“Feeling the Love”

~ 1 John 4 ~

There are a lot of words in the bible and church about God, words that attempt to describe God, define God. Words like ‘almighty’, ‘all-powerful’, ‘majestic’, ‘sovereign’ ‘unchanging’, ‘omnipresent’, ‘holy’. Theologians through the ages have stumbled around trying to define God. For every description of God that might suggest actually relating to us humans there’s another description that suggests God is completely and utterly separate from us humans. They have created a bifurcated God – a completely remote, immutable, impassive God yet who somehow is merciful and compassionate and, well, loving. Thus, to Augustine, God does not truly grieve over the suffering of the world; according to Anselm, God does not experience compassion within the Godhead; according to Calvin, when the bible speaks of God’s compassion it is merely a figure of speech to help accommodate our finite understanding. When it came to the question of how God was present in the person of Jesus, who obviously suffered, they speculated that it was only the human nature of Jesus that suffered and not his divine nature.

Most theologies, both Protestant and Catholic, always started with what were called the “absolute” or “incommunicable” attributes of God (eternal, immutable, omnipresent, self-existing, etc.). Then, later on, they would describe what were called God’s “relative” or “communicable” attributes (holiness, mercy, patience, wisdom, love). Any attribute that was about how God related to humans was purely secondary; not an essential characteristic of God.

To all this I say “hooey.” It is all a bunch of hooey. All of our speculation about who God is, with such pompous language, is way off the mark. Instead it is really quite simple. There is only one place in the bible that speaks to the essence of God. There is only one phrase that “defines” God, if you will. That is the phrase we encountered in our reading from 1 John 4: “God is Love.” There are lots of words that describe God’s attributes; but there is only one that is about God’s very essence: “God is Love.” Let me say it again, in God’s essence God is only one thing: love. Nowhere does the bible say, “God is holiness,” or “God is justice.” Only this: God is love.

God is love. Love is God. They are interchangeable. Let that sink in and it changes everything. How we think about God matters. Love, love, love: that’s how we should think about God.

That’s what Bishop Michael Curry said. Bishop Curry is the 27th and current presiding bishop and primate of The Episcopal Church in America. And he was  the giver of one of the most talked-about sermons in recent history: “The Power of Love” given at the royal wedding of Prince Henry of Wales and Meghan Markle in May of this year. It raised quite a few eyebrows (which is a thing in England, raising of the eyebrows). No royal wedding had ever seen the likes of this preacher.

Love was the theme. Love, love, love! People in the audience were heard to say, “If he says ‘love’ one more time, I’m going to…” He said ‘love’ a lot. He his sermon on a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr: “We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world, for love is the only way.”

Curry went to this passage from 1 John 4: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God, and those who love are born of God and know God… Why? Because God is love.”

And based on this truth, Bishop Curry went on to talk about the nature of love and how love really is the answer to the world’s problems. “Imagine,” he said, “a world where love is the way.” He went on:

Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial, and in so doing, becomes redemptive. And that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love changes lives, and it can change this world.

“If you don’t believe me, just stop and imagine. Think and imagine a world where love is the way.”

Imagine our homes and families where love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way.

Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce where this love is the way.

Imagine this tired old world where love is the way. When love is the way – unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive.

When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again.

When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.

When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary.

When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more.

When love is the way, there’s plenty good room – plenty good room – for all of God’s children.

“Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well… like we are actually family.

When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all, and we are brothers and sisters, children of God.

My brothers and sisters, that’s a new heaven, a new earth, a new world, a new human family.

That is the way of God – the God of love. The theologians who claim that God is not affected by stuff, who is remote and impassive and unchanging, don’t know the God of love. God cannot love us humans and remain aloof. Love is not something that can be done without being vulnerable. We love each other by interacting with each other, by being affected by each other, by being changed by each other. I am convinced that is how God loves us – with vulnerability and affection and change. In short, that is what compassion is all about. God loves us and we love each other – pretty simple formula. And with that I conclude with Bishop Curry’s conclusion: “My brother, my sister, God love you, God bless you, and may God hold us all in those almighty hands of love.” Amen.

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