You Give Love a Bad Name

This is part two of a three part message series called I Want to Know What Love Is. It was preached originally on the same weekend as United Methodist Special General Conference 2019. See What’s Love Got to Do With It and The Power of Love for the rest of the series.

Our scripture reading:

Ephesians 4:1-16 CEB

Unity of the body of Christ

Therefore, as a prisoner for the Lord, I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God. Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all.

God has given his grace to each one of us measured out by the gift that is given by Christ. That’s why scripture says, When he climbed up to the heights, he captured prisoners, and he gave gifts to people.

What does the phrase “he climbed up” mean if it doesn’t mean that he had first gone down into the lower regions, the earth? 10 The one who went down is the same one who climbed up above all the heavens so that he might fill everything.

11 He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. 12 His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ 13 until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son. God’s goal is for us to become mature adults—to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we aren’t supposed to be infants any longer who can be tossed and blown around by every wind that comes from teaching with deceitful scheming and the tricks people play to deliberately mislead others. 15 Instead, by speaking the truth with love, let’s grow in every way into Christ, 16 who is the head. The whole body grows from him, as it is joined and held together by all the supporting ligaments. The body makes itself grow in that it builds itself up with love as each one does its part.

May God add a blessing to the hearing, understanding and living of this Holy word. Amen.

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Sermon: You Give Love a Bad Name

 

ROADTRIP STORY:

Have you ever been on a family road trip? How did that go?

Many of you know that I am a mom of 4 children – at one point it was just the three children. In the summer of 2011, my oldest children were 10, 8 and 5, and I had an unexpectedly open summer schedule.

It seemed like the perfect time to create a road trip that would knock a few things off of my bucket list like seeing The Grand Canyon.

The perfect 2 week road trip was mapped out.  We mapped out the perfect route – first west through New Mexico & Arizona, then up through Nevada & Utah, to Washington State….We came back swinging by Yellowstone Park’s Old Faithful… and the Rockies in Colorado.

Small hiccup in the plan, my husband Dennis had a mandatory graduate school orientation, meaning it would just be my mom, three kids and myself for the adventure. (We brought “flat daddy” along). We also had to switch to a smaller car without the three rows of separation…

Well (sigh) sometimes road trips look great on paper…but reality might be a different experience!

A few things I learned while having 5 people on the road for two weeks, with three of the people being kids:

  • Not every hotel has a swimming pool, but they all should.
  • There are only so many kid appropriate Redbox rentals in the American West.
  • Traveling with small children – you need more snacks than you think you need & nobody is at their best when they’re hungry.
  • Driving with a car full of whining, fighting, and crankiness is no fun at all.
  • Those little dots on the maps in the American West are not really towns, they might just be a couple of houses. There are no places to use the restroom or buy snacks there. I think they just put them there so you’re not scared of being so far between rest stops.
  • Over two weeks is a LONG time to be in close quarters with anybody at all – even the people you love the very most.

Somehow, we survived the adventure and we still love each other. I’m not proud of this, but there may have been moments along that route when I gave the empty threats like “do I need to pull this car over?” and “do I need to leave you all out here by the road if you can’t all stop fighting?!”

Almost 10 years later, I still get flashbacks to that trip if the kids start to argue in the car…But we’re family, so we know we’re going to stick together, right? For the record, I was never going to really leave them there – but I bet I did pull the car over a few times.

Which brings me to this great quote I heard in a podcast recently:

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CLAUDIA RANKINE QUOTE: Poet, essayist and playwright Claudia Rankine said, “I spend a lot of time thinking about, how can I say this so that we can stay in this car together, and yet explore the things I want to explore with you?”[1]

I love this metaphor! Rankine was referring to hard conversations about race relations, but it’s a question that speaks to all sorts of conflicts and division between people.

We live steeped in a culture that constantly tries to put people in one camp or the other, dividing us into our own little factions and groups. We are divided politically and socially, but we even disagree about things like Little League games or whether toilet paper is supposed to go over or under the roll.

While we disagree about many things, it doesn’t have to become an ugly fight.

“How can I say this so that we can stay in this car together, and yet explore the things I want to explore with you?”

As the Body of Christ, this is a question worth pondering before we speak to each other and especially before we speak about each other. As we may have vastly different life experiences and vastly different understandings, how can we speak to one another in a way that creates unity, in a manner that increases understanding, one that keeps us together?

Every community of people has disagreements, every church has disagreements. Change is hard, especially within the walls of a community we hold so closely in our heart. I can’t tell you how many complaints I hear if we make a change from the “way things always have been.” What are some from year’s past that you can remember having here at New World? (carpet color? Worship times?)

I confess, it might not be 100% coincidental that this sermon title was assigned to this week of the series…

This weekend, 864 representatives from the global UMC are having a called general conference to decide the denomination’s official stance on whether a church building or a clergyperson can perform same sex marriages, and on the full inclusion of our LGBTQ siblings’ ordination as clergy. This is a conference that may end up with a fight. While we do not yet know the outcome, the decision is one that will impact our global denomination in ways we cannot yet see.

As you might guess, I am connected to a LOT of United Methodists through social media. I estimate that 70% or so of my FB connections are tied to The United Methodist Church in some way. It has been a tough few weeks for me to even look at what people are love and respect deeply are posting and commenting. I’ve hidden my FB icon on my phone so I don’t easily click on it.

Our culture loves a good fight, doesn’t it?

The problem is, when Christians fight, all the world sees is the fight. It doesn’t usually happen on a big, global denominational level, we fight among ourselves about all sorts of things. We all probably know people who have left because of something or someone, perhaps a change that upset them.

No matter the final vote, there will be people who will decide they cannot take anymore, they will make the decision to exit the denominational car, so to speak. It’s hard to watch.

At the local level, here in our local church, there is no requirement that we fight too. We can choose the long road of unity, we can choose to “stay in the car.”

As Christians, we are called to be people of love. When the disagreements happen, especially in very public ways, we “give love a bad name.” We miss out on the opportunity to share the witness of a God who loves all.

This all brings us to our scripture reading for this message. This is a letter to a church that was having disagreements too, the young Christian church at Ephesus (churches have been disagreeing about theology for as long as there have been churches.)

In this short passage from Ephesians, the theme is unity and oneness. I’m going to repeat the first few verses & invite you to count with me the number of times Paul uses the word “one” : Therefore, as a prisoner for the Lord, I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God. Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all.

“One” is used seven times. In the chapters right before this, the writer is talking about our identity in Christ, like last week’s reminder that we are all made in the image of God, we all matter to God.

This is an important lesson for any Body of Christians. In the church, even if we know we should connect to one another, we selfishly pursue our own agendas. Whether it’s politics, religion, whether toilet paper goes over or under…We make other Christians (ones who disagree with our positions) the “bad guys.” When we do this, we are participating in the tearing apart of Christ’s body.

It’s worth pointing out that we are not required to all have the same opinions on things. We are however, called to watch how we conduct ourselves and accept each other with love.

Now, more than ever, an important question to consider: how can we witness to the world that we can be one, that we can give “Love” a good name?

This is where we come back to the idea of agape love. Remember, God’s agape love is freely given, offered without condition. Do you remember the 3 H’s about agape we covered last Sunday – It is a love that is honest, hopeful & humble. It is a love that is looking for the good in other people.

In the Gospel of John, Christ paints a beautiful picture of what it looks like to abide in his presence in love. He says, “I am the true fine, and my Father is the gardener…Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a person remains in me and I in them, they will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing…”

Jesus explains to his followers in this beautiful image of love and charity, friendship and community, that just as a branch cannot bear fruit by itself, his disciples cannot love one another, much less bring others to faith, apart from the abiding love of Christ.

 For some reason, we seem to live as if we were sent in this world to compete with one another, to quarrel and fight. Jesus did not choose us to live a life reflective of the world; Christ did not call us to bring the division of the world into our churches. Rather we are to represent Christ in the world. Jesus chose us, first to come to him and then go out to the world. And that must be the daily pattern and rhythm to our lives.

As friends of Christ, Christians, we are called to a commitment of solidarity toward unity as we witness in a broken and divided world. We are to live in such a way that we show what is meant by loving one another. We are not sent out to argue people into Christianity, nor to threaten them into it, but to attract them into it through our love; so to live that its fruits may be so wonderful others will desire them for themselves.

We have to figure out ways to have difficult conversations but work through our differences. We have to set aside our own pride and personal agendas in order to work hand-in-hand to reach out to the world.

When Christians focus more on the differences than what unites us, we are not reflecting the love of Christ, we are not bearing fruit. While we are busy arguing, the world looks at us and wonders, what’s so great about God because Christ’s church seems just as ineffective as every other institution in the world.

When we are divided over differences of opinions, love must prevail.

Christ has come so that we will bear fruit that will last, whether in terms of a single life changed because we loved somebody as Jesus loved us, or in terms of a single decision we had to make or tasks we had to perform, through which the world became a different and better place.

Love makes both the lover and the beloved more like Jesus.

Brothers and sisters, I want to be more like Jesus. I think we all do. I want to love like Christ loved.

I want to affirm that you are worthy of receiving that love too. You are a worthy, precious child of God. When I say that, I am saying that to each and every one of you.

You are a worthy, precious child of God.

I am tired of the fighting and the division. I’m tired of having to try and defend a church that looks less and less like the body of Christ and more and more like the divided world around us.

New World, it is my deepest prayer that we can be countercultural in the best ways imaginable. That we can be a community of faith who loves God and loves neighbors unconditionally. That we can give love a good name by how we love one another.

CLOSE IN PRAYER/CUE FOR BAND

Let us pray:

God of deep and abiding love, God of all people,

We confess that there are moments when we fail to love you with our whole hearts, and when we fail to show grace to one another as your children of God. Forgive us for failing to see the harm we inflict when we use the excuse of “speaking the truth in love” to really mean “telling others what they are doing wrong.” Instead, lead us to treat one another with grace and love, especially those with whom we disagree.

This weekend, we pray for our global church, the delegates at General Conference, and for the decisions being made. We recognize and lament that decisions made have the potential to cause deep harm to our brothers and sisters in Christ. We pray that your Holy Spirit fills the conversations and decision making, and we trust that you are still God.

No matter the outcome, we pray to be a community that loves you with our whole hearts, people who share your love with all of our neighbors, and to “give love a good name” as your representatives.

We pray to be worthy of the name “Christ follower.”

In the name of Jesus Christ we pray, amen.

[1] https://onbeing.org/programs/claudia-rankine-how-can-i-say-this-so-we-can-stay-in-this-car-together-jan2019/?utm_source=The+Upper+Room+%E2%80%94+Engage+With+Us&utm_campaign=a796217e55-AcademyBulletin_2.12.19&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_0542d9a4cf-a796217e55-204260781

What’s Love Got to Do With It

This is message one of a three-part sermon series called “I Want to Know What Love Is.” See “You Give Love a Bad Name” and “The Power of Love” for the rest of the series.

1 John 4:7-21 CEB

Love and God

Dear friends, let’s love each other, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God. The person who doesn’t love does not know God, because God is love. 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.

whats love got to do with it

 

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.”[1]

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.

(see video: https://www.ignitermedia.com/products/8873-love-no-exceptions)

 

 

[1] http://theranch.org/2004/10/27/norman-vincent-peale-theres-a-story/