All You Need Is Love
(1 John 4: 7-21)
Over fifty years ago the Beatles had a hit record with the song: All You Need Is Love. The song is basically saying that, in order to make it in life, all you need is love. I’m sure the love they are talking about is the love shared between human beings and maybe even our pets. From the time we are born we crave the love and attention of those around us. We are, of course, the center of the universe at that point, and our concentric circles of love expand as we grow and interact with others. We have the love of family that, no matter what, we love them because they are family. Love of parents, love of children, love of brothers and sisters, love of all the other special relatives. Then you have the love of those close friends who are always there for you, who defend you against all others, who act as a confidant, who will be honest and tell you what you need to hear.
Jesus, during his time spent on earth, experienced those same loves. He had the love of his mother, step-father and his siblings. He had the love of the disciples, like John who was referred to as the one whom Jesus loved. He had the love of friends like Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha.
But in our scripture reading for today the Apostle John is talking about a different kind of love. John, the author of this letter, was one of the original disciples and may, at the time this letter was written, have been the last of the surviving Apostles. The letter was probably written between 85 and 90 A.D. from Ephesus. It wasn’t written to any particular church and was probably sent as a pastoral letter to several Gentile congregations. John says that, God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. John is talking about a greater love, a love instilled in your heart by God, for others. Even the non-believers, those who don’t know God, can love those close to them. I’ve often wondered about those people who show their love for others but don’t profess their love for God. Maybe God lives in them and they just don’t realize it. Maybe they are spiritual and are just turned off by organized religion. They don’t see church as relevant because we don’t radiate love for others. The challenge for us, is that if we truly have the love of God, can we love the stranger, can we love the hard to love, the unlovable? He’s talking about love made perfect in God, through Jesus Christ.
He starts this portion of his letter by saying, Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. Notice that John says everyone. There are no qualifiers. He doesn’t say they have to be Jewish or Followers of the Way. They don’t even have to be Methodists! The point is that Christians do not have a corner on the market of loving God. For some of us, myself included, this can be a pretty tough concept. Like most people, I consider myself a pretty lovable guy and I believe I know God. Let me clarify. I know God better now than I may have previously. But come on, there are some extremely unlovable people out there, some I’ve met and some I have not met. With all my experiences as a police officer, a criminal defense attorney and a prosecutor, it would be understandable if I were a tad bit jaded and judgmental and developed one of those attitudes like, I may be a sinner but at least I’m not as bad as that sinner. God took me to task and put me in a position where I would have to really get to know a segment of our society that we would rather not admit walks among us. Drug addicts and alcoholics who, because of their addiction, found themselves in trouble with the law. I mean, if they really want to get well and be a better person, all they have to do is stop. God put me in Drug Court where I got to sit at the table every week with people who were wrestling with their demons, oftentimes several demons at a time. I got to listen to their stories and learn about their struggles and experience their continuing struggle. I came to see them as just another flawed human being and I realized that it was not up to me to judge their behavior. I saw them as people who had worth and were valued by God as one of his children. I even remember saying on at least one occasion, “Well, if Jesus loves you, I can’t think of any reason why I can’t love you.” I can guarantee you, that is something that has probably never been said to them by a prosecutor or any other person in authority, ever. Here’s a question to ponder. What if we changed the words of Jesus Loves Me? From Jesus loves me to Jesus loves them. Go ahead, sing it this way: Jesus loves them this I know for the Bible tells me so. Addicted ones to him belong, for they are weak, but he is strong. As I was old enough to be their parent and, in some cases, a grandparent, I began to see them as children, my children and God’s children. Hopefully, because the love of God was growing within me, I was able to see them and love them as God intended.
John reminds his readers that God showed his love to us by sending his only son into the world that we might live through him. This, John says, is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. John tells us that since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. To underscore this point he reminds us that no one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. This is the missing component in the Beatles song, the component of God’s love for others as demonstrated by us, his children. God’s love for humanity is made complete when it lives in us and we show it without conditions or restrictions.
We have love and want to give our love but we have this fear of rejection. What we ask, if I show my love for someone and they reject my love? Rejection can be devastating. But John tells us, there is no fear in love. Perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. We just have to trust our instincts, lead with love and put ourselves out there. As if we needed a nudge, John pointedly tells us that the one who fears is not made perfect in love. No excuses. Just do it.
John closes out this portion of his letter by reminding us that we love because God first loved us and then says that if anyone says he loves God, yet hates his brother, he is a liar, for anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. Whoever loves God must also love his brother. Pretty much cut and dry.
So how do we overcome this fear of rejection and show others the love of God? We do it by following the examples set for us by Jesus Christ who was the complete expression of God in human form as he revealed God to us. When we love one another, the invisible God reveals himself to others through us, and his love is made complete. Our job is to love faithfully the people God has given us to love, whether there are two or two hundred of them. If God sees that we are ready to love others, he will bring them to us or afford us the opportunities to show our love. No matter how shy we are, we don’t need to be afraid of the love commandment. God provides us the strength to do what he asks.
We know that God’s love is the source of all human love and his love is all we need. In loving us, his children, God kindles a flame in our hearts and, in turn, when we love others, they are warmed by God’s love through us.
God is preparing us for something. I can feel it in my bones! What could it be? Whatever it is, I know we are up to the task because if Community United Methodist Church didn’t have the love of God indwelling in it, we couldn’t do a fraction of what’s been done over the years that this church has been here. The love of God abides in us, the flame has been kindled in our hearts, and we can and will do so much more because all you need is love.
Please pray with me.
God of love, oh how we love thee. How grateful we are for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that guides us and moves us to love others as you have loved us. Embolden us to put aside our fear and to venture out into the community around us to meet people where they are and to extend the hand of Christian fellowship that shows that your love abides in us and that we abide in you. Through the work and the guidance of the Spirit prepare us for the challenges we will face in spreading the love of your Son to those who long to experience the peace and joy that we experience as your children in the life we live here in preparation for that great day when we will be united with you in eternity. In the name of all that is good, we pray, Amen.