Thursday, January 13, 2011

Love Sunday Sermon- Greatest Hits of Love

I'm a little behind on updating my blog but here is my sermon from the "Love" Sunday of Advent!
4th Sunday in Advent
Luke 2: 8-14
December 19, 2010

Each day we are nearing closer and closer to the manger. Our Advent journey will culminate this week as we worship together, bleary-eyed in the candle light’s glow on Christmas Eve. Before we reach the Christ-Child we have one more stop to make on our journey. We have been asked to prepare our hearts and our minds to received God’s gift at Christmas and I daresay there is no way we can do that without talking about love.

Each year when Dee and I decide who gets to preach on “love” Sunday we fight over it. Who will get to preach this year over the best topic in all the world- love. Well, this year I won and I want us to have a little fun with topic of ultimate importance. I’m not sure if you know what the ultimate expression of love is- at least romantic love anyway. You might think it is diamonds, or pearls or a family bible, or a naming a star after someone. If you think the ultimate expression of romantic love is any of those things- you’d be wrong. The ultimate expression of love is a mix tape. I’m not sure how people expressed their love before music could be recorded- maybe in a concert of favorite songs, but I can tell you in my growing up days the ultimate romantic gift to receive from someone you were smitten with was a tape (yes, a tape not a CD or an itunes gift card) with just the perfect mix of songs to express how you felt about that person. If you have ever made a mix tape for someone you were smitten with you know the work that goes into it- sweating over just the right mix of songs- you don’t want to seem crazy, just romantic. I still love a good mix tape. Of course now I make them on CD’s and I give them to friends for all sorts of occasions and I enjoy getting them from friends as well. But I will never forget the first mix tape given to me by a boy. I almost married that one.

So for our last Advent Sunday I want to give you a sort of mix tape of what I consider to be the top ten love scriptures in the Bible. For me it was nearly impossible to take a book which I believe could be summed up in one word as “love” and to try to pull out one scripture for today’s sermon. And so without further ado, I present to you Sunny’s Ultimate Love Mix from the Bible- my top ten favorite love verses from God’s word. Receive this as a sign that I really do love you and care for you deeply- I put this mix together just for you.
The first of my favorite love scriptures comes from the book of Deuteronomy 6:5. Scripture says, “You shall love the Lord you God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” These words were so important to God’s people in the community of Israel that they were to write them on the doorposts of their homes. They were instructed to teach this most important commandment to their children and to recite these words “at home and away, when you lie down and when you rise up”. Put them on your forehead if that is what it takes to remember- Deuteronomy says. Loving God with all our heart, soul, might is a wonderful way to prepare our hearts for the birth of Christ. Do your children know that you love God with all that you are and all that you have? If not, tell them! Love God with all that you are- that is one of my favorite love scriptures in the Bible.

The next track on our mix tape is a track from the book of Psalms. The Psalms are filled with declarations of God’s unfailing love. However, nowhere is God’s love praised more repetitively than in Psalm 136. “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever,” the psalm begins. Each line thereafter ends with the phrase, “for his steadfast love endures forever.” Line after line lists things God has done for us and then repeats, “his steadfast love endures forever.” This is an incredibly important thing to know about God, especially when times are tough. God’s love is not only something you have received in the past, or something you will receive in the future when you have earned it. God’s love is given freely and will always be there today, tomorrow and forever. God’s love endures forever and that makes Psalm 136 one of my favorite love scriptures of all time.

Track 3 on our mix tape comes to us from one of God’s prophets, Jeremiah. This scripture reminds me that God loves us a parent loves us. God loves us always, even when we mess up. A great deal of the book of Jeremiah is spent with God speaking through the prophet to a people who feel like God has abandoned them. The people are in foreign exile- away from their homes and land and they feel like they are being punished. But just like a loving parent, God’s ultimate concern is restoring relationship with the people. Jeremiah speaks God’s words and says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. Again I will build you, and you shall be built.” God loves Israel and promises to restore and rebuild for them, that they might find a home again. When we feel at our most desperate, when we feel we have been punished and abandoned by God, God is there with an everlasting love. Everlasting love never quits on us. Everlasting love is ready to restore and rebuild and be in loving relationship once again. A reminder of God’s everlasting love is a great addition to our mix.

The fourth track on our mix tape is actually a remake of a previous track. In the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus is asked which is the greatest commandment by one of the scribes. Jesus quotes the beloved passage from Deuteronomy that any good Jewish kid should be able to recite when he says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength.” Jesus is quick to add to this beloved favorite commandment that “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” “There is no greater commandment than these,” he tells those gathered. In other words, if you couldn’t remember anything else about any of God’s teachings, Jesus says that love of God, neighbor and self is the most important thing. The Greatest commandment is essential to our love mix.

Matthew 5:43-44 is perhaps the most challenging track to listen to on our mix of love scriptures. In Matthew Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven;” The challenge of loving as God wants us to love is realizing that love is something we are supposed to give to all people. Love is not a gift we are to give only to those who love us back, or those that treat us kindly, or those we are close to. Jesus tells us that to truly love as God loves, we must love our enemies. To me that makes this challenge from the Gospel of Matthew a track I’d like to skip over sometimes.

That brings us to the most popular track on our mix tape. This is the track a lot of people know the words to, so recite John 3:16 with me if you’d like (I’m going King James on this one): “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
This verse is seen held up on signs at football games, and quoted from the lips of young children. This is a beloved verse. You hear this scripture all year long but I really think this is a Christmas scripture. Christmas is all about God’s gift to the world in Jesus Christ. Yes, this track is a Christmas track.

Our next track is another extremely popular one. This verse shines during many weddings, including my own. The thirteenth chapter of Corinthians is all about love. It describes of course, perfect love, not human love. This verse is something to be striving for, but never quite achieved in reality. This verse describes the way God loves us when it says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” What an excellent track- that one might be my favorite- may we all seek to love like that.

Our next track is one about the Holy Spirit. How can you tell if the Holy Spirit is dwelling in you- if you are letting God’s spirit live and work in you? Paul says you can see fruits of the Spirit in your life. In Galatians 5 we are told that the fruits of the Spirit are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control. Did you notice love was at the top of the list?
This next track is a relatively new one for me, but it is quickly becoming a favorite. This short verse has become almost a mantra for me- one I carry with me and repeat when I am feeling scared or anxious. 1 John 4:18 says that “perfect love casts out fear.” Perfect love comes from God and flows through us to others. So much of the violence and hatred in the world is based in fear. Only one source has the power to dispel the fear in the world and cast it out- and that is God. I strive daily to open myself to God’s perfect love and to cast out the fear in my own life and in the lives of others.

The final and most important track on our “love mix” cd is Luke 2: 8-14. Who can forget the precious moment the Charlie Brown Christmas movie when Charlie Brown exclaims in exasperation: “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!?” In response, Linus recites Luke 2:14. This is the angel’s announcement to the shepherds about the birth of Christ. “For unto you this day in the city of David is born a savior which is Christ the Lord.” The shepherds are reassured, “do not be afraid.” Perfect love casts out fear. God’s love is for all people- the angels tell that the birth of Christ is for all.
God’s most amazing act of love in the entire Bibical narrative is the incarnation. God’s love is made manifest in a tiny baby, given specifically to a young engaged couple- but given for all of us. This is the gift of Emmanuel, or God with us. God’s steadfast love does indeed endure forever and we are grateful for the human expression of that love. We are grateful that Mary and Joseph named him Jesus as the angel commanded because he would save the people. This Christmas we celebrate God’s most loving act, sending a child into the world to be with us. This child would grow to show us what love really looks like as he loved without boundaries or respect for human rules. God’s greatest expression of love was the gift of Christ, lover of our souls. May we receive that gift with love in our hearts and share it with others. Amen and amen.

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