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The Gospel of Love

Advent 2016: The Gospel of Love - Sermon #04 - Love
Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • Dec 11, 2016 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Senior Pastor

 

An Tithing Interlude

Right before the start of Advent, I closed our Life in the Spirit sermon series with learning to trust God with our treasure. Practically, I invited all of us to participate in giving, either by making your first contribution or by creating recurring giving account.

 

A quick update: 11 new givers have made their first contribution and 10 existing givers have setup a recurring giving account. Keep it up church, we are making steady progress, only 39 new givers to go. If you give online, you can use a “I give online” card or if you give cash, you can use a giving envelope, both are available on the Bible cart.

Advent Introduction

Today is the fourth Sunday in Advent. Advent is a part of the liturgical calendar where Christians around the world set aside the four Sundays and weeks leading up to Christmas Eve to prepare themselves to receive new hope, peace, joy, and love come to us.

 

Immanuel–God with us.

 

Last week, we considered that joy springs up from gratitude and we were encouraged to create a daily gratitude journal.

 

Today, we consider the theme of love.

 

OOPS! - Upsetting the equilibrium - What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Talking about love can be tricky. Especially when you discuss love in the abstract.

 

We’re supposed to:

Love God.

Love your neighbors.

Love your enemies.

Love yourself.

At one level, we may begin to lose track of what love really is.

 

Is it a feeling, an action, or an emotion, or is it all three? Is it more?

 

Tina Turner sang, “Love is just a second hand emotion.”

 

What's love got to do, got to do with it

What's love but a sweet old fashioned notion

What's love got to do, got to do with it

Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken

 

[Ugh - Analyzing the discrepancy] - But love has been mishandled

 

In some ways love has been so mishandled, minimized, over-emphasized, misinterpreted, and misunderstood by preachers, poets, novelists, and advertisers that we are often at a lost when we talk about love.

 

Try explaining love to a 4 year old. You might start by saying something along the lines of, love is a feeling you have when you care deeply for someone or something. The child might start to poke around the edges of your definition, all in their attempt to grasp your meaning.

 

They might start by asking,

“Is it love when I get to pick what I want to eat for breakfast?”

 

How do you respond?

“Yes, you might love your favorite cereal, but love really is more than a preference.”

 

“Oh, you mean that love is when I win at Connect Four and you lose?” your four-year old responds

 

“Well, sure, the feeling of triumph you get when you win a game is sorta like love, but really, love is more than just winning a game.”

 

“Well,” the child ask, “Then what is love?”

 

Here you may have deviate from your original plan of describing love as a feeling, you might have to go deeper because in the child’s questioning of your definition, you come to realize for yourself that love is more than just a feeling. You might have feelings of love for someone or for the experience of something, but you start to come to realize that love is more than an emotion, it’s more than feelings. Love when we consider it, acts. Love is in this sense is a verb. Love does something. Love is found in the embrace of another; the care for another; the space we create for another. Love is getting up in the middle of the night sleep-deprived to care for the crying four-year. Love, it seems, is caught up in the things we do.

 

Christmas Love Always Does

In some ways, we might say that the arrival of Jesus in the Christmas story is the culmination of God’s “love affair” with the human race. John, the Gospel writer puts it this way,

 

16For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16–17)

 

God has loved us from the very first moment he first thought us up, but you could say we have been in a rocky relationship with God.

 

Let me give you a brief recap of the story of humanity, in the beginning God created the humanity and placed the humanity in a garden–a garden of enough because this garden had everything we needed. God gave us everything and hoped for the best; but we wanted more than everything – we wanted what God had too – so we had to leave the Garden.

 

God tried something more concrete – an agreement, a contract, what the Bible calls a covenant: “I will be your God and you will be my people. You be faithful to me and I will be faithful to you.” But we weren’t faithful.

 

Next God gave us some guidelines, some commandments. Coming towards us, God even wrote them down on rocks so we wouldn’t lose or misplace them, but we broke the commandments and the rocks too.

 

So God took another step in love in our direction. “Let me simplify the covenant,” God said. “Love me and love your neighbor, just those two, and never mind the rocks. I’ll write these two commandments on your hearts, so they aren’t so hard to carry around.” But even that was too much for us.

 

So God took the ultimate step toward us. God said, “From now on you don’t have to come to where I am, however much I’d like you to. I’m so crazy in love with you that I will come all the way to where you are, to be bone of your bone and flesh of your flesh. I will do it all, and all you have to do is believe me – that I love you the way you are, love you enough to become one of you, and that I love you that much, even unto death.”

 

Aha - Disclosing the clue to the resolution - Waiting, we experience love unleashed in vulnerability

This love compelled him to join us, not as a ruling warrior King, but as a defenseless baby:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given (Isaiah 9:6)

 

This coming towards us in love is what we now call the Christmas story, it started when the angels announced to Mary that God was about to do something:

 

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. (Luke 1:26-27, 30-31)

 

Jesus reveals God’s perfect love to us. Love that sees us. Love that accepts us. Love that loves us. This love isn’t indifferent. This love acts, this love does.

 

I would suggest as we enter this Christmas that we take some time to really ponder the vulnerability of God’s love for us; to really meditate on what love come to us really means– that the Creator of the universe loves us so much that he was willing to subject himself to everything we go through, from birth to death, so we’d know how much we are loved. Full stop.

 

That’s what Love does, it acts.

 

It would have been worst if God treated us with indifference, but thanks be to God, he didn’t, he doesn’t. He loves instead. His love takes shape and form, and comes to us as Jesus. And we learn so much about God’s love for us in the person of Jesus. We make sense of love as we view it through it’s action.

 

We can only make sense of love through its action.

 

Whee! - Experiencing the gospel - Love loves, love does

In our most recent sermon series, “Life in the Spirit” we considered the call to discipleship that Jesus places on each of us,

 

24Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26What good will it be for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul? Or what can you give in exchange for your soul? (Matthew 16:24–27)

 

When Jesus calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him, he’s not inviting us to seek out danger, hostility, or suffering. Instead, He’s calling us to do something more basic, yet harder, loving each other with the same kind of self-giving love that he has shown us, and here’s the kicker, whatever the cost.

 

At our core we are “biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong.

 

Every act of self-denial in service for another is an act of love. It’s a way of living life that allows us to enthrone love in our lives, in the lives of those we are loving, and in a world that’s desperate for love.

 

See,

 

It’s hard to be cruel to someone your loving.

It’s hard to cheat on someone you loving.

It’s hard to misuse, abuse, and take advantage of someone you loving.

 

When we aren’t loved, when we don’t belong, when our needs aren’t met, well, we don’t function as we are meant to function. In one sense, you could say we break, often we break down. We start to fall apart. We can grow numb, starting to ache. When we aren’t loved, we can hurt and harm others. We get sick. This absence and lack of love always leads to suffering.

 

This may be why Jesus said that the greatest commands are loving God and loving others.

 

37Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)

 

Jesus knows that our ability to love others flows from the overflow of love that is experienced in our loving God with our whole heart, soul, and strength.

 

John puts this way,

 

18There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 19We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:18–19)

 

When we are settled and secure in God’s love for us, it enables and fuels our love of others. In coming in the person of Jesus, God teaches us that it is through sacrificial, selfless, love that we conqueror the enemies in our lives. We can only do this with God’s help.

 

In order for us to know, experience, and give love, we start with surrendering our fears that we aren’t loved as we are, and trust that what John says in John 3:17 is actually true that God didn’t send Jesus to condemn the world, but to save us.

 

16For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16–17)

 

As we wait on our King to appear, let’s heed the invitation in front of us, let’s figure out how to trust God’s love for us as we learn to love more.

 

Practical Tips - Yeah! - Anticipating the consequence - So I’m free to love

 
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