6-25-17 Sermon “The LEGACY of Love”
“So what are we going to say about these things,” Paul asks. That’s a great question isn’t it? What ARE we going to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? That is, with God on our side, who can possibly think they can stand against us? Who is going to bring a charge or accusation against God’s people when God is both judge and jury?
This passage, more than any other, has been the formational passage of Scripture in my call to and practice of ministry. It is the passage of scripture I chose to go on the banner that was created for me when I was ordained several years ago. To me, this passage sums up the entire gospel, perhaps even all of scripture in one fell swoop: NOTHING, NO THING, nothing we can say, nothing we can do, nothing we don’t say, nothing we don’t do, nothing AT ALL, can separate us from God’s love. Period. Stop. This is the overarching message of love that God has provided for us, as revealed to us in scripture from the Creation stories of Genesis to the revealing of a New Jerusalem in Revelation - God loves us so much that there is NOTHING that can separate us from that love. Put another way, God loves YOU, and there’s NOTHING you can do about that!
But not just us, all of creation. You’ll remember from the creation story in Genesis 1, that each day, as God created, God declared that that day’s creation was “good.” The light was good, the dark was good, the fish were good, the birds were good, it was all good because it was all God. God’s creation of all things out of nothing was the first incarnation of God into flesh, into physical being. It was God’s first revelation, God’s revealing of God’s self to the world. Before there was ever any kind of fall, before there was any idea of sin or a doctrine of “original sin,” there was “Original Blessing.” God’s original blessing on all of creation, God’s declaration of the sacredness of things, all beings, is that first revelation, that first incarnation of, first testament tos God’s love. As Father Richard Rohr writes, this is the “foundation for understanding the sacredness of everything and our connection with everything.
We are already connected to everything—inherently, objectively, metaphysically, ontologically, and theologically. We don’t create the connection by going to church or reading the Bible, although we hopefully enliven the connection [there].” Rather, it’s in the original blessing, the declaration by God at Creation that all creation was good, even very good, that we become acutely aware of our “divine DNA,” our creation in the image of God, what’s called the imago Dei.
And the imago Dei, being made in the image of God, is not about our physical appearance, it’s not about gender identity or even right belief, it’s not about what nation we live in or what religion we practice, it’s about God’s presence within all of creation. It’s about our implanted, deeply-rooted connection to God, our divinely established relationship as beloved Children of God.
It’s about our legacy, as Paul says, as heirs of God with Jesus Christ. It’s what Jesus means in John’s gospel when he talks about “abiding” in God and God “abiding” in us. The divine DNA that is within us is not something we earn any more than we earn our genetic DNA, it’s not something we receive by saying the right prayer or speaking the correct words or even believing a certain set of doctrines, it’s that part of us that comes from God and in turn seeks out God in the first place, so that we CAN recognize our place as beloved children of God, so that we are drawn to pursue relationship with the God who planted that divine DNA within us in the first place. You see, there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God because the love of God is built right into us - it’s original equipment. It’s part and parcel of who we are and how we are. It’s what John Wesley called “prevenient grace,” the grace that goes before. It’s like a GPS chip, God’s Positioning System, that God planted deep within our core that causes us to naturally seek to know and love God as God knows and loves us. As Rohr says, “There has to be a little bit of something inside you for you to be attracted to it; like knows like. You are what you are looking for.”
That is, the divine in you seeks out the divine in the universe. And it can be found everywhere if our eyes are open to see it.
I’ve shared with you before that the place where I
feel most closely connected to God is at the ocean.
It’s certainly not the only place, but it’ a primary place
for me to feel that divine DNA surging within.
There is something, a homing signal if you will, that God has planted within me that sends me regular signals to come for a family reunion with God along the shore. Maybe that place of divine homecoming is in the mountains for you. Or maybe the GPS homing signal that God planted in you calls you to your back porch, or to walk through Big Darby park, or wherever your kids or grandkids are. It’s different for each of us because we’re all uniquely beloved children of God.
But, and here’s one of the coolest things for me, this connection extends beyond just us sentient, thinking, reasoning, human beings. A heart and life transformed by the realization of our oneness with God in all things knows that only love “in here” can spot and enjoy love “over there.” And one way to think about what I mean by that is in terms of what I preached to you almost a year ago now, in the series we did last summer, “Rock of Ages.”
You’ll remember that the primary message of that series was that there is no separation of sacred and secular, or more precisely, of sacred and what is called profane. All of creation, regardless of how it is used, is created as sacred, is of God, and is, as God declared, “good” or “very good.” We may not ultimately use it to sacred ends, but in its being, it is sacred, it is of God. And the means of conveying that message in that series last summer, and in our series this summer to a lesser extent, is that God’s message of love is present in more than just the songs of the hymnals or the traditional music of the church. So putting it into the framework of our Summer of Love series this year, celebrating the 50th anniversary of a gathering in San Francisco in 1967 built around music and the messages of love, God’s message of unconditional love is as much present in the words of Grace Slick as they are in Amazing Grace;
that God’s inseparable love as expressed in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John is equally as present in the words of John, Paul, George, and Ringo;
that our theme song for this series, “Get Together,” carries as powerful a message of God’s love and transformation as any specifically religious song ever written. Unfortunately, not all people can see or recognize God in other music, in other stories, in other people, or even other religions. Let those who have ears, hear, and those who have eyes, see.
Often, we are blind to God’s presence outside of those things we consider “religious.” It’s as though we’ve somehow jammed or disrupted the God signal that is planted within all of us.
That signal loss leads to fear, to a constricting or limiting of our perception of God’s kingdom, even to resentment of others who also lay claim to the mantle of beloved child of God when we think they are not.
True spiritual teachers, though, see this fear, constriction, and resentment as blindness that must be overcome. These emotions impede our spiritual growth in and towards God. They block the signal that God sends to pull us toward God and instead, send us on endless detours, goose chases, and snipe hunts through life.
That’s why all mystics are positive people—remember, mystics are people who have had a spiritual and emotional encounter directly with God - or they are not mystics. Their spiritual struggle is precisely the work of recognizing and then handing over all of their inner negativity and fear to God.
The great paradox here is that such an experience is a gift from God, and yet somehow you must want it very much (Philippians 2:12b-13). While God is present everywhere and abides in all things, God, like love, does not insist on God’s own way. God, like love, is patient, God is kind, God bears all things and endures all things. Because, as John writes, God is love.
Saint Francis of Assisi, more so probably than any other follower of Jesus in all of Christian history, recognized that fact and responded to it.
Born into a life of wealth and prosperity, he gladly gave up all of the riches, security, and comfort that was his to receive in order to live a life of poverty devoted to loving and serving others, the least, the last, and the lost.
Francis recognized the presence of God in all things, in the animals of the forest, the birds of the air, even in what he called brother sun and sister moon.
That’s why, as Richard Rohr suggests,
“The central practice in Franciscan mysticism, therefore, is that we must remain in love, which is why it is a commandment (John 15:4-5), in fact, the great commandment of Jesus. Only when we are eager to love can we see love and goodness in the world around us.
We must ourselves remain in peace, and then we will see and find peace over there. Remain in beauty, and we will honor beauty everywhere.” This command given us by Christ is the same idea found in the concept of Namaste found in eastern religions: The divine in me acknowledges, recognizes, honors, the divine in you.
And Rohr goes on to offer that it is the idea of remaining in or abiding in Christ that the Gospel writer John describes when talking about the connection between the vine and the branches (John 15:4-5), that moves religion away from being merely some doctrinal loyalty oath for a select group of people on the inside, where it has been lost or held hostage for too long.
There is no secret moral behavior required for knowing or pleasing God, or what some call “salvation,” beyond becoming a loving person in mind, heart, body, and soul. Then each of us will see all that we need to see, because that is how God created and indwelled us to be in the first place. First and foremost, this suggests, the salvation we are most in need of is to be saved from ourselves and what we allow ourselves to become when we deny the divine seed of God’s goodness planted within us and within those we would deem as other or not “us.”
John affirms this in his letter that we read today when he said:
“God is love” - not just that God loves, but that God IS love..
“and those who remain [or abide] in love remain in God and God remains [or abides] in them.”
“This is how love has been perfected in us,” he writes,…”because we are exactly the same as God is in this world.” That is, God’s DNA is our DNA.
“There is no fear in love,” John writes, “but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment.
The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love.” What have we to fear, Scripture asks us again and again.
From the admonition throughout scripture to “fear not” or “be not afraid,” given 365 times from cover to cover, to Paul’s letter today telling us that NOTHING, NOTHING, nothing we can do, nothing we can say, nothing we can think, nothing we can comprehend, nothing can separate us from God’s love. How much more clear do we need it to be?
“We love because God first loved us,” John writes.
“If anyone says, I love God, and hates a brother or sister, he is a liar, because the person who doesn’t love a brother or sister who can be seen can’t love God, who can’t be seen. This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also.”
John simply restates what Jesus already has commanded: Love God and love your neighbor.
When we love another, even those we consider the most unlovable among us, then we are loving God.
And when we don’t love another, when we hate or despise another, whether in thought, word, or deed, then we do not love God, because love of God IS by definition, love of neighbor. The message is, I believe, really that simple.
You see, the Legacy of God’s love, is good news. When we love God and love one another, then we are being and doing what we were created to do and to be. When we take the time, when we make the effort, to get to know our neighbor, to express God’s love for our neighbor - in the actions of love, whether or not we have that emotional feeling of warm and fuzzy love that we talked about last week - when we do that, it is God’s divine DNA within us that becomes the light we shine.
It’s easy to read some of these passages of Scripture about the loving nature of God and simply pass over them, not thinking about the ramifications of what they’re truly saying to us. It’s also easy to overemphasize the few passages that describe an angry or wrathful God and make too much of them. The overarching message of scripture, from beginning to end, is not a message of anger, wrath, judgment, and eternal damnation, it’s a message of God’s love for all of God’s creation.
It’s a message of divine grace for all of God’s children. It’s a message of giving and forgiving as modeled in the stories of Jesus. It’s a message of perfect love, PERFECT LOVE that casts out fear, but that has often been twisted and distorted into a horror story of perfect fear that casts out love - a message that is definitely NOT the good news of the gospel.
Rather, the Legacy of God’s Love is summed up in these words from Paul: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38-39, NRSV)
“Love of God, and love of neighbor,” Jesus commanded, “on these hang all of the Law and the Prophets.”
This is the legacy of love we have inherited, this is the legacy of love inherent in the divine DNA with which we were created and declared to be “very good.” This is the kind of love that, if embraced by all but particularly by disciples of Jesus Christ, would truly make a difference, would truly transform the world for Christ.
That is what we are called to, that is the legacy passed on to us. Let us go and do likewise. Amen.