April 29, 2018
1 John 4
God is love. God is love! Honestly, I’m not making this up. It says it right here in the Bible, 1 John Chapter Four: “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” I think this is the most amazing thing ever—to know that God is love. To know that when we love, we are in God and God is in us. How could these words not move you? Could there be any simpler but more profound message? God is love. A life dedicated to God is a life dedicated to love, and a life dedicated to love is a life dedicated to God. How could we do otherwise.
God is love. So let’s say it together:
GOD IS LOVE
If there’s one thing I wish any visitor or newcomer to this place could take away from this place, it’s the knowledge that God is love. Any temple dedicated to Jesus Christ should proclaim it in word and deed. In fact, when I was a kid, I saw just that. I used to go to church exactly once a year, on Easter, with my cousins at their church in St. Louis. It was a plain structure with pews and a stage backed by a wooden panel. The only decorations in the whole place were nine capital letters hung on the back panel: GOD IS LOVE.
Friends, if we are not living in love, we are not living in God, and what kind of a church doesn’t want to live in God? We are living in a time when popular Christian theology is weak and corrupted. The experience people have walking into most churches does not correspond with this message given to us in Holy Scripture. Perhaps you, too, have visited a house of worship or been spoken to by a person claiming to be a follower of Jesus and not felt loved. Maybe you felt ignored. Or like the object of potential exploitation. Or, sadly, even hated and rejected. This is sin. The only appropriate response to the good news of Jesus Christ is to love, because Jesus is himself love. And even when Jesus’ own followers fail to live in this love, he still finds a way to reach us and work through us. God is love, and nothing is more powerful than God.
If we walk away from this morning knowing and believing that God is love, this hour of worship will have been well-spent. That love will be written on our hearts. We will be drawn ever closer to God and God to us—to the point that we will abide in one another. And when that happens, there’s no telling what miracles will occur.
In case you couldn’t tell, 1 John Chapter Four is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. I know I’ve been pretty subtle about it up until now… So you can imagine what a great joy it is to preach about such profound wisdom given to us in the Bible. But this Sunday is an embarrassment of riches, because we are given a strange and beautiful story to demonstrate what it looks like when people believe that God is love. And this story also happens to be one of my favorites.
Today we read Chapter Eight in the Acts of the Apostles. Acts is the story of what happened to the first followers of Jesus after he left them. And we are only eight chapters into this story when we meet Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. As our Tuesday morning Bible study group knows, Philip was one of seven deacons chosen by the early church to help distribute food and money to the poor among Jesus’ followers, and especially to the widows.
Shortly after he begins these duties, Philip is told by an angel of the Lord to take the wilderness road from Jerusalem to Gaza, where he encounters the chariot of the Ethiopian, who is in charge of the entire treasury of queen of Ethiopia. We need to pause for a moment here to speak about this person. First off, he is African, and what’s more he is a rich and powerful African. He is the treasurer of a mighty African kingdom—the Steven Mnuchin of Ethiopia, minus the wife with the gloves holding sheets of dollar bills. In fact, he most certainly does not have a wife, or a husband, or a partner of any kind, because he is married to his work. Eunuchs in the ancient world were a class of people in their own right. They were part of the elite of society who were consecrated to service. The Ethiopian eunuch—and everyone around him—would have considered him a man, but a different category of man, a alternative category of gender that has been lost to us in the modern world. What’s more, he is Jewish, which we know because he is returning from worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. But in spite of is devotion, he would not have been accepted by his Jewish brothers and sisters, because the physical nature of being a eunuch is considered unclean in Jewish law.
So hear again the setting for this story: a deacon walking on the wilderness road to Gaza meets a rich, powerful, genderqueer African Jew on his way home. How’s that for a Bible story? The eunuch is, of course, reading Scripture, and he invites Philip into his chariot to help him interpret. Philip tells him this story is about Jesus, and the eunuch immediately asks to be baptized, which he does.
If God isn’t love, this story would not be in our Bible. Love brought caused these two people to meet, because they had no business meeting otherwise, this poor deacon and this rich servant of the queen. The earthly signs of the love placed between them were the Word of God and the Sacrament of God. And their parting left them both joyful.
This is what a life lived abiding in the love of God looks like. When abide in love, God acts through us. God shows us that we all belong to one another, because we all have the capacity to love, and love binds us all together as a human family. When we abide in God, love flows through us. Love encircles us and everyone else we meet, drawing us so close to God that the veil between heaven and earth becomes thin as gossamer.
The world needs more God. The world needs more love. Luckily God and love are one and the same. And we—frail and foolish beings that we are—we are invited to abide in both. God is love. Abide in God, and you will abide in love. Abide in love, and God will abide in you.
So proclaim this sacred truth with your whole being. Live, walk, and speak in love. Let yourself be taken on a journey of love, and like Philip, God will introduce you to the most unexpected people. Dedicate yourself to God, and like the Ethiopian eunuch, you will experience the joy of love revealed in unexpected ways.
God is love! So way it with me once more:
GOD IS LOVE! Amen!