TEXT:  Deut. 6:4-9; 1 John 4:7-12

            If you came in here this morning thinking, "Gee, I wonder what Anne is going to preach about on her last Sunday?" then I have a mug and a visitor's packet to give you on the way out.  The night of my farewell, you shook the building as you shouted the theme of my ministry, which is what? ("God is love.")

            That verse from 1 John 4:8 has been on our church sign for some time now, and you've heard any number of other Bible passages that prove the point over my six years here.  This morning, all I really want to do is to say again that "God is love," is the entire content of the Gospel.  This is what Jesus came to say and do and be.  It's the biggest challenge and the greatest gift and without it, Paul says, we are just noisy gongs and clanging cymbals.  God is love and we are made in God's image.  Jesus is God in the flesh and the Church is called to be Jesus in the flesh…the Body of Christ for the world. 

            Here's how I think it all happened.  God is love, and it is love's nature to express itself in all sorts of ways.  So God's love seeks expression and the first form that takes is Creation itself.  You know that I'm a naturalist at heart.  Part of the reason for that is that I know Creation belongs to God and not to me, but the other part is that I know all of Creation is an expression of God's love.  I am hard pressed to find any truth in the Bible that is not already written for all to see in Creation.

            The truth of the seasons of life, complete with death and resurrection, are written into the four seasons of every year.  God's care and provision and the need for every thing to depend on every other thing for life and health and safety is brilliantly shown in the ecosystems of the earth.  God's love of beauty is obvious everywhere you look.  God could have made the whole system efficient with just pine trees and daisies and a couple of sheep.  But there are countless varieties of flowers and trees, birds and insects, animals and fish, mountains and hills, oceans and lakes and streams.  Once glance at Creation and you learn that God is not boring, that God loves beauty, and that God is much, much smarter than Einstein ever thought of being. 

Creation is everywhere, it is all-powerful--even though we keep thinking we can beat it.  We can take down all the trees on the mountainside, live at the bottom, and not worry about mudslides or live high up and not get caught in blizzards or avalanches.  We can live on the edge of the ocean and not worry about tidal waves or hurricanes.  We can build major cities on fault lines and put our homes in flood zones and figure out a way that nature will not upset our plans. 

Creation is the expression of God and has all of God's knowledge, power, and presence within it.  It demands our respect, and we are charged with its care--not just because God said so in Genesis, but because it is one of the ways God has been revealed to us.  The Gospel is in it.  It is a way that any person of any faith with any level of capability living in any part of the world can understand who God is.

God was first revealed to us this way.  But we didn't completely get it.  We saw Creation as either a tool to be used for whatever we wanted or we separated out parts of it to be worshipped as God instead of something that revealed God.  So, God tried again.  When human culture had developed enough to have complex forms of communication, God decided to write it all down.

Everything that had already been expressed in Creation was then communicated in words…words about law tempered with grace; justice tempered with mercy; power used with humility.  Words about what to do when we fail to love, words about protecting those who cannot protect themselves and speaking for those who have no voice.  That revelation in words we now call the Hebrew Scriptures or the Old Testament, and its center is the verse that was read a few minutes ago…the verse that is the show-stopper in Jewish worship; the verse that Jesus picked as the greatest commandment.  "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength."  And Jesus pointed to a second Old Testament verse to fill out that greatest commandment…"Love your neighbor as yourself."

The revelation of God's love in words was helpful, but we still drifted.  Some of us remembered about law and justice and power; but we forgot the tempering of grace, mercy, and humility.  Others of us focused on grace, mercy,  and humility and proclaimed that God wanted us to be doormats for the world to walk on…to accept oppression and abuse without objection and to think of ourselves as unworthy of any goodness or gift.  We became harsh legalists or groveling wimps and too few seemed to remember that those two sides had to exist together.  We read that the fear of the Lord was the beginning of wisdom and thought it was the end of wisdom also.

So God's love needed to be expressed in a new way, and that's where Jesus comes in.  God saw that we were having a hard time fully understanding God's revelation in word.  And so, God's word was made flesh.  God said, "Okay, let's do it this way.  I will come to earth myself…as a human being.  I will live a human life and show you in person what I have been trying to communicate through the earth and through my words.  I'll be in human form so you can watch what I do, ask me questions, live with me and see what I'm like in every situation that can be faced by people. 

I will show you that, while I am powerful, I don't use that power to hurt or to exploit or to gain things for myself.  I will show you that while I have power over the storm, I calm the storms…I don't use them to smite my enemies.  I can command armies, but I will ride into the city on the peaceful donkey and not the war horse.  I have the power to judge and to condemn law breakers to death, but I prefer to encourage them to better lives through love and forgiveness.  I pay my taxes and am a good citizen, but when those who claim to represent me are harming the poor and preventing my people from seeing who I truly am, then I will charge through your temple with a whip, turn the tables on injustice, and challenge the leadership that claims to know me but does not.

But if you will not listen, I will not force you…even though I could.  I have told you in Creation and I have told you in the Scriptures that you are free to choose.  I will not recant, but I will not violate my nature.  I will not harm those I love, and I love you even when you are my enemy.  I will take your violence into myself and allow it to die with me; and once it has been laid to rest, I will rise up without it to show you a better way.  I will still the storm of violence and death and the sun will rise at dawn.

Having the revelation of who God is here in flesh and blood was a real help, and it could be a lot more help if we would quit being such pew potatoes and go out and tell somebody about it.  But for the most part we have wanted to keep the revelation to ourselves or we have thought that what was revealed was not God, but a certain set of laws and doctrines ABOUT God; and it's no wonder that a whole lot of people aren't terribly interested in that.

Creation was designed to reveal God to everybody.  As we talked about last week, God's call to the Jews through Abraham was so that ALL THE NATIONS OF THE EARTH might be blessed.  Jesus, too, talked about going into ALL THE WORLD.  It isn't about us.  God has a message that God has been trying to get across to us literally since the beginning of time.  And so God has tried still one more way to get the news out…and that was by placing the news within.

The Jewish festival of Pentecost celebrated the giving of the Law to Moses at Mt. Sinai…the Ten Commandments and the other laws for the people to live by.  That was why the Disciples were gathered in Jerusalem in that upper room 50 days after Jesus' death and resurrection.  They were there to celebrate God's revelation in words carved in stone.  That was the day God chose to fulfill the prophecy of Jeremiah that there would come a day when God's law was written on each individual heart.  If we could not quite understand the revelation of God's love when we saw it outside of us, perhaps we would understand if it were revealed inside of us…if our hearts spoke it to us with every beat.

I am completely convinced that it has been the same message all along.  The "new covenant" that Christians talk about does not mean the old one is obsolete.  It simply is a new version of the same message…the old, old story of God's love, told from the moment that God said, "Let there be light" to the moment Jesus said "I am the light of the world" and told us not to hide that light under a bushel basket.  From the moment that Moses stopped to see why a bush was on fire to the moment when tongues of flame came to rest on each individual Disciple at Pentecost.  It has always been the same message.  God is love and we should live in a way that proclaims that truth by loving God, loving ourselves, and loving others…even our enemies, even when they kill us.

Love.  That's the whole point.  Even Paul, who can get you so wrapped up in long theological discourses that your brain hurts, pulls it all back and says that without love it is all a wash.  Love is greater even than faith he says.  Some people who hear me say this think that "God is love" is just a wishy-washy, feel-good cop out for really engaging life.  It is obvious to me that those people have never really tried to live out its implications.  To live out the meaning of God is love is to live as Jesus did, and that is neither easy nor popular.  It got Jesus killed.  It got Ghandi killed.  It got Martin Luther King, Jr. killed along with thousands of others both past and present.

If you think it's easier to forgive than to lash out, then you have never been truly wronged.  If you think it's easier to lovingly confront an injustice than to turn a blind eye, then you have never done it.  If you think it is easier to sell all you have and give to the poor than to scramble for all you can get for yourself, then I've got this bridge I'd like to sell you.  No, living life based on the principle that "God is love" is not a cop-out, nor is it easier.  It is the hardest, most challenging thing you will ever attempt.

But it is also the most rewarding…not just in the traditional terms of heavenly mansions and stars in our crowns, but in terms of finding meaning and purpose and joy here on earth, even when our outward circumstances would say that we should be bitter and miserable.  Love is THE way…THE ONLY way to heaven, because heaven cannot exist without it.  And since God is love and Jesus is God, I think that's what Jesus meant when he said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father but by me."  His disciple, John, wrote that in his Gospel.  John said it in another way in one of his letters, "Beloved, let us love one another.  For love is of God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  The one who doesn't love doesn't know God, for God is love."

I don't care if you believe anything else I've ever said.  I'm sure some of it has been wrong anyway, and you'll read a book of mine in a few years that will say I have changed my mind.  But on this I have founded my life, and if "God is love" is not the absolute truth, I will eat my heavenly mansion gold brick by gold brick.

The fear of the Lord is the BEGINNING of wisdom.  It is how we feel when we realize that there is, in fact, a God who is larger and more powerful than we are able to comprehend…that there is a God that we cannot control or contain.  That knowledge of God's existence and our inability to comprehend more than a tiny sliver of it, is the beginning of wisdom and it is scary.

But wisdom does not end there.  That is the beginning point of wisdom and it moves on through our various experiences of God in church, in prayer, through Scripture, in life, with others.  And eventually, when the veil is lifted and our mortal bodies die; when we stop seeing through a glass darkly and can finally see face to face, we will know the truth that John proclaims in 1 John 4:18:  "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."

As the angels have always said to humankind, "Fear not."  Love is the way.  Follow Jesus and live it.  Amen.

(c) 2005, Anne Robertson
Returnto AnneRobertson.com