to speak properly. Remember how Peter gave himself away by his Galilean accent. Even the Galileans didn’t have a high opinion of themselves. And think of Nathaniel’s comment when he learned where Jesus was from. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” he asked.
Yet here were these rural people, totally unfamiliar with city ways, who knew nothing of art or culture, addressing them in their own languages, and without even a trace of an accent. This was to be their first lesson in the ways of the Holy Spirit.
In reality it should have been nothing new to those people. It was embedded in their heritage. Part of the Haggadah recited every year at Passover contains a confession from Deuteronomy 26:5, which runs thus: “A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous.” They would have been familiar also with the story of how David had been chosen as king: how Jesse had paraded seven of his sons before the prophet Samuel, yet it was none of them but David, the least of them, who was fit only to be a shepherd in the fields, whom God had called.
This is the story of the ways of God in the Bible again and again. He chooses the least fit, the least worthy, the least predictable, to carry forward his purposes in the world. The apostle Paul summed it up in his words to the Corinthians:
Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)
Christian history ever since is peppered with women and men, some of them with very little education or advantage, some in spite of illness and disability, who have made a huge impact for Christ. We do the Holy Spirit a disfavor when we underestimate his power to take the most unlikely people as channels of his glory—and sometimes those unlikely people are you and I.

How is it that we hear?

The second question that we hear asked on that day of Pentecost is found in the next verse: “How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?” It’s not my purpose to go into the mechanics of how the disciples found themselves speaking in languages they had never known. Scholars with far more learning than me have sought in various ways to explain it, but I believe it is best left a mystery. Let me just say that from what I can tell there were two miracles involved. The first had to do with the disciples speaking in other languages. The second had to do with the people actually hearing them, not just with their physical ears, but that the message penetrated deeper, into their hearts. Later on, at the conclusion of Peter’s sermon, Luke comments, “When they heard this, they were cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37).
Jesus talked about these two kinds of hearing repeatedly in the gospels. Think of his repeated refrain, “Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.” That is the whole point of the parable of the sower. He spread the seed on all kinds of ground. But it was only in the fertile soil that it was able to take root and grow and produce grain. It is the point of the story of the two sons, one of whom said yes to his father but didn’t bother to do what he was asked, the other of whom initially said no but went ahead and did it. It is the point of the two house builders, one of whom built his house on the sand, the other on bedrock.
All of this, I believe, is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who prepares the soil to accept the seed so that it may sprout and grow. It is the Holy Spirit who gives us the will and the power not merely to say yes to God’s call on our lives, but to respond with action. It is the Holy Spirit who inspires and empowers us, to hear Jesus’ words with more than just our outward ears, but equally importantly to build our lives upon it.
I remember inviting a prominent and gifted preacher to preach in my previous parish. I will never forget how he began his sermon leaning over the pulpit and asking the congregation, “How many of you have ever heard a sermon?” “How many of you have ever heard a sermon?” he asked. “Now I know that most of you have been present for a sermon. But how many of you have actually heard a sermon?” To hear a sermon, to hear God’s word in whatever way it may come to us, requires the work of the Holy Spirit.
Each morning when I read the Bible, the chances are I will have forgotten what I have read by the time I sit down for breakfast. However, I pray that that may not be the case, that the Holy Spirit will empower me to hear what God is saying to me with my inward ears, to retain it, to allow it to sink into my heart and make a difference to who I am. “How is it that we hear?” the people asked. By the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit alone who is able to take God’s word and make it live for us and in us.

What does this mean?

The third question that the people asked takes us a whole level deeper. We find it in verse 12: “What does this mean?” Looking back on my own years of Christian experience, not to mention the nearly twenty centuries of church history, I am tempted to answer them, “Little do you know!”
Little did they know what they were being swept up into. Little did they know that in less than a generation they would be part of a movement that was being felt right across the whole known world. Little did they know that the message they were hearing would reach out to lands of whose existence they were not even aware. Little did they know that there would be people still responding to and living out that message nearly two thousand years later.
All of this is hindsight on our part. They had no idea of the meaning of what was happening to them. How could they? Yet those words, “Little do you know,” can apply as easily to us today. When I look back at the changes that have occurred not only in my life and in the lives of those around me, but also in the wider church, I have to admit, “Little did I know.” Little did I know where the Holy Spirit would lead me in my Christian journey. (I can certainly tell you that Minnesota never occurred to me.) Little did I know that what used to be called “the mission field” would explode to the point where the majority of Christian believers now live in those places until so recently apparently untouched by the gospel.
More amazingly still, what those first believers witnessed, and what we are witnessing today is only what the Bible calls the first fruits of the new creation. It is the trailer in the movie theater, those brief two and a half minutes that give you little more than an inkling of what the full feature is going to be about.
What does all this mean? It means that God’s new creation has begun its invasion of the old. It means that the day is coming when not only we, but everything that is, will be made new by the power of the Holy Spirit. And that is something of which the human mind can hardly comprehend the tiniest fraction. As J.B. Phillips put it in his translation of Romans, “The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the children of God coming into their own… And the hope is that in the end the whole of created life will be rescued from the tyranny of change and decay, and have its share in that magnificent liberty which can only belong to the children of God!” (Romans 8:19,21)
That is something to get excited about. Pentecost is something to get excited about—but more importantly, may it lead us to seek and to know the Holy Spirit more fully in our lives today: to allow him to continue to surprise us, to let him speak God’s word to our hearts, and to make us agents and ambassadors of the glorious hope that awaits us.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sermon – “Jesus’ Prayer for the Church” (John 17:6-19)


The trees have their leaves. The flowers are blossoming. The sun has regained its strength. And the somber shadows of Holy Week seem a long way into the past. Yet that is precisely where our Gospel reading this morning takes us: not only into Holy Week but into its darkest moments, to the night before the crucifixion, to what is often referred to as Jesus’ high-priestly prayer in John 17.
John does not tell us where Jesus prayed this prayer. It was not in the upper room. It was not on the Mount of Olives. No one really knows where it happened. And it occurs to me that there is a certain appropriateness to that. For here we have a prayer that Jesus prayed not only at a particular time and place and for a particular group of people, but for all of his followers across all time and in all places. When Jesus prayed that prayer, he was praying not just for Peter and John and Mary and Joanna, he was praying also for Rachael and Dick and Mary Lou and Mya Htay and for each of us here this morning—as well as for our brothers and sisters around the world: for parishioners gathering in l’Épiphanie Church in L’Acul in Haiti, for Bishop Stylo and his flock in the diocese of Hpa-an in Myanmar, for the good folk at Gloria Dei around the corner, and the list goes on…
The doctrine of the ascension, which we celebrate this week, teaches us (among other things) that Jesus continues to intercede for us at the right hand of the throne of God (Romans 8:34), that he always lives to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25), that he is our advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1). And so there is a sense this morning, as we read from this chapter, that we are entering the Holy of Holies. We are peering into the very soul of God.
Here in these last hours before his crucifixion we find Jesus praying for what is dearest to his heart: for his church, for that fledgling band of disciples, so cantankerous and divisive, so feeble in their faith, so naïve—and yet they were the ones whom the Father had given him. They were his church. It must have seemed that its future hung on less than a spider’s thread. And so in these last moments left he prays for them.
What are the kinds of things that you and I pray for when we pray for the church? For money to meet the budget? For more people to fill the pews? For a successful Youth Mission dinner? Let’s take a few moments to look at what Jesus prays for his church—and maybe it will help us to mold our prayers accordingly.

Unity

In the verses that we have before us this morning we find Jesus praying for four things. The first of them is unity. For such a small group of people the company of disciples contained a remarkable variety of individuals: a group of fishermen, a carpenter, a tax collector and a radical revolutionary among others. They had already skirmished over who among them was to enjoy the greatest prominence and one had recently betrayed him. What was going to hold them together after he was gone?
As the church began to grow and incorporate an increasingly wider variety of people, that challenge became only more acute. It was not that long after Pentecost before complaints were coming to the surface that Aramaic-speaking widows in the congregation were receiving preferential treatment over their Greek-speaking counterparts. Then there was the whole divisive issue of how non-Jews were to be admitted to the faith, over which Paul had some sharp words to share with Peter. On a smaller scale there was the dispute between Paul and Barnabas as to whether John Mark should be included in their second missionary journey. And later there were the many heresies and false teachings that sent cracks through the church and divided Christian from Christian.
Yet in spite of all the forces that threatened to divide it, those early Christians discovered an amazing unity that was infinitely deeper than the occasional fissures that appeared on its surface. It was a unity in Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, most powerfully portrayed for us by Paul in his image of the church as the body of Christ. Part of the genius of the body is that our unity is not found in our all being the same, but in our differences. The Holy Spirit is able to take those differences and combine them in such a way that they are not conflictual but complementary.
One of the great architects of Christian unity in the twentieth century, Archbishop William Temple, wrote this about true oneness in Christ:
The unity of the Church is something much more than unity of ecclesiastical structure… It is the love of God in Christ possessing the hearts of men [and women] so as to unite them in himself… The unity which our Lord prays that his disciples may enjoy is that which is eternally characteristic of the Triune God. It is therefore something much more than a means to any end…; it is in itself the one worthy end of all human aspiration; it is the life of heaven.[1]

Joy

The second quality that Jesus prays for his disciples is joy. Contrary to the claims of the health, wealth and prosperity “gospel”, the Christian life is not a stroll along Easy Street. Remember that Jesus was praying this prayer only a short time before he would be led away to be crucified. Just moments before, he had warned his disciples that in the world they would face persecution (John 16:33). Yet even in the face of crushing opposition they would continue to have joy. Why? Because joy does not depend on what is happening on the surface of our lives. It arises from what is within.
Five years ago Karen and I had the privilege of a week-long visit to Libya. Many of you have seen the pictures. As a part of that trip we drove inland from the coast across the hottest, driest places I have ever experienced, but every once in a while we would encounter a large pipe emerging from the sandy ground. They were vents from one of the greatest engineering projects of the twentieth century, known as the “Great Man-Made River”. Underneath the Sahara are forty million billion gallons of water, twelve and a half times the volume of Lake Superior. That water was flowing through culverts thirteen feet in diameter down to the coastal regions. As a result those areas no longer need to depend on the sporadic showers that formerly supplied them.
For me, the enormous aquifers buried half a kilometer under the Sahara are a parable of what joy is all about. True joy does not depend on what is happening on the surface of my life. It is about what is going on on the inside, deep within my heart. On the surface there will be disappointments and sorrows. There will be dry spells and times of doubt. Those are an unavoidable part of living in this world. At the last supper, as he contemplated his own suffering, Jesus said to his disciples,
Very truly, I tell you … , you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy… So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. (John 16:20-22)
Decades later, as he and the communities of believers sprinkled across the Roman Empire began to feel the brunt of persecution, the apostle Peter could also reflect,
In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith … may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy. (1 Peter 1:6-8)
Such is the joy for which Jesus prayed to the Father and which is the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s presence deep within our lives.

Protection

The third thing that Jesus prays for is protection: not protection from persecution, not even protection from the influences of the world, but protection from the evil one. We are all targets. We are all in the crosshairs of the devil. And if we don’t believe that we are in his sights, we are living in a fool’s paradise.
One of the great sources of sadness for me over the course of my ministry has been from time to time to see people (often deeply committed and informed believers) fall away from Christian faith. In almost every case it was not because of intellectual objections but through moral failure. St Paul wrote about “the flaming arrows of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16). The devil knows where our weaknesses are. And his aim is deadly. Have no doubt about it. His desire is to bring you down. And he will use any means possible to do it.
We dare not underestimate the power of our enemy. At the same time, we must never underestimate God’s power to save. Jesus is our good shepherd and he has given us the assurance that none of his sheep will perish. “No one,” he promises, “will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:28-29). “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” asks St Paul. “Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:35,37). And so Jesus asks the Father, “Protect them from the evil one.”

Truth

That brings us to the final thing for which Jesus prays in this morning’s passage: “Sanctify them in the truth.” What does it mean to be sanctified in the truth? The apostle Paul wrote about taking “every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5) and it seems to me that this comes close to what Jesus was praying for on our behalf. In our confused and conflicted generation we often hear people calling us to take a stand for the truth. What they really mean is that they want us to throw our weight on this or that side (and preferably their side) of a particular issue.
I believe that what Jesus was praying for was something considerably deeper than that: not merely to stand on the truth, but to have our lives suffused and transformed by it—to have what the Bible calls the mind of Christ. In his book, The Opening of the Christian Mind, David Gill writes,
Nurturing and shaping a Christian mind, trusting and loving God with all our mind, means the possibility of seeing life and work in depth. It means a lifelong adventure in meaning, direction, purpose and understanding. It means being absorbed into the vantage point of the Creator, Center and Redeemer of everything.[2]
This is not just a matter of having our minds shaped by the truth, but our hearts and our wills as well—of finding in Jesus wisdom from God, not to mention righteousness and sanctification and redemption, indeed the heart and source of our life (1 Corinthians 1:30).
At this point there is not much else that I can say—or ought to say—except to pray. And I would like to pray using the words of Jesus.
*  *  *
Holy Father,
we are yours and we belong to you.
Protect us in your name so that we may be one,
as you and the Son are one.
May your joy be made complete in us.
We do not ask you to take us out of the world,
but we ask you to protect us from the evil one.
Sanctify us in the truth; your word is truth.
And as we live in the world,
grant that your love may be in us,
and Jesus in us.
Amen.


[1]     Readings in St John’s Gospel, 320
[2]     page 64

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Sermon – “In this is love…” (1 John 4:7-21)



Many of years ago now I remember strolling through the streets of Manhattan, when I came across a fine stone neo-Gothic structure advertising itself as the Church of the Incarnation. I am always curious to look inside church buildings. (You can call it an occupational hazard—ask Karen how many churches and cathedrals we have visited on our vacations.) So I walked in, and there at the far end I could see a larger-than-life full-length marble statue of a clergyman. The inscription beneath it read that it was of none other than Phillips Brooks, the fifth Bishop of Massachusetts, one of the greatest preachers of the nineteenth century, and most renowned of all as the author of “O little town of Bethlehem”. “Oh,” I thought to myself, “so Phillips Brooks was the rector of this church.” But I soon found out that that was not the case. Next to the towering statue was a modest bust of the Rev. Arthur Brooks, Phillips Brooks’ lesser-known brother, who had served there from 1875 to 1895.
I suspect that for much of his life poor Arthur Brooks lived in the shadow of his famous brother. And something similar could be said of our Epistle passage this morning, from 1 John 4. When you think of love in the Bible, where does your mind automatically turn? To this passage before us, or to Paul’s soaring prose in 1 Corinthians 13? “Though I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal…” I suspect that there are some of us who could recite the whole chapter by heart. But how many could say the same of 1 John 4? Yet the fifteen verses that we have read this morning contain some of the most incredibly concentrated and profound teaching on love to be found anywhere in the Bible. In 1 Corinthians 13 we find Paul using the word “love” nine times. In this passage it occurs an amazing twenty-nine times. So let us take the next few minutes to see what John has to teach us about love.

The nature of love

The first thing I take from these verses has to do with the nature of love. What do we think of, where do our minds usually go, when we hear the word “love”? I think for most people it has to do with emotions, indeed a whole spectrum of them running all the way from a warm feeling we have towards someone else as a fellow human being or even for a dog or a cat, all the way to the uncontrollable chemical explosion that we call “falling in love”. While emotions play no little part in it, however, the kind of love that John is writing about is not essentially a feeling. Nor is it merely a theoretical concept or a pious wish.
No, the love that John is writing about—and, for that matter, that we find throughout the Bible from beginning to end—is a love that by definition shows itself in action. How does John describe the love he is writing about? “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son…” The words parallel those that we find in the gospel. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” It’s not just that God thought kind thoughts about us. No, his is a love that invariably expresses itself in concrete, practical action.
One of the wisest and most pastoral men I have ever encountered, Bishop Stephen Neill, once wrote this about love:
Love in the Bible sense of the word is always concerned with self-giving. It is never merely feeling; it always includes “a steady direction of the will towards another’s lasting good”.[1]
“A steady direction of the will towards another’s lasting good.” Those words have echoed through my mind for decades. And if you’ve ever been to a wedding where I have presided, you will likely have heard me repeat them in my remarks to the bride and groom. I don’t know of a better definition, or one that more accurately reflects what underlies what John is saying in this passage.
“No one has ever seen God,” John wrote in the prologue to his gospel. “It is God the Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (John 1:18). Now in this chapter we hear the same words again: “No one has ever seen God,” but this time John continues, “if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” God is invisible, but we do gain a glimpse of him when Christians exhibit practical love.
Several years ago a number of us drove across town to hear Christian philosopher Dallas Willard. At the end of his talk one member of the audience told of how she had tried again and again to bear witness and explain the Christian faith to another person for years, but much to her frustration her words seemed to bear no result. What should she do? Willard’s reply was classic: “Have you tried sending them a birthday card?” We have all been told that a picture is worth a thousand words. The same is true of love. One caring act can mean far more than a thousand words. It is what puts flesh on what is otherwise nothing more than an ethereal concept.

The source of love

Such is the nature of love. From here John goes on to write about the source of love. It’s almost fifty years since the Beatles first recorded their song, “All you need is love”. It was a #1 hit and captured the ideals and beliefs of a generation. That kind of thinking is still popular in the world today. John, however, says that, like so much of the world’s thinking, they got it backwards. Not, “Love is God,” as the song implies, but, “God is love.”
There is a world of difference between the two philosophies. God is not defined by our notions about love, which are bound to be imperfect at best and can be twisted and destructive at their worst. Rather, our understanding of love arises out of God and what he has revealed of himself. What do we mean, then, when we claim that God is love? I believe it arises out of our knowledge of God as Trinity, which among other things tells us that love is incorporated into God’s very being. The Father loves the Son and the Spirit. The Son loves the Father and the Spirit. The Spirit loves the Father and the Son. It is what theologians call “perichoresis”. The word comes from peri, which means “around” or “near”, and choros, which means “dance” and from which we derive our English words “chorus” and “choreography”. So think of a chorus of singers, whose voices are so perfectly balanced and blended that they combine to form a single whole. Or picture in your mind a troupe of dancers elegantly sweeping across the floor and supporting one another in such a way that you can’t separate them without destroying the whole. According to one definition, “Perichoresis is the fellowship of three co-equal Beings perfectly embraced in love and harmony and expressing an intimacy that no one can humanly comprehend.”
Such is the love that binds together the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And that love flows out in acts of self-giving—in creation, in redemption, in the daily presence and empowering of the Holy Spirit. It also yearns to draw others into its warmth. It is the love that reaches out to us, seeks us as a shepherd seeks his lost sheep, stops for us on the road and binds up our wounds, weeps for us, rejoices with us, suffers for us, dies for us. “So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.”

The fruits of love

What I have said thus far is based on two of the many remarkable statements that we come across in this passage: “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us” (verse 10) and, “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (verse 16). Before we leave, there is a third and it is found in verse 18: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” Here John brings us from the nature of love and the source of love to the fruits of love.
Of course as long as we live in this world there will be fears. As many of us have learned in our recent Adult Education series, fear is a part of our primal nature. It is necessary for survival. But that ordinary, inbuilt fear is not the kind of fear that John is referring to. What John is writing about is fear of judgment, the fear that keeps us away from God, the fear that gnaws away at our soul and holds us captive to negativity and gloom.
Knowing that God loves me is like opening a blind on a shuttered room. It dispels the darkness and gives light in every direction. It allows us to enter into a relationship of intimacy with God, in which there is no need to hide anything from him because his desire is only for our good. It is what Charles Wesley wrote about in his classic hymn:
No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in him, is mine!
Alive in him, my living head,
And clothed in righteousness divine…
More broadly, knowing that we have a God who loves us and cares for our every need frees us from fear about material things. It is what Jesus spoke about in the Sermon on the Mount when he said to his disciples,
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear… Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them… And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For … your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.
Thirdly, God’s love frees us from fear in relationships. It impels us to emerge from our shells of self-absorption to love others with the same quality of love that God has shown to us. “Beloved,” John exhorts us in verse 11, “if God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.” And if that were not clear enough, he turns his exhortation into a commandment in verse 21: “Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” “Let us make no mistake,” writes Bishop Stephen Neill again. “ ‘Love thy neighbor’ is not good advice… It is a command; and in the Bible, if commands are given, it is because they are expected to be obeyed.”[2]
As we pause this morning to consider the love of God, may the vision of it draw us out of the shadows of fear to open our hearts more fully to him. May it move us to trust him to care for us and lead us through life. And may we allow that love to flow through us into the lives of others. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God.”


[1]     The Christian Character, 22
[2]     pages 19,20