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LOVED BY GOD – Loving God

Read John 14:1-21 – (Part One)

May 21st and 28th I will be preaching a two-part sermon titled:  “LOVED BY GOD – LOVING GOD” (both based on an itnerpretation and application of John 14:1-21.

The text for the first half of this message is below.  You may listen to the audio when you click this link.

Sermons Notes Begin Here:

When Jeana and I were younger and dating, we use to have some very late night phone conversations.  The calls were long because neither of us wanted to be the first one to hang up the phone.

“Well, I guess I’d better go.  I have a paper due tomorrow that I need to finish.”

“Yeah, I have a text in my Hebrew class, so I guess I’d better hang up, too!”

“Okay, I love you, goodnight.”

“I love you, too, goodnight!”

LONG PAUSE

“Jeana, are you still there!” 

“Yes, I’m still here!”

“Why didn’t you hang up?”

“Why didn’t you hang up?”

Then we’d both giggle and go through it again!

“I love you, goodnight!”

“I love you, too.  Goodnight!”

LONG PAUSE

“You didn’t hang up, did you?”

“No, I didn’t hang up.  You didn’t hang up, either.”

“Just hang up the phone!”

“No, you hang up the phone!”

“I can’t say ‘I love you’ and hang up first.”
“Neither can I, you hang up first!”

LONG PAUSE

“Jeana, you are still on the line, aren’t you?”

“So are you!”

Pathetic, isn’t it?

Then one night it happened. After a long conversation I said:  “Well, I guess I’d better get going.  I love you!  Goodnight!”

“Yeah, I am kind of tired.  I love you too,” Jeana said.  “Goodnight!”

CLICK

“Hello, Jeana, are you there?”

No answer!

“Jeana, this is not funny, are you there?”

Still no answer!

I hung up the receiver and the phone immediately rang. 

“Bill, I am so sorry I hung up on you!  I guess I really am tired.”

“It’s okay,” I said, “Now I know for sure that ‘I love you more than you love me!’”

Things are a bit different now.  It usually starts around 7:00PM on a Sunday evening just after dinner.  “Hey, Bill, do you know what you should do?  You should drive down to Food Lion and get us some ice cream.  No, no, wait a minute, not Food Lion, but Dairy Queen.  Yeah, go down the road to Dairy Queen and get us some ice cream.”

“That’s a great idea, except that I am so tired.  Besides, it’s not dark yet.  If you hurry, you can get there and back before the sun sets.” 

Back and forth we go.  Then somebody (usually me) says:  “You know if you REALLY loved me, you would go to Dairy Queen and get us some ice cream.”

“If you REALLY loved me,” Jeana replies, “then we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.  If you really loved me, I’d already be eating my ice cream.”

It’s a long trip, isn’t it, from not wanting to hang up the phone on the other (because of LOVE) – to arguing over who should go out and get the other some ice cream (because of LOVE). 

Truth be told, most of the time, neither of us get any ice cream.  We know that going into the dance, but we are just having a little fun.  Besides, it would not be good for either of us to eat ice cream as much as we want to eat ice cream.  

On some occasions, one of us will relent.  Usually it is whichever one of us wants ice cream the most.  “I will go and get some ice cream.  Just remember that I am the one who went out to get the ice cream because ‘I love you more than you love me!’”

On other occasion, when we are at our best, we will both get in the car together to go and get some ice cream.  Ah, what a wonderful kind of evening.  Is there anything better than sharing a DQ Blizzard with the person you love most in the world?   

Love is about being in relationship with other people.  It’s about sharing intimate moments and an DQ Blizzard. 

Of course, there are different types of love and different levels of intensity in these relationships with others. 

We love our friends at one level.  We’ll hang out with them.  See a baseball game or a basketball game – stuff like that. 

We love our neighbors, too.  We may not know who they are – but if we come across a stranger in need (maybe somebody with a flat tire on the side of the road) we treat them like a neighbor, stop and acting on their behalf. 

We love our children at another level.  Some days my son and daughter may drive me absolutely bonkers, but there has not gone by a single day since they came into my life that I would not lay down my life for my life for their safety and protection.

We love out spouse at yet another level.  Sometimes we may even hop in the car and drive over the Dairy Queen, just to get them some ice cream.   

We love our enemies, too, just like the Bible tells us to.  Or we at least like to pretend that we love our enemies.  I saw a video produced by a Youth Pastor recently that really caught my attention.  The Youth Pastor had been teaching the teenager in his church that Jesus really meant what he said when he said, “Love your enemies and bless those who persecute you!”  That’s a tough thing to teach anyone – especially during a time of war. 

Youth Sunday rolled around and the teens were leading worship.  The worship experience would revolve around Holy Communion worship experience.  One of the teenagers was selected to preach the sermon.  For his text, he chose those words of Jesus:  “Love your enemies and bless those who persecute you.”

He said, “If Osama Bin Laden came to church today and came to the table, he would need to know that he is forgiven.  We would have to serve him communion.  Now, after worship we’d probably have to kill him.  But in worship, at the table, I think we’d have to show him grace and mercy and serve him communion.”

So, there you have it!  In this world of human relations and interactions, there are different kinds of love, different expressions of love, and different levels of love’s intensity. 

The problem for us comes when we enter the realm of theology and begin to talk about the LOVE of God.  Oh, we know that “God so loved the world” as the Gospel of John tells us in the third chapter, the sixteenth verse.  We also know that the Epistle of John, chapter four, verse eight, reads: “God is love!” These verses (and so many others) declare and illustrate that the core of God’s character (God’s DNA, if you wish) is LOVE.

The truth told, however, we have a hard time believing that.  

We think that God’s love is something we have to earn by good behavior.  If that’s true, then love becomes a transaction, rather than a gift.  It becomes something like a “we scratch God’s back and God scratches ours” kind of arrangement. 

Or we think that God must like, love, and accept one group more than God likes, loves, and accepts another.  Now that’s not so bad if we are in the group that God loves the most, is it?

God loves the Baptist more than the Methodist.

God loves the Protestants more than the Catholics.

God loves the Christians more than the Jews or the Muslims.

God loves the Democrats more than the Republicans or the Republicans more than the Democrats.

God loves United States more than any of the other nations.

On and on we go, qualifying who God loves and the intensity with which God loves them.

We even create theological concepts and rational to support our convictions. 

“Yes, God is love.  But God’s love is tempered by God’s justice and holiness!” 

That’s always seemed sort of strange to me.  Please do not misunderstand.  I am not denying that God is holy and just.  What I am denying is that old theological formulation that says that the love of God is held in check by God’s justice and holiness.  The idea that God’s love can only go so far, but no farther.  It’s the idea that somehow some other trait of God’s character holds God’s love back from its fullest expression.

It seems to me to be much more biblical to say that all aspects of God’s character (God’s holiness and justice, for example) should be understood as expressions of God’s love.  “If LOVE is the core attribute of God (and it seems to me that it is clearly biblically so) then EVERYTHING about God must be seen through the prism of God’s love.”

Reading the scripture, the overarching theme is that God loves each of every one of us with a love for us that is amazing.  It is a love without limitations.  It is a love that is without boundaries.   It’s love that crosses over all the borders that we try to build around it. 

When the Apostle Paul wrote about this love, he said that it was at the core of God’s nature.  It is something that existed in the heart of God from BEFORE the foundations of the world.  Listen to Paul’s words from Ephesians 1:4-5:

“Long ago, even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.  His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Christ Jesus.  And this gave him great pleasure.”

Think about that!  Abba loved you BEFORE He even made the world.   Abba is Jesus word for God the Father.  It is the word that Paul says we can use for Father as well.  Romans 8:15 reads:  “For (we) did not receive a spirit that makes (us) a slave again to fear, but (we) received the Spirit of adoption. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

When I was in a Tel Aviv airport, I watched as a little girl and her mother were waiting for the arrival of a flight.  The little girl was watching as people were deplaning, looking for somebody.  Finally she saw him.  It was her father.  “Abba, Abba!” she said.  She was getting very excited.  Finally she broke free from her mother and started fighting her way through the crowd coming off the plan.  Her father saw her, too, and dropped his briefcase and started pushing his way through the crowd to get to his daughter.  Finally they met.  He picked her up.  She wrapped her little arms around her father’s neck, and kept screaming, “Abba, Abba, Abba!”

That’s the spirit that has been placed within us.  It is a spirit that tells us that we really are loved and accepted in the fellowship of God.  Papa loves us and has chosen us to be holy and acceptable.  It was Papa’s gracious plan, put into effect through Jesus the Son, that we should all be adopt into God’s family.  Jesus comes to us, in the power of the Spirit, to tell us and show us what God is really like – to tell us that we are accepted – to reveal God as Abba (as Papa).  GOD REALLY DOES LOVE US – no if, and, or buts.  Before the world was made, Paul says that it was always the plan and intention of Papa to adopt us into his own family.  Paul says that fulfilling this great plan in our lives brings Papa great pleasure. 

For me the most powerful and undeniable truth of the Christian gospel is this:    “God loves every one of us!”  Right now, without any reservations whatsoever, I can look into your eyes and says to you, “Papa loves you!” 

You can’t do anything to make God love you more than he does right now, so stop trying.  There is nothing that you can do to make God love you any less than He does right now, so stop worrying.  Just rest in the reality of this truth!  Let it wash over you.  Let it sink into every crevasse of your being.  Let it get down deep into the dark places of your life that make you feel disqualified from God’s passionate embrace.  Let every fiber of your being bask in this truth:  “Papa loves you!”

But it is not just you.  God’s love is even BIGGER than you.  Know that you can join me at looking into the eyes of anyone on this planet and say with all confidence: “God loves you!”  That’s the core of the Gospel.  That’s the core of what it means to join in God’s mission.  We get to look into people’s eyes and say:  “God’s love is passionate, ardent, unrelenting, without limitation, and without boundary.  God jumps over all barriers, crashes through all walls, and overcomes any obstacle so that everyone everywhere might have the opportunity to experience the reality of divine love.”   

Need evidence of that?  Look at Jesus!  That’s why Jesus came to live among us as one of us.  Jesus Christ is God, the Son of the Father.  Together with the Holy Spirit, Jesus shares in an eternal and intimate communion within the Holy Trinity.  Theologians call this “the Divine dance” or they use the Greek term “perichoresis.”  This term means that when we look at God we see a “love relationship.”

There is a famous sermon by James Weldon Johnson, published in 1922, titled “The Creation.”  The sermon begins like this:

“And God stepped out on space,
and he looked around and said:
“I’m lonely, I’ll make me a world…”

No, that’s not right.  God has never been lonely.  God has always been Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The Holy Trinity is “love relationship.”  So, why were we created?  We were created out of that “love relationship” and we were created to be included in that love relationship.  We were created to be loved, to be included in the dance. 

Do you know who James Tate is?  He’s the young man from Shelton, CT who you’ve been hearing a lot about in the new, recently.   He invited his sweetheart to the prom by posting a note on the school wall made out of card-board cutouts.  The young lady said “Yes!” but the school headmaster said, “No!” 

They said the invite was inappropriate, broke social norms, was unsafe, and against the rules.  But love eventually won out and the headmaster granted him permission to attend the prom.

Right now there are all sorts of forces at work in our lives trying to tell us that we cannot attend the “divine dance.”  The good news is that the love of God overcomes all these forces that seek to keep us away.  We are welcome and included at the dance.

Here’s the good news.  Jesus has come from the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to fulfill the God plan of changing our minds about God.   Jesus has come so that we might know we are loved!  That’s what the cross is all about.  One the cross Jesus took all of our sin and brokenness into himself and onto the cross.  At the cross, Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, reveals that the worst in us cannot overcome the love of the Divine.  Yes, the cross is about grand and glorious concepts like mercy, forgiveness, redemption, and atonement.  But all of these things are seen through the prism of God’s amazing love. 

In this morning’s text, Jesus is with his disciples.  It is the occasion of his final meal with them.  It is his final gathering before he will lay down his life by taking up the cross.  He knows they will be troubled – so he speaks to them about God’s love. 

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. My Father’s house has plenty of room; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.   (John 14:1-3 TNIV)

Jesus is telling them (telling us) that we have a placed with God.  We have a place in God home, a place in God’s family, a place in God’s “love relationship.” 

I like to think that we’ve been invited to the dance. 

Maybe you find that hard to believe.  You’ve looked at you lifestyle and found it wanting in so many respects.  I get that.  I’ve lived a lot of my life feeling like I needed to earn my way and earn my keep with God.  That’s kind of lifestyle can be so troubling because not matter what we do, it is never enough. 

Then we hear Jesus say, “Let not your hearts be trouble.  Trust Papa.  Trust me.  I have made a place for you!”

Next week we will look at this same passage and talk about loving the God who loves us.  This week, however, is all about God’s love.  It’s all about God’s gracious acceptance of us.  It’s all about God’s inclusion of us. 

If you’ve been stressing and straining to earn your way, to earn your keep – just stop it.  Have a little faith that God loves you.  Turn yourself over to that love.  Accept God’s acceptance of you and turn yourself over to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  Let God make his love real in your life.

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