It’s no secret that one of my favorite spiritual practices is to integrate art and faith – including the art and imagery of photography. Lent, the reflective, somber season of preparation before Easter’s arrival, is a perfect time to pause and be thoughtful.
How is God at work in your daily life? Show us through a photo.
Beginning on Wednesday, you are invited to participate alongside me in a Lenten photo challenge:
How it works: Each day is assigned a different word. The words are intentionally open-ended, open to your interpretation. Take a photo that makes you think of the day’s word. You can explain it or not, that’s up to you. You can participate every day, or just when a particular word speaks to you. Just post the photo with the hashtag “NWUMCLent” on your social media of choice so we can find it and share it.
It is my hope and prayer that you will pause, reflect and grow a bit closer to God in the journey.
Bonus: The theme of our Lenten sermon series at New World UMC is “Giving Up.” (I preach on 3/8, 3/15 and 4/12 if you want to show up in real life!) Rev. Leslie Byrd and I will be creating daily devotionals to go with each photo challenge word. I’ll post them here too – so feel free to follow this blog for a daily Lenten devotional to bless your day!
7 Dear friends, let’s love each other, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God. 8 The person who doesn’t love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how the love of God is revealed to us: God has sent his only Son into the world so that we can live through him. 10 This is love: it is not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as the sacrifice that deals with our sins.
11 Dear friends, if God loved us this way, we also ought to love each other. 12 No one has ever seen God. If we love each other, God remains in us and his love is made perfect in us. 13 This is how we know we remain in him and he remains in us, because he has given us a measure of his Spirit. 14 We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the savior of the world. 15 If any of us confess that Jesus is God’s Son, God remains in us and we remain in God. 16 We have known and have believed the love that God has for us.
God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them. 17 This is how love has been perfected in us, so that we can have confidence on the Judgment Day, because we are exactly the same as God is in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love. 19 We love because God first loved us. 20 Those who say, “I love God” and hate their brothers or sisters are liars. After all, those who don’t love their brothers or sisters whom they have seen can hardly love God whom they have not seen! 21 This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also.
What’s Love Got to Do With It
Key point: Love has everything to do with it; Following God means sharing Christian love that is honest, hopeful and humble.
A few months ago I posted on my Facebook wall, “What are your unpopular opinions?”
It started a long thread of comments about what people liked and disliked – a surprising number of people didn’t seem to think pizza was all that. I also noticed that we use the word “hate” too easily. My unpopular opinion was that I hate musicals – which prompted an unexpectedly strong reaction and so many people telling me I just haven’t seen the right ones…it’s just not my thing. But we use “hate” loosely, as in, I hate traffic, I hate certain collegiate rival football teams to my alma mater (but I wouldn’t dare say that in front of a crowd!), I hate roaches! (shudder)
“Love” is a funny word too, isn’t it? I use that word to describe my love for a lot of things – coffee, English toffee, TexMex food, Chick-Fil-A waffle fries.
I love Jesus and my church.
I love a lot of people, of course (with a special shout out to my parents, husband and 4 kids)
But I also say love the shows “This is Us” and “The Office.”
We use this word to describe things we like a lot, we use the word easily and take it lightly.
Love is a word that’s hard to define. It’s slippery. It’s easier to explain the effects of how it feels to be loved than to try to explain what it is.
Love has everything to do with what it means to be a follower of Jesus, yet sometimes we make it too complicated. We mess it up.
In the next few messages, we will deepen our understanding of characteristics of the biblical love mentioned in the passage I just read.
We are called to give and receive love in all directions – we love UP when we love God, we love IN community when we love one another, and we love OUT when we offer that love to the world. We’ll look at the obstacles that keep us from loving well, and hopefully be sent from this place equipped to love just a little bit better.
What are some characteristics of biblical love? 3 H’s Honest, Hopeful & Humble
This Christian love we are talking about is HONEST.
Matthew 5:23-24 “Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift.”
When we disagree with someone, we have a lot of options nowadays, don’t we? The easiest option could be just to walk away from that relationship altogether. We can vent online or to our other friends, we can get busy and ignore each other. But if we look at this line in Matthew, then we are challenged that to love one another, we cannot just go about carrying on grudges. Intimately tied to our love for God, we have to make things right and settle our differences with each other before we honor God.
Honest, genuine love for our sisters and brothers is determined to set things right, but reconciliation is hard, vulnerable work.
Norman Vincent Peale used to tell a story was about an African boy who gave his missionary teacher an unusually beautiful seashell as a Christmas gift. The boy had walked a great distance, over rough terrain, to the only place on the coast where these particular shells could be found. The teacher was touched. “You’ve traveled so far to bring me such a wonderful present,” she said. The boy looked puzzled, then his eyes widened with excitement: “Oh, teacher,” he explained, “long walk part of gift.”
One of the greatest gifts we can give each other is taking the “long walk” of reconciliation. It may be tempting to just let differences slide, ignore the problem and hope it goes away. But, the problem is that the problems are still there under the surface. Think of love in Christian relationships like car maintenance – you can choose to ignore the transmission problem or neglect getting an oil change and the car will probably keep going, but eventually it will deteriorate. Or like nourishing a garden – if we don’t take care of our relationships, pulling out the weeds of disagreement and dealing with them, eventually the whole garden suffers.
Life makes it difficult to love well – we get too tired, too busy or too proud to love well. But fear is the primary thing that keeps us from love.
1 Corinthians 13:7 “Love puts up will all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.”
We live in a culture with a 24 hour, 7 day a week news cycle of doom and gloom, conflict and division. It is hard to hear a story without the narrative of “us vs. them.” We are bombarded with messages telling us to fear people who are different, warning us about whichever-group-thinks-differently-than-you and all of the bad things that could happen if the “bad guys” get their way. The news reports want us to live in fear, but “there is no fear in love, perfect love casts out fear.” Which brings us to the second H:
In addition to being honest, Christian love is full of HOPE.
Augustine once said, “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.”
The problem with putting other people in categories, making them issues, is we lose sight on their God-given humanity. God’s love is a love of hope. When you hope in others, you see them as God sees them. You cannot help but realize that everyone (yes everyone!) is worthy of God’s love.
No matter our differences and no matter the circumstances, if we can grow to a place where we are seeing the wonderful in one another, that is a love full of hope.
The third H – Christian love is a love full of Humility.
Philippians 2:5-8 “Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus: Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings. When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
We know that Jesus modeled humility when he died on the cross. He also recruited unlikely disciples from humble positions and associated with the lowest of the low. It’s beautiful to consider that, although we are unworthy of God’s love, God loves us anyway.
When we disagree with one another, which happens, a model of Christian love is to remember that we are all beloved children of God, even when we disagree.
With humility as our guide, we can look past the faults of others, look past our differences of opinions, quit casting people away into categories and issues, and care for one another.
What keeps us from love?
The opposite of these three H’s honest, hopeful and humble? Deceitful, doubtful and proud. When we live from a place of deceit, doubt, pride and fear, we struggle – it’s pretty much impossible – to create love, empathy, compassion or care for one another. While the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control, the fruit of fear is distrust, suspicion, slander, resentment, grudges, murder and violence.
God’s love is a love for all directions.
We are called to both give and receive God’s love, love one another, and even love ourselves.
As we close this first message on love, I want to end with this video about what it means to follow Jesus.
Last Sunday I preached a sermon called “The Candle” that included a sermon illustration about getting ready for when company is coming. John the Baptist is preparing the way for Jesus ministry in Luke 3:1-6, we too can use Advent to prepare our hearts and minds for an arrival. There’s only so much a person can fit in a sermon. (Well, I imagine I could make my sermons longer and fit in as much as I can, but nobody wants that!) Today’s Advent devotional is from my “cutting room floor,” a part of the sermon that I didn’t quite get to fit in last Sunday’s message.
Today’s Advent word is “Open” as part of our Advent Photo Challenge. I am interpreting the word as an Open Door, a place of welcome.
As people filed out the sanctuary door last Sunday, shaking my hands as they do, at least one person said, “now I feel like I need to get home and clean the house!” Giving folks stress wasn’t the sermon goal.
I want to share today about my “messy house friends.”
See, my sermon was about getting the house clean, and I mentioned that if I know you’re coming, my house will be clean for you. But my closest and dearest friends fall into a special category – they’re my “messy house friends.”
By that I mean that we’ve agreed we’re going to love each other no matter the condition of our homes. We are going to have the kind of friendship that values relationship over a sparkling clean house (think of the story of Mary and Martha with Jesus in Luke 10:38-42 to get the idea.)
In the same way, Jesus loves us no matter where or how we are. Jesus can be like a messy house friend, full of grace for you and accepting you with all of your imperfection. The door is always open.
Even better, Jesus is not only a messy house friend, Jesus will not leave you drowning and suffering in the mess. You are accepted, loved and welcome how you are and you are loved enough that you’ve got company who’ll help you and love you through the messiness of life. That is grace.
God, help me to get past the temptation to get caught up in making my life seem perfect. Instead, God, help me to open my door and my heart to offer hospitality and love to all God’s children. Thank you for the grace you offer me. Amen.