Sermon on 1 John 4:7-21 – Born of God
A revelation washed over me Friday. Not a new revelation, but a reminder from God.
My grumpiness defined last week. Poor communication and my desire to achieve “Super-Pastor” status came to a vicious head when Alan asked me to lead communion at presbytery and gave me two days to prepare the liturgy.
If you spent any time in the church this last week, I need to apologize to you. I complained way more than the situation warranted. I allowed that one request to define and ruin my week. I felt angry, frustrated, and miserable; every day I wanted to scream at nothing in particular while I worked in my office.
Despite me and my drama, the Spirit use my labors to give me God’s reminder. As I put together the liturgy, a verse jumped out at me and reminded me of why we do this, why I do this, and the wonder communion should give us: “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8a NIV) I knew immediately that verse need to lead the liturgy because it reminded me something.
That first Sunday we worshiped without Sue, nothing quite went to script but the Holy Spirit made her presence loudly known. Tamara and Cathy played wonderfully, I remember giving a good message, we laughed with joy, a wonderful service just appeared from our struggles, and I, for the first time, fully felt the awe of leading communion. I remember I could not stop smiling. I worried smiling did not fit into proper communion decorum, but that worry could not stop my smiling.
I still have the new-pastor shine on me, but I know that communion will remain one of my most joyful; I truly felt like I lead our meal with Christ that day.
We over-complicate faith and church. Good Presbyterians will rip anything apart to its smallest piece so we worry greatly about what bread we use and which kind of bread matches best with our intent when we gather around the table and how big the pieces should be cut or if we should cut them at all before the service because are we taking or giving and does it feel natural or manufactured and continue ad nauseam until the pastor bashes in head into the brick wall.
Like I said, we over-complicated faith, and frankly, I might as well stop using the plural pronoun. Over-heady and borderline-insane Presbyterianism defines me. Wanting perfection and high-gloss shine on my pastoral ministry defines me. Tearing apart every action, complicating every decision, and second-guessing every step I take defines me.
I forget that God, first and foremost, called me as “Loving Pastor.” Not “Super Pastor,” not “Perfect Pastor,” not even “‘Acts Like an Adult Over 50% of the Time’ Pastor.”
God calls me as “Loving Pastor” above all else, and I correctly and fully respond to that call 27.6% of the time.
If someone sees and recognizes a Christian, what do they recognize? Do we—or should we—wear signs around our necks labeling us “Christian”? Do they know our God by the ichthyses on the back of our cars and Christian radio blaring on our speakers? Do we show ourselves as Christians by knowing what words to say in worship and what times the stand?
Do those things define a Christian?
Bubble-bursting time. I know people who wear the label of Christian like badge of honor, have all the paraphernalia, only have the right music coming out of their speakers, and attend church every week that drive people away from God. I have examples in my mind, but we do not need my examples; I have confidence each and every person who reads knows that person, and we each have numerous examples.
The label means nothing without love. If someone recognizes you as a true Christian—a true follower of Christ—they recognize your love. Your theology and ichthys means nothing without love.
I realized—or remembered—we should define Christianity by love. Christianity as a label requires a few other things—those things often dependent on who currently fills the pulpit—but without love, those other means nothing.
We have misplaced our concern with making sure we believe the right thing and aligning our belief with the doctrines of the particular church. Yes, belief itself gives life, absolutely—believing God in the form of Jesus Christ walked amongst us and willingly gave his life for us gives me hope in the midst of this dark and frightening world—but without love, it means nothing.
Love with doubt—even profound doubt leading to unbelief—still has God present and means something; faith without love means nothing and does not have God.
What is God? God is love. Period.
You cannot be Christian—even if you proclaim faith and do the proper things and know the words and have the appearance of righteousness—if you do not love.
Interestingly—and really, really obviously—the letter says nothing about theology beyond basically believing in Jesus, and absolutely nothing about orthodoxy or proper denomination or church attendance. It does not say God requires absolute and rock-solid faith.
It does say, “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”
God gave birth to all who love. Read through the rest of the passage. It literally defines true faith as believing in Jesus and, almost more importantly to my eyes, showing love. The author really wanted to drive that point about love home.
Love or you do not follow Jesus and do not believe in God. Period.
Do you see Jesus as call to love, or as a weapon and path to power? Do you see God as love, or as vengeance against those you hate?
Did God give birth to you, or did the Earthly desires of greed, power, and hatred?
You answer this with what you worry about. Do you worry most about looking righteous or showing love?
You know the correct answer. You know your actual answer. Do they match?
Show love; mark yourself as born of God. Amen.