1 John 4:7-21 (MSG)
South Presbyterian Church – May 3, 2015
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift
Which comes first: the chicken or the egg? <pause>
Which comes first: loving others or feeding them? <pause>
Which comes first: faith or action? <pause>
Which comes first: awareness or acceptance? <pause>
Which comes first: trust or love? <pause>
Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. That’s what we just read. God loves us first before we are even aware that there IS a God.
Does God have a CHOICE about loving us? <pause>
No. “It is important to note … that John is NOT saying that ‘God is loving’ (though this is true). [And he is not] saying that one of God’s ACTIVITIES is “to love” us (though this is true as well). What John is saying that God is love, that … Love is the ESSENCE of God’s being.”[i] And if that’s the case, then God can’t HELP but love. God has no CHOICE to love or not love because … well … God is God and God IS love.
Let’s just step back for a minute and look at this First Epistle of John. It is often attributed to John the Evangelist, the son of Zebedee, traditionally thought to be the author of the Gospel of John and the other two Epistles of John. And according to Wikipedia, this Epistle was probably written in Ephesus between the years 95–110. It is the LAST of the four Biblical Gospels written and it holds almost NOTHING in common with Matthew, Mark and Luke.
The problem is that “there is no way that the Fourth Gospel was written by John Zebedee (that is the Apostle John) or by ANY of the disciples of Jesus. [It may be that the letters were written by the same person or persons as the Gospel … that seems a legitimate argument, but] the author of [the Gospel of John] is NOT a single individual. [It has] at least THREE different writers/editors, who did their layered work over a period of 25 to 30 years.[ii]
Now, we know that these letters were written to counter docetism, the belief that Jesus did not come “in the flesh,” but only as a spirit. It also defined how Christians are to discern true teachers: by their ethics, their proclamation of Jesus in the flesh, and by their love.”
So this concept that God is love is very basic and very early to the Christian movement. But what many of US have failed to do over the centuries is to realize that if God is LOVE, then God cannot choose NOT to love because love is the ESSENCE of God.
Think about that.
A God who HAS to love because of the essence of God’s being.
That kind of shoots in a cocked hat the whole argument of “God as JUDGE,” doesn’t it. God CAN’T judge because Divine LOVE is without judgment. It is transformative in its LOVE-NESS. J
When we are in the presence of God and Perfect Love … we are changed from the inside out. Changed at the cellular level which is what we learned about during Lent as we looked at the Beatitudes through the lens of Wisdom Teachers.
So which comes first: awareness or acceptance?
Awareness that God loves us??? Or acceptance of that love??? Can we accept what we are not AWARE of? And if we are truly aware of it … through and through our being … then we will not be ABLE to NOT ACCEPT it because we will be changed by the experience of knowing that love.
There’s a truth that I have always marveled at: Once you know something, you can’t UN-know it. You might FORGET it, but you can’t WILL yourself to UNKNOW it.
Everyone in this room has heard at least once in their life that God is LOVE … yet how many of us continue to be guided by the thought that God JUDGES us? “Oh, but you can judge in love.” No you can’t. One of them has to take precedence. One is prioritized. If it’s judgment, then God is not love … God is judgment. And if God is love, then judgment caves in the presence of perfect love.
Everyone here has heard that God LOVES you … but how many of us have our doubts or just flat out don’t believe it because we don’t feel WORTHY of God’s love? Hmmm.
Not feeling WORTHY leaves us to fear God’s judgment, doesn’t it? “If I’m not worthy of God’s love then I am worthy of condemnation.” Probably a true statement … but it’s built on false assumption that we could ever NOT be worthy of God’s love … or that God loves only those who are WORTHY.
See how circular this logic is?
There is something in the human psyche that keeps us from believing that we’re ok just the way we are and that God’s LOVE rebuilds us from the inside out. When we focus on God as JUDGE, we become fearful … but John tells us that Perfect love casts out all fear. There’s no ROOM for fear when God’s perfect LOVE fills us up.
But if we ACCEPT that love premise … then it changes EVERYTHING about our lives … our interactions with each other and with ourselves … it changes how we see our ROLE on this planet because suddenly … in the middle of all that LOVE, we see that WE are meant to love the same WAY. And THAT fact makes us responsible to and FOR each other and this planet, Earth.
We all sat here last week and we learned about the amount of time it takes for different things to decompose in a landfill based on information from Cleveland State University. [iii] Remember? A banana peel takes 3-4 weeks … a paper bag about a month … a PLASTIC bag anywhere from 20 years to 10,000 (!) years … aluminum beer and soda cans anywhere from 200 to 500 years! (But you’re right, they can be reused and recycled within 6 weeks so they’re not completely worthless.) And our greatest nemesis … STYROFOAM … How long to decompose? Over 1 MILLION years!!!
I hope you all felt as uncomfortable this week as I did when you looked at Styrofoam in your environment … or that you chose to NOT use plastic bags and went with cloth instead. It’s not because I’m some old hippie that I’m saying these things … and it’s not because I’m going around attacking research installations in order to stop genetic engineering of our vegetables … it’s because I am a follower of Jesus who tells me that I am given the RESPONSIBILITY of this planet. And as a society, we have not been doing a very good job!
But here’s the deal … whether we’re talking about the Book of Genesis where humanity is entrusted with creation … we are to be the STEWARDS … the KEEPERS and NURTURERS of creation … or we’re talking about Jesus reminding us that we are all beloved children of the Living God … our responsibility to take care of the earth is really crystal clear!
And we can’t un-LEARN that.
So which comes first: our recognizing that and then changing our ways … or changing our ways in order to RECOGNIZE that?
Many of you know that I am a big proponent of MOTION precedes E-MOTION … we should start ACTING the way we want to, even if we don’t FEEL it … because eventually our feelings will catch up with us and in the meantime we will have been doing the right thing all along!
It’s true about equal rights.
It’s true about ethical behavior.
It’s true about going to church.
And it’s true about taking care of our PLANET!
The chicken lays the egg that births the chicken that lays the egg …
World-wide, one-third of all food is wasted. In this country, 20-40% of our crops are destroyed because of cosmetic reasons. It doesn’t LOOK good enough to sell. Which comes first: buying only what we need or making it a point to buy ugly things that still taste good?
Last week Jesus asked us if we have food to give him. “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you?” and he answers, “When you feed the least of these, my brothers and sister, you feed me, too.”
Which comes first: loving others or feeding them? If we love them, we’ll feed them and as we feed them, we’ll come to love them. According to the UN, 870 million people go hungry every day.” [iv] Every. Single. Day.
What does it mean to practice our faith at our dining room or kitchen tables?
Which comes first: faith or action?
As far as I’m concerned, faith propels action which propels faith which propels action.
Which comes first: awareness or acceptance?
We are all aware now … there’s no more hiding about this topic. We are all aware that our food choices … our choices to use materials that can be recycled or to use those that take hundreds of years to decompose … those choices make a real DIFFERENCE. They make differences in the lives of people around the world and in the life of the planet itself!
When are we going to ACCEPT our responsibility? … our GOD (!) -given responsibility and step up to the plate? Our awareness leads us to accept our role. Acting on our role as stewards will lead us to greater awareness.
What’s at stake here is:
- the health of our bodies
- the access that others have to food – that’s the “Lord, when did we see you” part of the equation … and
- the health of the earth, which our food choices influence.
Those are the things to be studied in the summer curriculum, Just Food!
So we have to look at this last choice … which comes first … trust or love? Do we trust God and THEN learn to love? Or do we really EMBRACE the fact that we ARE loved … that God IS love so that that love can lead us to trust more, which leads us to greater love which then leads us to more trust????
Y’see I think that just as with MOST things … it’s a flow … an ENERGY flow. We trust and we love … We accept and we become aware … Our faith leads us to act and our actions deepen our faith. We love others / We love GOD and so we FEED them, because whether we are the chicken or the egg … whether we are the caretaker or the creation … we are part of God! And part of the Divine Plan. We have a RESPONSIBILITY here.
As John wrote in today’s epistle: When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day. … There is no room in love for fear.
It’s time. It’s really time for us to step up to the environmental plate because God so loved THIS WORLD!!!! God LOVED this world SO MUCH that God sent his only Son HERE so we might live through him.
So …. You tell me: What would Jesus do????? Amen.
[i] Commentary, 1 John 4:7-21, Brian Peterson, Preaching This Week,WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.
[ii] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-shelby-spong/gospel-of-john-what-everyone-knows-about-the-fourth-gospel_b_3422026.html which is an article by Bishop John Shelby Spong summarizing his book The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic (2014).