Beloved, let us love one another

As part of my class Text to Sermon, we were all assigned to preach on one of the texts in the Fifth Sunday in Easter (May 7th this year, 2012; lectionary year B). My text was 1 John 4.7-21. We were told to preach “no more than 8 minutes.” My first draft was well over ten minutes, but as you can see I cut drastically (and I think it is a better although very different sermon because of it).

Fifth Sunday in Easter

1 John 4:7-21

Let us pray:

(Psalms 19:14)

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart

be acceptable to you,

O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Amen

“Beloved, let us love one another”

God calls us to love and care for others.  Martin Luther tells us that the needs of our neighbor, or those we are in community with, should guide us, and that we should think of what Christ has done as we let our works and whole life serve our neighbor.

Beloved let us love one another.

Let us be present and give presence to Christ’s love to one another.

Jesus teaches us about love — God’s love, forgiving love, agape love, love for those the world doesn’t think deserve to be loved, love for those we may not think deserve to be loved, love for those who do not know Christ and may never accept Christ, love for those who will never love us back, and yes love for those in our communities — our churches, our clubs and groups, our neighborhoods, families and work places — love for those we live closet to and with and those we may never see again. God’s love is love in its purist form.

Beloved let us love one another.

To love is to embody God’s love as shown in Christ on the cross.  God shows God’s love by sending Jesus, God’s one and only son, into the world so we could have life through him. This is love!

Our love is the testimony of our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior – as the one from whom we have life. True love follows faith.

We are called to love those that God places in front of us. Yes, God is sending the people God loves to you!

Seeing each other as children of God can changes our lives. God is sending God’s beloved children to us — and we are called to love them and share Christ with them.

How can we proclaim the gospel if we cannot live it out in our lives and within our communities?

Jim Wallis in his book Call to Conversion: Why Faith is Always Personal but Never Private,  shares the story of how he was unsuccessfully evangelized by almost every Christian group on campus. His basic response to their preaching was “How can I believe when I look at the way the church lives?” and they would answer “Don’t look at the church — look at Jesus.” Wallis still sees this as a sad statement in the history of the church. He reminds us that people should be able to begin to know something about what the gospel is about by the way we live. Our lives and the things and people we care about should reflect what and who Jesus cares about.

Beloved, let us love one another.

Love is action — and it is also being. In love, we are called to be something, and often that is the hardest part. And the being comes first — before we can love as Christ we must be in Christ — we must be over flowing with Christ’s love.

We are called in Christ to love on another — and, we cannot give what we do not have. Love is not an merely intellectual exercise. It is a human reality: we can not give what we do not have. If we are to give God’s love, we must be filled with God’s love, — over-flowing with God’s love.

I was recently blessed with a clear image of what this means. During the spiritual practices portion of my Diaconal Ministry Formation event this past January we were called to think of ourselves as reservoirs. Yes, reservoirs.

Reservoirs do not just happen — they are intentional and created for the community. A community does not feel guilty for creating a water reservoir to draw on as needed — and we should not feel guilty for creating our own reservoir. Reservoirs must be filled to over-flowing to give to others. Picture your reservoir — is it full? is it over-flowing? We can not give what we do not have.

Beloved, let us love one another.

We are called to be radically countercultural both in our care for others and in our care for ourselves as we live centered in Christ. We are called to resist being assimilated by the world’s unhealthy ways and habits. We are called to center our lives in Christ.

What does intentionally creating and nurturing a reservoir look like? What does it look and feel like to fill one’s self with Christ’s love? How, in the midst of our broken world can we be reservoirs of love and faith?

The answers are as varied and diverse as those asking. For some it could mean finding a mentor — someone that is Christ-like to others. For many it is participating in honest prayer life, and balancing active and contemplative time. For all it is hearing God’s Word.

Our actions — how we actively live out God’s love is part of our baptismal call, and so too is our very being.

Beloved, let us love one another.

  —–

Additional Notes (as required for the written assignment)

Works Consulted

Althaus, Paul. The Theology of Martin Luther, 1963. Translated  by Robert C. Schultz. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966.

Carter, Jimmy. Sources of Strength: Meditations on Scripture for a Living Faith. New York: Times Books, 1997.

Forde, Gerhard O. On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, 1518. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1997.

Mannermaa, Tuomo. Two Kinds of Love: Martin Luther’s Religious World, 1983. Translated and Edited by Kirsi Stjerna Irmeli. Minneapolis, Minn: Fortress Press, 2010.

Wallis, Jim. The Call to Conversion: Why Faith Is Always Personal but Never Private. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005.

Background Work:

In addition to the text study we did in our small groups for class, I studied the text by reading and reflecting on the text itself many times, including listening to multiple audio versions and comparing multiple English translations of the text. I then turned turned to the resources connecting to my response to the text. Some of these initial resources were books I was reading for other classes that due to timing became conversation partners for this text. Additionally, I turned to a couple of books from previous group studies that I had done because I immediately thought of something from the book that tied into my response for the text. I spent a great deal of time taking notes from all of these book and brainstorming where to go with the thoughts that came from those notes. I created a couple of outlines that I didn’t use at all because in the end they were too academic for my speaking voice. Additionally I looked through the notes and journalling I had done throughout my Diaconal Ministry Formation Event since many lectures and sermons there were very poignant to me.

Most of the notes from all of the sources did not make it directly into the final sermon. I also did not directly use any portion of the “verse by verse” interpretation of the text that I did. And, although I spent a great deal of time studying Luther’s Interpretation of 1John 4.17a from Appendix Two of  Paul Althaus’ The Theology of Martin Luther, I did not use any of it in the sermon. The first draft of my sermon did include a quote pertaining to loving “the one in front of you” from Jimmy Carter’s book, but it was cut during editing, and I did not use any part of his study of “God is love” based on portions of this text. Additionally the first draft of my sermon had more personal stories inspired from personal groups that I have been involved in; however, I cut them out because originally I ended up too long time-wise and it became clear that the lengthy set up for the stories were not adding any meaning to the text. In the end the sermon was much shorter and more focussed, possibly too much so.

Final note: in order to get this post to publish I needed to remove all formatting

Today … take my life and let it be …

Today is the last Thursday of the academic year. It was also the end of our academic chapel year, the last Thursday of my first year at seminary, and the day we have our sending service — a service of special importance to those graduating from Wartburg Seminary this Sunday as well as to the rest of the community. A day of gratitude, praise, thanksgiving, and also of grief. Grief in the sense that we will never be with this community again. The graduates move away to their first call parishes or service work, and the 2nd year students move on to internship and other field work experiences, while those of us ending our first year complete our Clinical Pastoral Experiences (CPE) over the summer (generally somewhere away from the Wartburg campus and Dubuque) and return to campus next year as the current Interns return to become Seniors and an entirely new class enters as Juniors/1st year students. The community, as wonderful as it is, is continually changing.

And for some there is added grief and loss in that things did not turn out as they expected or planned in some way. There is always loss. Here and everywhere.

Yet, God is at work.

The Sending Service in chapel today was powerful in many way as the community came together in symbolic and real unity to worship with each other. We sang a hymn I hadn’t thought about much recently until today. It’s one of my favorite hymns, and now that I look forward to serving as a consecrated diaconal minister I love the words to this hymn even more (the tune is great too).

Take my life and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
*Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in endless praise.

Take my hands and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee.

Take my voice and let me sing,
Always, only for my King.
Take my lips and let them be
Filled with messages from Thee.

Take my silver and my gold,
Not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect and use
Every pow’r as Thou shalt choose.

Take my will and make it Thine,
It shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own,
It shall be Thy royal throne.

Take my love, my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself and I will be
Ever, only, all for Thee.

This song in the midst of grief and loss of any type seems to take on even more meaning. I admit that when it comes to the transitional community here I find myself just trying not to think about it and instead looking ahead to the new friends and new experiences (I am so looking forward to this summer!). Yet, there are so many losses that that doesn’t work for.

After finishing my Pauline Letters final I came home debating between a nap and a snack with a glass of wine (I am awake writing so you guess what I opted for). And then again I was jolted to the reality I seem called to — minor in my life this time but so much of a huge gap in others’ hearts — the death of a child, a son, a 15-year-old vibrant boy known for his concern for others. My heart aches knowing the gap in his parents’ hearts.

And I sit with the reality that loss is. It just is. One/We cannot deny it or hide from it. We can try to pretend otherwise and be shocked at it when we encounter it, but that is us — humans in denial — and not reality. There is continual decay and loss in this great creation we live in.

And yet, as a classmate reminded me this afternoon, God is at work. He is at work in my life each time I share in some small way the journey of loss that so many encounter regularly here in our earthly life. God is at work in the joy and in the sorrow.

I have a peace that passes all understanding — that I can not always adequately describe — that I can always share.

Thanks be to God!!!!

Today I take a moment to honor the joy and the sorrow, the transitions, the life given to us by God. Today I pause in a holy moment of reverence and prayer. Today I say to God “take my life and let it be … ever only all for thee.”