The Transforming Power of God’s Love

Elim LC | May 2 2021 | bwk

1 John 4:7-12 & John 15:1-8

Jesus Loves Me and That’s That!

Rosemary Brown is a highly respected minister in Tennessee. She has been featured a number of times on The Protestant Hour National Radio Broadcast. She tells a story about a little girl in her church named Mickey. Mickey is four years old. She is a precious, adorable, out-going little girl who loves to sing.

One Sunday morning, Mickey ran down to the front of the Sanctuary just before the start of the morning worship service and with great excitement, she said: “Miss Rosemary Brown, can I sing a song this morning?” Not wanting to say “no”? or to be a stumbling-block to this vivacious little girl, Rosemary said: “Of course you can.” Then, Rosemary announced to the congregation that four-year-old Mickey would sing the call to worship to start the service.

Rosemary Brown picked up Mickey and stood Mickey on the front pew. Little Mickey turned and faced the pews of smiling faces and belted out with her little voice:

“Jesus wuvs me dis I know for da Bible tells me so. Yes, Jesus wuvs me.” She sang what she remembered of the song, and then, abruptly threw her hands straight up in the air (like she had just scored a touchdown) and with a triumphant smile she shouted: “And, dat’s dat!” And then sat down.

Simple truths are hard to beet.  Simple truths that even a child can grasp.  Yet because of life, because we live in a fallen world and things get confused and mixed up, and people get hurt, or neglected, or overlooked, or judged or abused…we lose sight of that simple truth.  

But Mickey was right on target.  Jesus says, have the faith of a child.   

Our readings this morning continue on the theme of love—agape love.  

  • Do you feel loved this morning?
  • What do you love most in life?
  • Who do you love?  
  • Is it fair or safe to ask who helps you feel most loved?

Here are a couple more questions.

  • What does it mean for you/us to be loved?  
  • How do you define what love is? 
  • What it looks like in action?  How does it affect us?

So what are we afraid of?

John 4:18 says “There is no fear in love…perfect love casts out fear.”  

  • What are you most afraid of?  
  • What makes us afraid/fearful/anxious?

Fear is one of the most powerful motivators in life.  Political personalities use and abuse the power of fear in controlling and manipulating the public.  

God, in the Bible, over and over, tells us “do not be afraid.”  “Fear not, for I am with thee, be not dismayed for I am thy God” (Isaiah 41:10).  The angel to the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth, “Fear not for behold I bring you tidings of great joy which is for all people…” (Luke 2).

We can be afraid of heights; of bugs and spiders, of snakes, of closed in spaces, of being in crowds of people, of water, of death, of the process of dying.  What we fear the most seems to be being judged, coming up as inadequate, incomplete, flawed.  That fear causes us to hide and be dishonest about who and what we are.  We let fear control us.  

There is one fear that God says is good and strongly recommends.  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…” (Proverbs 1:7).  Fearing God, respecting and loving God—giving God prominence and priority in our lives is good.  That equates to the level of trust the Bible calls us to and the Luther teaches us in his writings.  Fearing anything else is to give ourselves and our loyalty, our attention, our focus to whatever it is we fear.  

God’s love—when we experience it in all its fullness and breadth—frees us from fear of judgement and punishment.  God’s love frees us to love ourselves and others to a depth we never knew possible before.  

The Apostle John experienced that type and quality of love.  That is the love he writes about in todays reading from 1 John 4.

The word love is mentioned twenty-four (24) times in this short passage.  All of them are variations of the Greek word agape.  

Love is the defining mark of a Christian.  God’s call to us is to without qualification.  The reason or motivation for loving is God who is the source of love.  Love defines the essence of God.

If someone does not love this way they do not know God because God is love.  Period.

God’s love is revealed, made known and real through Jesus who is God-in-human-flesh, Immanuel, God-with-us, who died in our place to give us forgiveness of sins and a restored relationship with God.

Since God has loved us so completely through Jesus we are called to love each other without restraint.  

No one has seen God, but if we love each other God lives in us and His love is perfected (completed) in us.  

The proof of God’s presence in us and our living in Him is the gift of God’s Spirit within us.  We are proof that God sent Jesus into the world as the Savior of all.  God’s lives in all who confess Jesus as God’s Son.  This is the divine union of the believer in God and God in us collectively and individually. 

John cannot state it simply enough, nor enough times or in enough ways—God is love and when God’s love has been made complete in us it results in our boldness and confidence in the world.  We no longer have to be afraid of punishment or of the consequences of our brokenness and sin.  We no longer need fear separation from God.  All that has made us feel ashamed, guilty and inadequate should no longer has power or control over us.  Jesus has set us free!  

Jesus, in our Gospel reading, John 15:7 says, “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”  

To be honest, many of us abide in anger, or jealousy, or fear.  We dwell in the past with its regrets and hurts and shame.  We cannot let it go.  Don’t live there!  It is a dead end street.  Instead, abide in Jesus and learn to let His love change and most you to be more Christlike in how you treat yourself and others.  

We cannot say “I love God,” and not love those for whom Christ has died.  To love God is to love people.  To love people is to love God.  We cannot love God without loving people. 

We Are Never Alone

Columnist Sheila Graham did a compelling interview with Ruby Bridges Hall sometime back. Maybe you don’t recognize that name. This is what Ruby went through as a child.

She was a typical first-grader for her first day of school. She had a big bow in her hair and lunch box in hand.  She climbed the steps of William Frantz Elementary School. But little else was typical about that day in November 1960. Though she wasn’t aware of it, Ruby had been chosen to be the first African-American child to integrate this particular New Orleans grade school. Every day on her way to school she had to be escorted by armed federal marshals.  This little first grader braved angry adult white folk shouting at her as she entered an empty classroom. White parents had moved their children to other schools.  A little boy told her why he couldn’t play with her.  Her skin was the wrong color, she was the reason for all the commotion.

In her interview Sheila Graham noted that even in this stressful situation of having mobs scream at her, little Ruby prayed every day.  She prayed before school.  She prayed after school. She prayed for those who were verbally abusing her. 

Ruby Bridges Hall explained it this way: “One thing my mother always said to me was that when she couldn’t be with me, if I was ever afraid, I should say my prayers . . . Even at night, if I would wake up from a nightmare and want to get up and go to her room, she would immediately ask, Did you say your prayers?’ That’s where that came from and it sort of stuck with me.”

Ruby’s mother wanted her to know that no matter the situation she was never alone. She was connected. To be connected is to have power. It is to have an eternal presence in your life. It is to know Someone cares about you and empowers you to be different—to be changed by the transforming power of love, God’s love in Christ Jesus.  

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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