As we move further into 2019, what message would you want to share with your loved ones, friends, and, if you had the chance, the world? What message would remind people that love is the answer? What message could inspire people to double-check their attitudes toward people they perceive not as different, for being different neutral, but rather as people they perceive as mooches, hangers-on, not qualified to receive the same level of help (or more help) than they? What message could inspire people to think of no one as “other” and everyone as “us” and “we”? What message could mute the negative aspects of the use of “them” and “us”?
One such message is found in 1 John 4.7-21. Copied from www.biblegateway.com, it is included below. Although 1 John was written for a Christian audience, its message that God is love is a universal one.
I look forward to seeing you soon! Perhaps this passage will lead to some great conversations.
“1 John 4:7-21 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
God Is Love
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 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. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15 God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16 So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19 We love[a] because he first loved us. 20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters,[b] are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister[c] 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[d] also.”
I hope all of you are enjoying this Advent season as we anticipate the birth of Christ anew. Imagine this coming Christmas was the first celebration of the birth of Jesus. We would not know it as Christmas. Would we know, this soon, that anything special had happened? We would not be together as a body of Christ. We might not know each other at all. There would be no historic Christianity to help us through this time of the church year because there would be no church year.
Imagining this Christmas as the first one is an impossible task. There are too many variables, too many “if-thens”, and too many “what-ifs”. There is too much unwinding of history. The exercise boggles the mind.
Now imagine how the Church, which will take many years to develop, will grow. It will grow because of its promise. It will grow because of the rich faith history in which Jesus will be rooted and raised, in which he firmly stands, albeit with his own views. It will grow because it focuses on the needs of the poor and infirm, the rejected and cast out, and because it calls out the baser instincts of people and calls forth the best in people. It will grow because it recognizes the power of love, joy, peace, and hope. One might hope it will not “grow” through coercion nor through the exercise of pain in the name of love and everlasting life.
Bishop John Shelby Spong said this in a recent interview for ProgressiveChristianity.org:
“I think the Christian church has got to see itself in a different way. I think Jesus was a boundary breaker and I think every time there’s a boundary that sets one person off against another, I think the Christian faith has to break that boundary down. That’s the salvation of the church. If we can do that, we can keep relevant. I think we ought to break every boundary. You’ve got to break the boundary around the creed, the literalism of the creed. You’ve got to break the boundary around theology. You’ve got to break the boundary around practice: who’s in, who’s out class warfare. Christianity can’t live in a world that’s got boundaries that sets one person off against another person. So we’re always going to be controversial, we’ve got to be controversial. By our very nature we’re controversial. And if we ever cease to be controversial, we’ll cease to be Christian – and that’s not easy for people to embrace. But that’s where we are.”
Beloved of God, to get through life together, and to share abundant life, we need to break the boundaries that separate. We are not alone. We have each other. We have “I Am.”
Rev Jim Sinclair
Pastor Jim is the minister for First United Baptist Church