Live God's Love
Churches are one of the places in our world, a community of practitioners - some further along than others - where we come together in faith - and grow in observing and learning from the faith of others, where we can find a moment of peace that can translate into peaceful behavior - and peace-making lives - and then where we go from this place into all of our other places in the world with lives of love. And we know love as God has first loved us, and instructed us to respond with lives that show love to neighbor and self, friend and stranger and enemy alike.
The last phrase of our mission statement; Live God's Love is our focus today. So I turned to my concordance, a book which takes nearly every word in the Bible and links it up with chapter and verse where one can find it. Often you will see dozens of references to words like Life, and even three references to the word Hen. When you turn to the word Love, it takes over two pages of tiny prints - over 500 times that the word Love is referenced in the Bible. Over half of those references connect the word "steadfast" with "love" - in Hebrew this word is hesed. The steadfast love of the Lord last forever, is a common phrase in the psalms and the prophets. And so we hear it from Solomon, in the passage we heard from 1 Kings.
What's happening in this passage?
For years, decades . . . the people of Israel have longed for a place to worship God. Solomon's father, King David, the first real king of Israel asked about building God a house, a place to put the ark of the covenant - and even then God asked how God could be contained within a structure. But now his son, King Solomon, a king of peacetime and a king of great wisdom, is given the opportunity to build God's temple. And he does - and we could read with great detail the accounts of this temple in chapters 6 and 7, the cedar and cypress, gold and engravings. But the passage that we read today comes when the temple is completed and it is time to dedicate and Solomon offers this prayer:
First he acknowledge God's steadfast love - there is no God like you, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart. But yet, he realizes that God's love is beyond the walls and doors of any structure, even the greatest temple to God. verse 27: "But will God indeed dwell on earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house I have built"
Our first definition of God's love: Steadfast Love, Hebrew Hesed, Bigger and mightier than any structure, any place on earth, any one person. This hesed, steadfast love, is the best way to define New Testament references to love as well. When Jesus is asked to define the greatest commandment, Love God with all your heart, soul and strength, Love your neighbor as yourself, and he uses the greek word Agape. This agape love is used over and over as love of God's nature which is made known in Christ. Not emotional love nor romantic, but love in the steadfast sense, - as one commentator writes, Love that is unmotivated and un-manipulated, unconditional and unlimited.
So perhaps the second definition of God's love is found in this unlimited definition; summed up best by Paul in his letter to the Romans. What kind of limitations can be placed on God's love he asks? Can affliction or hardship? Can death or life, rulers of this world or diseases of the body, mind or spirit? We know the resounding conclusion he makes, a statement of faith in a God's steadfast love: Nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
And so - in our mission statement for today - we are called to live out this kind of Love. Not our own love - that sometimes might be fickle, preferring friends over strangers, let alone enemies. But to Live God's love - steadfast and beyond only this place of worship - as Solomon realized - unlimited and everlasting - as Paul preaches.
So as we realize God's love for us - but what about that first word - that command, "LIVING" God's love? Theologian Dorothea Soelle has written that we Christians have generally been pretty good at proclaiming God's love for us, but usually less good at emphasizing the importance of our love for God. And so maybe that's why Jesus's words in Matthew's gospel today are so important today - to understand how we Live God's love - Love God with all our heart, mind and strength - love our neighbor as ourselves. Love God, Love Neighbor, Love Self.
It is a practice or a way that we follow to Love God. Just as early Christian were often called followers of the Way, we are reminded today that we are not Christians in name only, we are Christians as followers of God's love, the Way, the Practitioners of his Love.
Now we know that you don't need a church to practice God's love, in fact unfortunately, churches have more than once been practitioners of the exact opposites of love in exclusion and division.
But I hold to the belief that churches are one of the places in our world, a community of practitioners - some further along than others - where we come together in faith - and grow in observing and learning from the faith of others, where we can find a moment of peace that can translate into peaceful behavior - and peace-making lives - and then where we go from this place into all of our other places in the world with lives of love. So living God's love might take you into familiar settings, where you share love with acts of kindness and compassion on your neighbor and friends. When a child was asked to define love - she wrote "When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn't bend over and paint her toenails anymore . .. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, that's love."
But acts of God's love will also challenge you into loving the stranger and the enemy as Jesus preached. Churches can make the invisible visible and ask us how we are loving them. We walk the Crop Walk for those unknown in our community and our world who hunger each day. We come together as church for opportunities for sharing peace, advocating for justice. Without religious organizations the Civil Rights movement would not have happened with the passion and conviction it had . . . so where are we called to love the stranger - the other - today? This is a question I want us to think about - not only today but as we take part in defining our mission as Calvary Moravians in the city of Allentown.
Join us and help us be a church that is known by how we live God's love with neighbors and strangers alike. Amen.