God is Love

Fear and love cannot co-exist. I shared that with you straight out of the gate, so let me say that again. Fear and love cannot co-exist. I wouldn’t go so far as to call them opposites, but more like two things that just can’t share space. It’s like the floor is lava; the point is to get off the floor because your feet and lava can’t share space. What happens if you touch the lava? You get burned, right? 

This is one of those moments in a sermon where something amazing can happen, but because of where we are, I can’t make happen without serious consequences. You have no idea how badly I want to tell you that the floor is lava. Don’t do it, kids! Don’t do it. Maybe later when you’re home, but not here. I know, disappointing. Here come the angry emails and phone calls. Pastor Lem told my kids the floor is lava. An afternoon ruined. Etc. Hey, perks of the job, man. 

Fear and love cannot co-exist. They can’t share space. Why is this so important for us as Christians? It should be simple to understand, but we get it wrong so much of the time. The reason it’s so important to us is because we’re supposed to be telling and showing people that God is love. That’s like, 80% of the Good News, in my opinion. If you’re trying to tell someone that God is love but everything about you beyond your words is saying something very different, people will be disinclined to believe you. You’re just not going to reach them. 

If you want to know what love looks like, look at what Jesus said and did. One time, Jesus was sitting with His disciples and people who came to visit with him kept bringing Him little children to bless. He’d lay His hands on them, likely on their heads, and bless them in the name of God. His disciples kept shooing away their poor parents, scolding them. What great evangelism, am I right, oh saints of the church? But Jesus got mad at them for doing that, and He told them to stop shooing away the kids. And this is what He said, read to you in the language of the King James Bible for purposeful effect: 

“Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. And He took them up in His arms, put His hands upon them, and blessed them. 

You know what else can’t share space? Children seeking God in church, and adults shooing them away. The floor is lava, children of God! The floor is lava! That wasn’t permission, kids. Remember, later today. Not right now. 

Jesus is love. One time, Jesus was talking to a huge crowd out in a vast wilderness. People had come from miles around to hear this man talk, and heal, and bless. Thousands and thousands. The disciples of Jesus could tell that they were hungry, and thirsty, and getting tired. They wanted Jesus to tell them to go to the neighboring towns to get some refreshment. What did Jesus do? He told them, “You give them something to eat!” What’s the point of coming to church if there’s no snacks? Right from the beginning, O Christian friend, Jesus said, food and church go hand in hand. And seeing a little kid with a few loaves and fish, Jesus got to work in the kitchen, and made a buffet happen. Oh children, I love a good seafood buffet. You’d never know it on account of my slight appearance and all, but yes, I’ve been known to throw down at one of those places. My wife hates that I’ve gotten the kids to appreciate seafood; she’s the only one in the house that doesn’t like it. Meh. 

Jesus is love. In fact, Jesus was so much like love that He became a figurehead for love. People just had to look upon Him and they knew, here comes love. Love goes before Him, love is in Him, love leads the way. It’s behind almost everything He does. Almost everything. Sometimes love can make you do crazy things when someone you love is being hurt. Love protects. My sons face many challenges as a result of their conditions, one a speech pathology, another autism, and when they’re victimized by people who don’t love them like I do, church, I go a little nuts. I’m sure there’s plenty of people in here today that know what that feels like. 

God is love. Take that feeling I just mentioned, and now think about what God feels when the people God loves are victimized. Everything has a source, children of God, and I’ve often wondered if the things we feel God felt first. How else to explain our capacity to feel them? I get the mechanics of those feelings, chemicals racing through our bodies, stimulated by different things. But I’m talking about the spirit of it. 

 When I read the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, I realize just how big the scope of God’s love is. 

The author of the story was careful to give us a mental map of the locations and backgrounds of the characters. You’ve got Philip, sometimes called the Evangelist, heading south out of Jerusalem and following a wilderness road to Gaza. Yes, the Gaza we’re hearing so much about right now. The divisions of people we’re used to right now didn’t exist back then. There were no Israelis and Palestinians back then. After his encounter, he heads north to Azotus, also called Ashdod. He likely followed the coast to get there. 

And you’ve got the Ethiopian. Just look at how far he had to travel to reach Jerusalem. Must’ve been important to him. 

Gaza was an important port in the ancient world, and when you talk about its presence in the Bible, you read about its importance to the Philistine Empire, seafaring peoples that landed there and created a small kingdom that they defended against many intruders. Over the years as different powers took control of it, peoples of all kinds of background married, had kids, lived there. By the time of Philip the Evangelist, it was a critical port and trade center in the Roman Empire. Given that the Ethiopian Philip encountered was the treasurer for the Ethiopian queen called Candace, it’s likely that both Philip and the Ethiopian were headed there on business, but for different kinds of business. 

 I though it was cool that the Ethiopian gave Philip a ride. Having been in that part of the world, I think it was a really nice gesture. And Philip was able to help him, too. Clearly, the Jewish faith and its Scripture were important to this man. Philip was able to talk with him out of his own experience, specifically, the one He knew about Jesus. But I realize that none of that would’ve been possible without one very important ingredient, and that’s love. 

Love is such a strong force that people can sense it from us if its strong enough. In my life, some of the most loving people I have ever known apart from my parents have been teachers. We’ve basically asked, as a society, certain adults to be with our kids for several hours each day to teach them information, but that’s not all that teachers do. You can’t be a successful teacher and not in some way have love for your students. Sure, I think we can all conjure up mental images of the bad teachers we’ve heard of or experiences, but then when you think of the good ones and the way they make us smile, you get that sense of love I’m talking about. 

Fear and love can’t share space but love and teaching go hand in hand. The Ethiopian welcomed Philip into his chariot, but he could’ve done the sensible thing and sped away out of concern he was going to be robbed. But something about Philip told him, hey, this guy’s ok. So strong was God’s love in Philip that Philip was able to gain this man’s trust in so short a time that he could do more than just make small talk with him but talk to him about Scripture. Bible study in a chariot. Amazing. All the more so to be moved to accept the truth of Philip’s words about Christ’s good news that he asked to be baptized. 

This right here is the goal, disciples of Christ. This is what Scripture means when it says that we are to become perfect in love. When we’re with people, they should be able to sense God’s love in us. When people think of us, our very memory should convey love. Our caregivers. Our teachers. Perhaps our parents. All our loved ones. We think of them, and we should feel love. That’s love incarnate, in the flesh, Christ for all the world to see. It’s attractive; people experience it and they sense the goodness in it. Everything we do or say that betrays those images is not of God. We shouldn’t tolerate it in our hearts or our bodies. 

I’d like to end with some words from Carolyn Brown, the author of the website Worshipping with Children: “We love because God first loved us. We love so that we can become like Jesus and God. No one can see God, but they can see us. Our job is to be so loving that people look at us and see what God’s love is like.” 

Let me ask you: what does that look like for you? I’m sure if I had you take a piece of paper and list the people you love the most in your life, you might begin with members of your family, or extended family. You might even draw a circle around them. Then beyond that circle you might move to, say, friends from school, work, church, and the like. You might even call these folks your family, especially the ones you see regularly. Christian love calls us to a larger perspective, to widen the circle even more, to include within it everyone at work, at school, in our community and to treat them in love as we would our family. But even wider than that, folks. The love of God is so vast that it encompasses our world. You know what it means to love the people in your family. What does it mean to love the people of the world? 

You think you know how much love you have in your heart to give. May the God of love help you to test those limits every day, until your last day. Amen.  

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