Rev. Dr. Merritt's Sermon for March 18, 2012
How Do I Love Thee
Rev. Dr. Jim Merritt
March 18, 2012
Do you remember Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem? How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight For the ends of Being and ideal Grace. I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light. I love thee freely, as men strive for Right; I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise. I love thee with a passion put to use In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith. I love thee with a love I seemed to lose With my lost saints, --- I love thee with the breath, Smiles, tears, of all my life! --- and, if God choose, I shall but love thee better after death.
This is a beautiful poem that has stood the test of time. While that is true, I want to suggest a shift this morning. Let’s ask, “How does God love us , let us count the ways.” While we’re at it let’s also ask, “How do we love God,” and let’s count our own ways. Finally, “How do we love each other?” How DO love thee? Pray with me.
God, the more we study scripture the more often we come face to face with you love. We experience it and we are challenged to share it with others. Show us your word this morning, give us eyes to see, ears to hear and feet to make it happen. In Jesus’ name we pray, AMEN.
Most of you know the most famous part of this text like you know the palms of your own hands. There are some variations, but basically it says, “for God so loved the world that God gave God’s only son so that whoever believes in him would not perish and have eternal life.” We have dealt with it before in my sermons, you’ve heard other preachers work it over, you’ve seen it on billboards, bulletin boards, on posters at football games, on bumper stickers. I dare say that there are few places that some of us have NOT seen it. Therefore, let us look at the broader implications of the entire reading.
Here is the question for the hour. Is God primarily a God of love or is God primarily a God of justice? The difference is subtle and the overlaps are significant and this is important for us to think about. Luther Seminary professor David Lose says, “We need to be careful, of course, not to separate these two completely from each other. Justice, at its best, flows from a sense of love, and love demands justice. This is why as much as I tend to emphasize God's love, I must also think and talk about God's judgment: judgment is the flip side of justice, lose the one and you've lost the other.”
This oh so familiar Gospel reading from John leads us to ask this question. Notice two important things. First, God’s overwhelmingly dominant stance toward humanity, and toward the whole world or kosmos (in the Greek)is one of love. Interestingly, almost every time the word “world” is used in John, it is used negatively. It is used to refer to an entity that is primarily at odds with God. So try this on with me; what we are shown is that God loves this God-hating world so much that God is willing to give God’s only son to show how great that love is. I think you will agree with me that’s pretty amazing, even coming from God.
Now, let’s be clear. God’s gift of Jesus is not some sort of “get out of jail free” card. While there is a great deal of love in this reading, judgment or justice is also present. But notice the nature of that judgment. It really is not that angry God that seeks to destroy those who were formerly the chosen ones of God. This judgment has become more passive than that. Judgment and/or consequences come from our own reaction to the light of Christ. In John, Professor Lose says, “judgment is disclosed in and through the crisis that is created when we are encountered by the living Christ and either are drawn to the light to have our deeds exposed and forgiven that we may be embraced by God's love or flee the light in our fear and brokenness.”
Many who encountered Jesus were so concerned about their position in the community, that they refused to tell others about their involvement or even their belief in him. Those whose family members were healed by Jesus refused to share that fact with their sisters and brothers in the temple. Why? Because the feared the loss of position. They were afraid they would be excluded. Governmental and thereby religious leaders encountered Jesus and even, no let me say especially¸ they would not confess it before their communities because they feared a loss of power and position and status. It is that practice of hiding the light of Christ in secret or, as the song says, hiding it under a bushel, that brings about judgment here. What is that judgment” It is alienation from God, exclusion from the kin-dom and all its blessing.
Why is all of this important? Here it is. While love and justice cannot be separated, they cannot be treated as equals either. Either we believe that God is primarily and ultimately a God of judgment and suspends God’s love for all of creation OR we believe that God suspends the justice we might deserve and demonstrates compassion out of God’s love for us. I want to offer you an opportunity to shift your thinking this morning. Some of you have heard it before. I want you to really try this on. God sent God’s son to show how much God loves you. God wants to be in forever relationship with you that God sent you God’s most deeply beloved. God did not sent the son because you were so bad that you were on the slippery slope to an eternal hell from which you could not be saved. God sent the son because if God’s deep deep love for you. Let me be clear, if that does not work for you, please, hold on to your old ways of thinking. I will not be offended. However, try on a God who loves you this much. How does God love you? Let’s just count the ways.
One final note: the clear call of scripture is for us to demonstrate reciprocal love for God. When we really love God the way God loves us, our actions will show it. Our attitudes will show it, our interactions will show it, and our very lives will show the deep deep love of God alive in our hearts and minds and spirits. When we love God with all our hearts and minds and souls, people will look at us and say, “there’s something different about her…there’s something different about him.” What will that difference be? The love of Jesus present in every fiber of our being. Perhaps that can be our focus for the remainder of this season of Lent. Love like Jesus. Live like Jesus. Lead like Jesus and cause people to wonder, “How does she love me, let me count that ways…”
God bless you this morning. AMEN.