Sunday’s sermon: Calling a Friend: Talking to God Together

God's love in community

Text used – 1 John 4:7-21 (read in the midst of the sermon)

  • Okay, y’all. I have to warn you that today’s sermon might be a difficult one, too. If you were with us last week, we talked about the chapter of Tish Harrison Warren’s Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices for Everyday Life[1] that dealt with waiting – especially waiting when we don’t like to/want to/have the patience to wait. It was a particularly poignant chapter for this time of pandemic waiting, but it was also difficult to talk about the good news we find in waiting when this waiting has been so challenging for many of us on so many levels – socially, economically, mentally, emotionally. Today’s chapter is difficult for a whole different reason – different … but sort of related because what makes it difficult is, again, this pandemic life that we’re living right now. The title of today’s chapter is “Calling a Friend: Congregation and Community.” And it’s difficult because it names one of the things that I know that many of us miss most right now: being together.
    • By far one of my favorite things about this congregation – about the Presbyterian Church of Oronoco – is the way everyone here cares for everyone else whether you’ve been a part of this church for 50 yrs. or whether this is the first time you’ve walked through our doors → normal Sunday morning:
      • Hear everyone greeting one another
        • Asking about your week
        • Checking in on some issue or struggle or something you’re dealing with that you shared (prayer request or fellowship)
        • Gentle teasing and good-natured ribbing (Jack!) and the comfortable laughter that follows
        • “Hellos” and “Good mornings,” “Good to see yous” and even “I love yous”
      • See everyone interacting with one another
        • Smiling
        • Hugging
        • Shaking hands
        • Waving at one another across the sanctuary or the fellowship room
      • There is a warmth and a genuineness that this congregation exudes simply because of who you all are – neighbors and friends and family, all going about this crazy, up-and-down thing called “life” together, teaching each other about God and reminding each other about God and showing God to one another in times when you need it most.
        • Reminds me of the description that Warren gives of her relationship with her best friend at the beginning of this chapter: Her delight in me gives me hope that in my murky, mixed-up soul there remains a burning loveliness that only God could have placed there, and that [God] is cultivating. For years now, [we] have grappled with the gospel in the warp and woof of our daily lives. She helps me believe.[2] → That is the beauty of Christian community in one: grappling with the gospel – the beautiful parts, the challenging parts, the confusing parts – in the warp and woof of our daily lives and helping one another believe. Reminding one another who God is and where and why and how God is engrained in our moments and our movements. Embodying for one another that crazy, up-and-down, forgiving and forgiven love of Christ in our relationships.
          • Warren: Christian friendships are call-and-response friendships. We tell each other over and over, back and forth, the truth of who we are and who God is.[3]
  • This is what our Scripture reading this morning is all about: being in relationship with one another through Christ and embodying that love of God in any and every way that we can.
    • Subtitle of section in the Bible = simple and direct: “Love and God”
    • We love because God first loved us. We love because God first loved us.” That’s it. That’s the point. Case closed. Lesson over. God loved us instantly, endlessly, and unconditionally. God loves us truly, wholly, and genuinely. God loves us knowing who we are, where we’ve been, and what we have left to do. God loves us. No qualifiers. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. No strings attached, escape clauses, or exit strategies. God loves us. And because God has given us that incredible love … that all-encompassing love … that sacred and selfless love, we are able to love each other.
  • Greatest expression of that love = Christian community
    • Each of us is created beautifully different by God
      • Different gifts
      • Different talents and interests
      • Different challenges
      • Different areas of growth
    • Need one another to grow more fully and blessedly in our faith → means Christians cannot exist in a vacuum
      • Warren: Christ did not send [the] Holy Spirit only to individuals. He did not merely seek personal relationships with his followers. The good news is not simply that I can believe and thus make it to heaven, or even that I can believe and live out my life among a band of Christian friends. Jesus sent [the] Spirit to a people. The preservation of our faith and the endurance of the saints is not an individual promise; it is a promise that God will redeem and preserve [God’s] church – a people, a community, an organism, an institution – generation after generation, and that even the gates of hell will not prevail against it.[4]We cannot experience the fullest expression of God’s love for us alone because God created us to love one another. If faith was all about just our individual, personal relationships with God, God would have stopped after creating Adam alone in that garden. But God created more humans because we get to experience and embody God’s precious and perfect love best together.
        • Part of what we sing every Sunday when we’re together: With God as creator / Neighbors all are we / Let us walk with each other / in perfect harmony.[5]
        • Scripture says it outright: If we love each other, God remains in us and his love is made perfect in us.[6]
    • Scripture this morning makes that perfectly clear → it’s all about “us,” about community, about living and loving together
      • Starts with the very first line: Dear friends, let’s love each other, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born from God and knows God.[7]
      • All of the pronouns used throughout this passage are plural and inclusive
        • Not “me/my”
        • Not “them”
        • Not exclusive or exclusionary
        • Text: This is how the love of God is revealed to us[8]
        • Text: We have seen and testify …[9]
        • Text: We have known and believed …[10]
        • Text: We love because God first loved us.[11]
  • Doesn’t mean that all of our relationships are perfect because we’re Christians – our relationships with each other or our relationship with God
    • Never able to love one another perfectly as God loves us because we are broken and imperfect people
      • Make mistakes
      • Hurt one another (intentionally and unintentionally)
      • Forget important things and speak without thinking
      • Bristle and get defensive when our rough and jagged growing edges rub up against someone else’s rough and jagged growing edges because those growing edges are tender, forgetting that we’re both just trying to grow together
      • Warren: Here too we see God’s power because, in this body of Christ, we find a place where we can be gloriously and devastatingly human. We find a place where we can fail and repent and grow and receive grace and be made new. Like a family – but even closer than a family – we can learn to live together, weak and human, in the goodness and transformation of God.[12]
    • Text: If we love each other, God remains in us and his love is made perfect in us.[13] – Gr. “made perfect” = completed, matured, fulfilled, consecrated → This has nothing to do with being devoid of flaws (as we tend to think of perfection now) and everything to do with being the fullest version of itself. God’s love is a full, uncompromising, holy love – a love that is meant to be shared and embodied with other people, and in that act of sharing, we get to play a part in fulfilling God’s promise to love us.
      • Scholar: Act lovingly, even if imperfectly. The love and the perfection come from God, whose perfect love casts of fear. We can honestly admit that we are not yet perfect in love, for it is God’s love that makes us loving, and it is God’s perfection that is making us ever more holy.[14]
      • Warren: We work out our faith with these other broken men and women around us in the pews. It’s lackluster. It can be boring or taxing. It’s often messy. It’s sometimes painful. But these Christians around me become each other’s call and response. We remind each other of the good news. All saints and sinners in the church share together in this gospel. The meal would be incomplete if even one of these were not at the table. It would not be good news if even one of these members were missing. As [20th British theologian] Lesslie Newbigin put it, “None of us can be made whole till we are made whole together.” If we are saved at all, we are saved together.[15]
  • And that is why this chapter is so difficult, especially right now, friends. I know that we’re finding it hard to feel that embodied love when it’s been so long since we’ve been together. It know that we’re missing this place, these people, this community. I cannot even begin to tell you how odd and lonely it is to be here alone every Sunday morning. And yet, I want you to notice that there was nothing in our Scripture reading this morning about being in physical proximity to others before you can love them.
    • Remember that our Scripture = letter written by an anonymous disciple to a Christian community → wrote the letter specifically because that anonymous disciple couldn’t be there in person to share these words → But that physical absence in no way diminishes the love, the compassion, or the gospel message that we find here!
      • Text: This is how the love of God is revealed to us: God has sent his only Son into the world so that we can live through him. … Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also ought to love each other.[16] → So no matter who you are. No matter where you are. No matter what you find yourself in the midst of this morning. You are loved. You are loved. You are loved. Amen.

[1] Tish Harrison Warren. Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press), 2016.

[2] Warren, 116.

[3] Warren, 117.

[4] Warren, 120 (emphasis added).

[5] Jill Jackson Miller and Sy Miller. “Let There Be Peace on Earth, © 1955, 1983 by Jan-Lee Music.

[6] 1 Jn 4:12b.

[7] 1 Jn 4:7.

[8] 1 Jn 4:9 (emphasis added).

[9] 1 Jn 4:14 (emphasis added).

[10] 1 Jn 4:16 (emphasis added).

[11] 1 Jn 4:19.

[12] Warren, 124.

[13] 1 Jn 4:12b.

[14] Ronald Cole-Turner. “Fifth Sunday of Easter: 1 John 4:7-21 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year B, vol. 2. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 468.

[15] Warren, 126.

[16] 1 Jn 4:9, 11.

2 responses to “Sunday’s sermon: Calling a Friend: Talking to God Together

  1. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: Sleeping: Holiness in Rest | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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