Sunday, May 10, 2015

Barbara Moyer Lehman: How is love revealed?

Easter 6: The living Christ invites us to obey
I John 5:1-6; John 15:9-17

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Kenneth Osbeck, a church musician, who has compiled some books that give the background stories to many of our older hymns wrote this: “The amazing thrill of the gospel is that we do not have to be good first, in order to be loved by God.  We are already loved just as we are.  It is impossible to define and describe divine love and the transformation it produces in the life of one who receives it by faith.  But this love can be experienced by anyone who desires it.”  (p. 60 Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions).

The love of God is nothing that we earn.  Divine love is difficult to describe, yet we try.  The hymn we just sang, (The Love of God) is a good example of how one attempted to put into words something that is beyond our comprehension or our ability to articulate with human language.

The text and music for the hymn was completed in 1917 by a Nazarene pastor, Frederick Lehman and his daughter, Claudia.  The story behind the song is that the unusual 3rd verse, which captures my attention, was a small part of a lengthy ancient poem composed in 1096 by a Jewish songwriter in Germany, by the name of Rabbi Mayer.  Originally written in the Arabic language, the lines were found in a slightly adapted form, scratched on the walls of a patient’s room in, what was called an insane asylum.  When the patient died, the words were discovered and eventually read at a Nazarene religious campmeeting where Frederick Lehman heard them for the first time.  He was so deeply moved by the profound depths in the lines that he wanted them preserved for future generations.  He later wrote the first two verses and a chorus, and included this unusual, but vivid description of God’s love, from a much earlier time period. (sing 3rd verse again, if time)

For several weeks we have been using texts from the gospel of John and from the first letter of John.  The themes that keep circulating around and rise to the surface over and over of both books are: God’s love for us, our love for God and our love for one another!


Authentic love for God involves obedience to his commandments, in particular the love command as revealed in Jesus, the incarnate Son.  Love for God consists in keeping God’s commandments.  And God commands us to love our brothers and sisters.  Love of God and love for brothers and sisters are mutually dependent.

 How is love revealed?
          3 ways to look at this...
1.)  How is God’s love revealed/shown to us?
          -God’s love is most evident thru the Incarnation, thru the sacrifice of God’s one and only Son for us.
          -God’s love is revealed to us every day that we inhabit a universe, a world, created with such beauty and precision and order.  We experience the beauty of the changing of the seasons, the ebb and flow and rhythm of each day, week, month, year.  Spring time brings the earth back to life, every year, emerald grass, flowering trees, filled with new life and new birth.
          -God’s love is shown to us thru the relationships we have.  God created us, not to be alone, not to live in isolation, but to be in families, in relationship with one another. Those relationships take on different forms and no two look alike. God’s love is manifest in the relationships we have with family and friends, and as we live in community.

2.)  How is our love for God revealed/made known?
          - our love for God is revealed in our level of commitment to following Christ.
          -it is made known in how we live out our faith on a daily basis
          -it is made known in what we are modeling to others, how we live our lifestyle, our witness to those around us and the larger world. 
          -in the sacrifices we might choose to make
          -in how obedient we are to Christ’s commandments
          -in how we trust and whether we are willing to yield, to let go of our need to be in control, to let go of power, to forego the need to determine the outcome
          - in our willingness to empty ourselves
          -in whether what we believe and say we believe, is congruent with how we live.

3.)  How does our love for one another show itself today in our homes, faith communities and in the larger society?
          -Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  No one has greater love than this; to lay down one’ s life for one’s friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you.  I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing, but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.  You did not choose me but I chose you.  And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”

          -Love one another means we function both as servants, and as friends.  In earlier chapters of John’s gospel we are reminded of the servant role when we looked at footwashing.  I even preached on that practice last October, when we did a series on church practices, and Allyssa Shenk and I washed each other’s feet at the end of the sermon.
          -showing love for one another in servant roles is familiar territory to many Mennonites.
          -Practice mutual aid...come together to buy supplies for and pack 1500 school kits every year.
          -Knot comforters, quilt blankets for relief sales, knit prayer shawls
          -Extend hospitality to the homeless persons in the community by hosting OPEN DOORS every year for a week.
          -Organize work teams to help a family rebuild a home after a natural disaster, or to clean up after a flood or tornado, or partner with a group of Kenyans to build a sand dam.
          -Take a special offering to support a special need that arises in a community or with a family, or help to build part of a church or put on a new roof
          -Sponsor a refugee family who is trying to get established in our community.
          -Employ someone in our business or home who recently lost a job.
          -Speak out on justice issues.
          -Give to the compassion fund
We do all of these things quite readily and generously.  We show our love for one another in how we share our resources and give our money, support worthy causes, and do things for others, as servants, in the name of Christ.

I wonder, how well do we show love for one another as friends?  How well do we function as friends?
          -Is it easier to make a meal and drop it off for someone, than it is to take the time to sit down and listen to their story
          -Is it easier to write a check for $50 for groceries than it is to take someone to the store, help them shop and prepare a meal.
          -Friendships require commitment
          -Friendships require nurturing
          -Friendships deepen when we walk with one another, spend time together and listen to one another.
         
Who are your friends and how do you show them you love them?
How do you show you care for them?
How have you seen others show love for another?
How is love shown within your family?

Stories of God’s love:
1.)  Two weeks ago, April Sachs was giving birth about this time, Sunday morning to their 3rd child.  Two days later, I visited her in the hospital and had the chance to hold little Micah.  My maternal feeling came strong as I held him, but he wasn’t mine to keep.  As I handed him back to April, I saw the love of mother and child, a new strong healthy bond beginning to form in a new way as he was now hers to hold on her lap.
2.)  One week ago John and I were in Indianapolis visiting with his mother (99years old) who lives with his sister and her husband.  For several days we observed the strong love between mother and daughter, the caring way Rose and her husband have served mother, taking care of her needs for 4 years.  They willingly opened their home to her, gave up their formal dining room and turned it into her bedroom, and sacrificed some things but have done so graciously.  But I also noticed the night before we left, the strong love and affection between mother and son, my husband, as she rested her head on John’s shoulder, and thanked us for making the effort to come and visit her.  As John put his arm around mother’s shoulder, she wept and expressed deep gratitude to us.  15 minutes later I experienced that love as well.  I told her I loved her and reminded her that she has been part of my life longer than my own mother, since my mom died when I was 30.   God’s love made evident and experienced in the strong bond of mother and child.
3.)  I saw love expressed at some recent CLC meetings between persons who hold different beliefs, especially on the issue of same gender relationships and what direction the MC might take.  Two conference ministers who represent conferences in MCUSA that are at the opposite end of the spectrum, regularly room together at these 3 day meetings...and do so every year.  They affectionately embrace even after difficult meetings of discernment.
4.)  Yesterday’s memorial service for Nicole Yoder, we heard sharing and stories from friends......testifying that Nicole was a gifted listener, a kind person.  She had many friends and many wanted to help her, tried to help her with her eating disorder, but they couldn’t fix her, couldn’t cure her, couldn’t change her.  When they accepted that, they could more readily, be her friend, hang out with her, enjoy her company when they could, learn from her, see the face of God in her.
5.)  This week I am trying to be a friend, as much as I can from a distance with Nancy Kauffman, whose husband, Joel, died Friday morning.  John and I have known Joel and Nancy for about 40 years.  We were MYF sponsors together in Elkhart, IN in the mid 1970s at Prairie St. MC.  Nancy and I were pregnant at the same time, gave birth to our first son a month a part, took our babies with us to youth activities and went on service trips together.  Nancy was already on the course of seminary training and pastoring, when that thought had never occurred to me.  Nevertheless, we were young moms and enjoyed each other’s company.  Then we moved, our paths separated, we stayed in touch occasionally.  In 1988 John and I became co-pastors of Orrville MC in OH.  It was Nancy’s home church and her parents were members there.  For 14 years we ministered to her parents and officiated at their funerals.  In many ways Nancy became my mentor in those years.  Even though we are the same age, she had already been in ministry for quite a few years at College MC and later IN/MI conference.  I admired her and learned from her and watched her grow and develop into a very wise and capable pastor in the MC, one of the few women pastors that I knew.  In more recent years as we have worked in conference and MC USA roles, we have reconnected at a different and deeper level.  Numerous times we have roomed together and shared laughter and tears.  Now we are more like colleagues, partners in ministry in our various settings, yet always friends.  She was to be here in Harrisonburg at this time to teach a course at the seminary.  I was planning to have lunch with her on Thursday.  I will try to show God’s love to her...many already have from around the world.  I will try to show my love for her.  I weep for her as she grieves Joel’s sudden and tragic death.  I know she will experience God’s love and the love from others in more ways than she can ever imagine in the next months and years because of this tragedy.

God has chosen us, appointed us to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.  What will that mean for you and I in this time, in this day?  We will continue to love and serve one another, but how can we also walk with each other side by side, friend with friend, partners in Christ’s service?

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