Keith Underhill: May 2015
I want to know what love is.
Preached by Revd Keith Underhill on 26th April 2105.
1 John 3:16-24
On 13th November 1984, the British — American Rock band, Foreigner, released what was to become their best known and most poplar record, "I want to know what love is".
This power ballad reached number one in the record charts both here in this country as well as in America.
It sounded a bit like this, well, exactly like this.....
In my life there's been heartache and pain
I don't know if I can face it again
Cants stop now, I've travelled so far
To change this lonely life
I want to know what love is,
I want you to show me
I want to feel what love is
I know you can show me.
I want to know what love is, I want you to show me.
Round about 1,899 years earlier give or take 5 years or so, John, — often referred to as the apostle of love, writing from Ephesus, answered the question sung by Foreigner's lead vocalist Kelly Hanson.
Throughout this pastoral letter that was sent to several gentile congregations and aimed at all believers in general, love spills off the parchment as the over-riding and over-arching themes of what he wants to share with all those who will listen.
John tells us that God is light and life, but above all, that God is love and this conviction forms the majority of what this letter is all about — God is love.
John answers the question; I want to know what love is, by saying as he does in verse 16; this is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.
This fundamental understanding of the Easter story, of the passion of Jesus is the authoritative definition and exemplar of what love is.
We recall Jesus' very own words as recorded by John in his Gospel — in chapter 15 where Jesus says; "Greater love has no — one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
To the universal question I want to know what love is, John is saying, if you want to know, if you wish to understand, then look at the cross, look at the events of Calvary, see what happened outside of the city walls — there you will see what Love is.
This then is then, is the benchmark by which love is to be judged.
John in his letter also tells us how that love is to be manifested among us and offered to the world. For, if Jesus laid down his life in love for us, we, then, ought to lay down our lives for others.
This love is not some kind of schmaltzy, wishy washy, candy floss, Hollywood expression of love, a theological 'rom-com' if you like, but a love with a cutting edge, a love that challenges and changes, transforms and liberates.
John tells us this is not about what we say but what we do and how we act. This is not love with words or speech, love that trips off the tongue, but love with actions.
Love for John is not a noun, a describing word, but rather, love is verb, a doing word, an action — something that is visibly demonstrated and lived out. We are to show our love by what we do.
Love, rather than simply being a feeling, is to John, an activity. Something others can see us engaging in, wrestling with, participating in, rather than simply something we glibly say.
Love means putting others first and being unselfish. Love is action — showing others we care, not just saying it.
So how can we lay down our lives for others — by serving others we no thought of receiving anything in return. To help all those who are in need.
In many ways, these sentiments of John, his letter, echoes much of that of James's teaching in chapter 2 of his letter — where he says is essence, how can you say that you love God who you have not seen, if you do not demonstrate your love to those who you can see.
John challenges us by asking how clearly do our actions say that we really love others? How generous are we with our money, our possessions and our time?
John asks, if anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? — hard, challenging words are these — and of course ones that as Methodists we understand because this goes to the heart of who we are and our very D,N.A, of what it means to express our Christian faith through a Methodist lens and perspective.
Remember it was John Wesley himself who spoke of the two sides of faith — the importance of personal piety, our own relationship with God, our own experience of knowing that love of God that John in this letter speaks of — but then of doing something about it — of social action, of challenging the injustice of this world and where there is need, making a difference as an expression of God's love.
We cannot simply say we love God, that we have faith and belief in him and simply leave it there — faith in God, loving God, must lead on to action.
Timely words indeed and a timely reminder as the general election gets ever nearer — of the need for us to focus not on our own personal needs and interests, but on the needs and interests of others.
To have the courage to look at the wider picture and the needs of all, rather than who will serve our own personal needs the best.
At a time when politicians of all colours and hues, of all the parties appeal to our own personal situations and needs, to remember the challenge of John (the apostle) writing from Ephesus and John, brother of Charles, who once famously said that "all the world is my parish", that we are to look out for and to serve those who are in need beyond the walls of our church; to look out for and to serve those who are in need beyond the boundaries of our town, and to look out for and to serve those who are in need beyond the borders of our nation.
To ask those challenging and awkward questions to all those who canvass our opinions and seek our vote — to dare to ask of those who seek power and the support of the electorate why it is that things are as they are and how we can bring justice and fairness to all.
It was of course, Dom Hélder Câmara the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, in Brazil, himself an advocate of liberation theology, who is remembered for saying, "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist."
The Joint Public Issues Team, that I have mentioned in my letter in the Church newsletter for May, where the Methodist, Baptist, URC churches and the Church of Scotland nationally work together, have some great resources for this election time — and I would encourage you to go to their website and look for their briefing paper "Faith in politics — 2015", which raises issues and has questions to get us thinking — one of their strap lines at the moment is Love your neighbour — think, pray, vote.
Please do, for it is one of the ways in which we can demonstrate that love and to serve others.
Today, together, here, now, we acknowledge, we affirm and we proclaim that at the heart of all that we do here in this place, at the heart of all that we are expressing in this service, at the heart of all that we seek to do and be, is the love of God Himself — a love of such enormity that Jesus was willing to lay down his life for us.
It is this love that sets us free in order that we can serve others. It is this love that we are called to share with all in need, it is this love that sets us an example to copy and to share with our brothers and sisters whoever they may be and wherever they may live.
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