Sunday, June 7, 2015

Know God - The Power of Love

Peached on Sunday, June 7, 2015

Scripture readings: Hosea 2:12-23; 1 John 4:7-5:5

Many years ago I would be talking to my Baci (my Babcia, my Polish grandma) or writing to my Polish Aunt Genia, and I would make some observation or other, and the response would be, “You say that because you’re Polish.” Maybe that was wishful thinking on their part. I could never understand the pattern of thinking that they called Polish. They saw a family resemblance.
White Bluffs, Opposite the Hanford Reservation, WA
Columbia River, April 2015
Many years ago, some non-Polish relatives were visiting me in Oregon: my Dad’s brother Uncle Don and my Aunt Joyce. We got into a conversation about God, and what God did by coming into our world in Jesus, and dying for our sins, and rising from the dead.
The conversation went on and on, and it was very lively and exciting. Most of the interaction was between my Uncle Don and me. My Uncle Don, for years, had raised big barriers between himself and the Christian faith as it is commonly understood and explained.
I felt like I was making progress, but my Uncle Don kept raising objections. Finally he seemed to try to get off the subject by saying, “Do you know why I don’t go to church?”
We hadn’t been talking about the church. We had been talking about Jesus, and why we needed Jesus. I felt like he was trying to worm his way out of what we were talking about. So I said, “I don’t care why you don’t go to church.”
My Uncle Don’s eyes got large. Then he beamed a big smile, spread out his arms, and looked up on high, and he said, “Spoken like my brother’s son.”
My Uncle Don told the truth. This is how the Evans men all talk to each other. Of course there aren’t many of us, and maybe that is one reason why.
It’s all about family resemblance. It’s not just about a resemblance of eyes, and noses, and chins. (I have a double cowlick and that’s from the Polish side of the family.)
The resemblance can be seen in how we move our bodies. I put my hands on my hips like my grandpa Evans. I do a thing with the little finger on my right hand that comes from my grandma Evans. So those things have been going on for more than a hundred years. If I had kids, I might have passed these things on to succeeding generations.
I have an Irish side to the family. Some of us came to America about 1850, and some of us went to Australia, about the same time. We have been writing, off and on, ever since. It’s a family habit that has gone on for well over a hundred and fifty years. It’s a family resemblance. Enough of that!
There’s a God resemblance that gets inherited by the people who are born by grace and faith into God’s family. It’s the resemblance of love.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus said, “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35) It’s a spiritual genetics that points to Jesus. It’s a resemblance that perpetuates Jesus physically in this world.
Think what this means. Jesus died as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world on the cross (John 1:29), and then he rose from the dead. That is the kind of love with which we are to love one another.
The Apostle John made this love part of the center of his teaching. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God because God is love…This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:7-12)
There was a woman who occasionally attended a church I served. She confessed to me, one Sunday morning after worship, that she had trouble feeling God speak to her in a sermon when the preacher wasn’t preaching fire and brimstone. (Yes, she really said that.)
Well I have just done that for you. You ought to be shaking in your boots right now, and so should I. Didn’t you hear it? Didn’t you smell the fire and brimstone? “Whoever does not love does not know God because God is love.” And John says it again, “If anyone says ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar.” (1 John 4:20) A Liar! And John says it again, “Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:21)
But who is my brother? Someone asked Jesus “Who is my neighbor?” And that question is just another way of saying, “Who is my brother?”
To answer that, Jesus gave the example of the Good Samaritan who helped a member of the people of Israel who had been attacked, and robbed, and left for dead on the road. The Samaritans were deeply hated enemies of the people of Israel, and they hated Israel right back. The story Jesus told them gave the lesson that we are to love our enemies. (Luke 10:25-37; see also Matthew 5:44)
We are to show the family resemblance that we inherit when we are born into God’s family by grace and faith. John says that God loves those who don’t love him, and that God sent Jesus and came down in Jesus to be a sacrifice for our sins that would atone for our sins.
Atonement means unification. It means reconciliation. It means bringing together those who have been alienated and divided. It means making them one. God loves those who do not love him and so we need to love our brothers and sisters, even when they are our enemies and do not love us. It’s in the Bible!
In the Old Testament, the people of Israel, the people of God, stopped loving and trusting God. They went on, and on, and on worshiping other gods, because they thought it would get them somewhere. They thought it would make them happy.
They became what is called, in fancy theological language, apostate. Apostate means, among other things, leaving and denying a relationship with God. It means denying the faith. It means living life in contradiction to the faith.
In the Book of the Prophet Hosea, God never stops loving those people. In the Old Testament, apostasy was considered spiritual adultery. It was as if Israel was married to God by the promises that God had made. God had promised to be their God and to make them his people. His people betrayed those promises of God. They had mated with other gods and loved them better.
The Lord told Hosea to marry a prostitute to symbolize what the relationship between the Lord and Israel had turned out to be. He told Hosea to do this deliberately because that is what the Lord had really done by making his vows to Israel. When the Lord made his covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai, it was clear that this is exactly what he was doing.
God’s love, perfect love, can be angry for a long, long time and never stop loving. The Lord described all the things he wanted to do to Israel in his anger, and then he says: “Therefore, therefore, I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her.” (Hosea 2:14) The desert, in the Old Testament, is the place for intimacy with God. The anger of God would end in everlasting tenderness.
Eventually this prostitute left Hosea completely, and became the slave of another man. Hosea had to go and buy her back. He didn’t have enough money so he had to empty his cupboard. He had to pay part of the price with his own food. (Hosea 3:2)
The Lord told Hosea, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites.” (Hosea 3:1-2)
Hosea and his unfaithful wife had children. He had to wonder if they were even his own children. One was called “Not Loved”. Another was called “Not My People.”
In his anger God gave these children terrible, terrible names to reflect his anger and his separation from his people. In the end, God in his love tells Hosea to change their names, because “Not Loved” will be loved, and “Not My People” will be God’s people. (Hosea 2:23)
The New Testament describes this same love that Hosea writes about, and the New Testament tells us that this same love also belongs to us. It belongs to all people who love God and who love others. Paul says this in Romans: “What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy whom he prepared in advance for glory; even us, who he also called, not only from the Jews, but also from the Gentiles? As he says in Hosea: ‘I will call them “my people” who are not my people; and I will call her “my loved one” who is not my loved one.…” (Romans 9:23-25; see also 1 Peter 2:9-10)
We all share the same story of being changed by the love of God. We are all “God’s loved” and “God’s people”.
We inherit the story and the spiritual genetics of love. Love is as necessary as faith for our life in God. God loves the unworthy, and the outsider, and the enemy, and even the apostate redemptively, because that is the only way to make them his children and to make them our brothers and sisters.
If we are God’s children, then the family resemblance holds true. We love the unworthy, and the outsider, and the enemy, and even the apostate redemptively, because that is the only way to make them God’s children and our own brothers and sisters.
I’m not making this up. God did it first. It’s in the Bible.
If God’s love (which means God’s kind of love) is not in us then God is not in us. “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
The Lord gave Hosea a seemingly impossible task. It would take all of Hosea’s life to work it out. This is God’s task with you. This is God’s task with the whole world.
The Lord gave Hosea a seemingly impossible task: to make someone who was not God’s person into God’s person. He gave this seemingly impossible task to Hosea in order to show God’s own seemingly impossible task: to take a whole human race that was not his people and make them his people.
In the end, this required death on the cross by Jesus, who is God made flesh. (John 1:14) In Jesus, God died in order to love those who did not love him. In Jesus, God died in order to love those who were his enemies.
Paul says this in Romans chapter five. “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life.” (Romans 5:10)
There is a Christian thinker who wrote this: “When God sets out to embrace the enemy, the result is the cross.” (Miroslav Volf, “Exclusion and Embrace”, p. 129)
Love is hard. Love is sacrificial. Some Christians don’t want their life with other Christians to be hard or sacrificial. When I see this happen and when I don’t have God’s love in me; that makes me mad. When I see this happen and when I do have God’s love in me when I see it; it sometimes makes me afraid. But God’s love is also meant to deal with my angers and my fears. God’s love insists on taking anger and fear away so that it is possible to love others no matter who they are, no matter what they have done.
I am commanded to love others with God’s love; which means that I am commanded to trust God’s love. When I know God’s love, then I trust God’s love to work in those who are unworthy, and in the outsider, and in the enemy, and in the apostate. We are not called to fear or to anger. Perfect love (God’s love) casts those out.
Can you live like that? Can I live like that? We better, if we want the love of God to live in us. We better try to live like that, or else we will prove ourselves to be liars. There’s the fire and brimstone again, but it’s not my words. It’s John’s words.
We are part of this world, but God came in Christ to overcome the world. (John 16:33) There is a holy discipline in this matter of love, and that discipline is faith. We struggle and we trust. We struggle and we trust. “This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” (1 John 5:4-5)
This means that we believe that Jesus is more than a teacher or a holy man. We believe that Jesus is the face and the resemblance of the living God. When we have seen Jesus, we have seen the Father. (John 14:9) When we have seen the love of Jesus, we have seen the love of the Father. When we see it, we will resemble it. We will live it.
If we don’t live in love it is because we have never truly seen love. Or we have seen it and not responded in kind. By faith we see love and we die with Jesus on the cross, and we rise with Jesus from the dead. We trust and live in the love that Jesus came to show us.
“If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him, and he in God, and so we know and rely on the love God has for us.” (1 John4:15)

We are God’s people and we have been born by grace and by faith into God’s family. We have been born to act as the power of God’s redemptive love in this world.

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