I have been reflecting this week on the Epistle lesson assigned for the fifth Sunday of Easter - I John 4:7-21. Familiar verses are found in this passage of scripture: "Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. ... God is love and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them."
There are many references to love within the scriptures. Probably the best known comes from the Apostle Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians, found in the 13th chapter. It is a beautiful passage that is often read at weddings and reveals to us something about the nature of love - love is patient and kind, it is not boastful or envious, it hopes all things, believes all things, endures all things, and never ends. Paul is very clear about the nature of love and Paul knows intimately the Source of love - God.
The writer of I John goes further to speak specifically about whom is the source of love. The writer reminds us that God is the Source of all love. Love does not define God, rather the writer reminds us that God defines love. Love is not something that we have to conjure up within ourselves. God loved us before we offered any loving response. God's love for us is the source of our power to love God and to love one another. It is an experience.
There are many studies that indicate that love is an experience and a vital one, at that. Many studies have shown that children who were not lovingly held within the first 18 months of life do not thrive and have a difficult time trusting and loving others. Love is an experience.
There is a story that I have known for years that speaks to love as an experience. Oddly enough, I came across it again this week, repeated for consideration for the I John passage. I have tried to track down its origin, but without success. It is a powerful story.
The king of Armenia was standing before the Roman general who had just conquered the Armenian army. The king knew he was at the mercy of the Roman general, and fell to his knees to plead with the general. He said, "Do whatever you wish with me, but I beg you to spare the lives of my family." Something about this king's plea struck the general and he spared the life of the king and his family.
Sometime later, the king asked his wife what she had thought of the Roman general, and she told him, "I never saw him."
"Never saw him?" the king replied. "How could you have failed to see him? He was only a few feet away. What were you looking at?"
Tears welled up in the queen's eyes as she answered her king, "I saw only you, the one who was willing to die that I might live."
The queen was experiencing the love that the king had for her and his family. And in that experience it was only love that she could see.
We love because God first loved us. Even if we are not aware of God's love in our lives, we would be unable to love if God had not first loved us.
Think about who you love. It is because God loves you that you are able to love those persons. God is the source of love - love that draws us to God and love that spills forth from our lives into the lives of others.
This love is not just one shot that God gives to us to last the rest of our lives. God seeks to give us a never-ending source of love - a constant stream of love that stays with us for the rest of our lives. There is a powerful event in the Christian story that speaks of God's love. It is the event of Christ entering the world, loving and teaching us, being put to death on a cross for us and then rising from the dead to bring eternal life to us, but this one event does not mean that God's love is a single event. It is a continuing story that unfolds with each new day.
In order to give us that constant stream God wants to make a home - to abide in us. God is not a source far away that we travel to in order to receive this love. Rather God travels to us in order to give us this love. God did this because God wants to make a home in us - to abide in us, to fill us up and to dwell in us.
It is also what happens each day as the presence of the Holy Spirit surrounds us. It is the desire of God to fill us so full of love that there is no room for anything to the contrary. I think that this is what is meant by the passage: Perfect love casts out fear. Another way of putting this is that there is no room for fear in love.
If God is to abide in us and be that constant stream of love in our lives, there has to be some transformation of us. In each of us, God wants to fill us up with love and dwell with us to be the constant stream of love, refilling and renewing us continually. At the same time, God is shaping us, pruning out those things in us that fear produces: jealousy, pettiness, bitterness, hatred, all of those things that are hurtful to others, harmful to ourselves and sinful to God. All of the negative feelings and characteristics in our lives which we have developed from some sort of fear: fear of not having enough, of not being important, of others not liking us, of others knowing too much about us, of someone getting something that we think we deserve more and of many, many other things.
Fear produces the places in our lives that God longs to shape into love - to prune away so that the fruit of love might be abundant in our lives.
God's shaping and pruning of us allows there to be more room for god's love to fill our lives and to bear fruit. It is a process that continues over the course of our lives. God know that there are many times when we need to be shaped in the love of God. God is patient with us and rejoices with us when we are able to bear fruit.
I thought of another story in relation to this passage and to the notion that there is no room for fear in love. Mamie Mobley was the mother of Emmett Till, who was abducted and brutally murdered by two white men in 1955 in Mississippi. When she was asked if she harbored bitterness toward the two men or toward whites in general, she responded in this manner:
"It certainly would be unnatural not to hate them, yet I'd have to say I'm unnatural. ... The Lord gave me shield, I don't know how to describe it myself. ... I did not wish them dead. I did not wish them in jail. If I had to, I could take their four little children - they each had two - and I could raise those children as if they were my own and I could have loved them. ... I believe the Lord meant what he said, and try to live according to the way I've been taught."
What a powerful witness! Only someone who recognizes how God abides in her could have made that statement. And it is that same love that abides in us that can help all of us work for justice for all of God's children. God wants us to be so filled with God's love that the fruit we bear - the successes we have in our lives that come from that constant source of love and forgiveness that God gives to us - makes a difference in this world.
I hope that we will long for God's abiding love to shape our lives.
I hope that we will pray for God's abiding love to shape our lives.
I hope that God's abiding love that shapes our lives will help to cast out fear in our world.
To God be the glory.
On the parish calendar:
Reduce stress with Reiki, 10 a.m. Tuesday, Hall Neighbor House
National Chocolate Chip Day (waffles, pancakes, cookies), 11 a.m. Tuesday, Hall Neighbor House
Trip to DHHR, 9 to 11 a.m. Thursday, Hall Neighbor House
Strawberry Pancakes, 7 a.m. to noon May 18-19, First UMC, gluten-free pancakes available
Domestic Violence Presentation, 11 a.m. May 22, Hall Neighbor House
Pentecost Sing, June 3, Holly River State Park and Jerry Run Theater. Parish van leaving from Parish House at 3 p.m.