Lovianity vs Christianity
Easter 7 I John 5:9-13, 4:1-6
(This sermon is intended to follow a sermon on love from Easter 6B.)
Lovianity, not Christianity.
It’s about love, love, love. It’s about love, love, love. The religions of the world. The religion of Jesus. The religion about Jesus. Love. It’s all about love. That’s what the religions of the world are all about, isn’t it?
You put all the world religions into a blender, then push the “go” button on the blender and the blender goes “zing.” The blade spins and all the vegetables or religions of the world are blended together into one fundamental substance. Love. Then all religions of the world say the same thing. Love. That is what the religions of the world are all about, isn’t it?
Or you take the fundamental ideas of the five great world religions; you take the best of Christianity, the best of Islam, the best of Buddhism, best of Hinduism, and the best of Judaism. You take the best of all these five great religions of the world and put them into a pot and bring that pot to a rolling boil and you let these great religions boil down together to their fundamental essence. And what do you get? Love. That’s what the religions of the world are all about, isn’t it?
This idea that all the world religions can be reduced down to one fundamental word was advanced in America in the early part of the twentieth century by a name by the name of Raushenbush and the social gospel movement. He said that you can boil Christianity down to two simple statements: The Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. It is the same concept of love God and love one another.
You find the same thing in the Bahai church. Years ago, my wife and I lived in Evanston, Illinois, a northern suburb of Chicago and we visited the Bahai temple with its vaulted domed and its exquisite beauty. The Bahai religion? What does it teach? It synthesizes all religions of the world into one word. Love. God is love, and we are to love one another.
As the world grows smaller and the Earth becomes more of a global village, people of diverse cultures and religions need to find a way of positively relating to each other. Rather than warring about religious differences as in the past, what is needed is that people of differing world religions work together harmoniously. We, the human race, need to find similarities rather than differences in our world religions. And what is the similarity that is found in all world religions? Love.
Now the place in the Bible that comes closest to these thoughts is the Epistle of I John 4:7-21 which was written by the Apostle John. I John 4:7-21 was the epistle lesson for last week. There are more words and teachings about love in I John 4:7-21 than in any other place in the Bible. We heard that: “God is love.” This is the first time in human history that any person had written those simple but profound words. Three little words, “God is love.” The Apostle John was the fountain head, the beginning, the source of the river of writings that God is love. John went on to say that “a person who loves lives in God. The person who loves is born of God. This is love, not that we loved God, but that God loved us.” We also remember that John had also written that “no greater love has a person than this that he lay down his life for his friends.” The Apostle John was the Apostle of love who talked about love endlessly and repetitiously. Love. It’s about love, love, love.
The Apostle John said, “God is love” BUT these words could be ever so slightly twisted to say that ... “love is God.” Love is God. That is precisely what happened. There was a group of people who started to believe in the principles of love and actions of love more than in God or in Jesus Christ. And a heresy had begun.
A twist occurs. A change. A subtle distortion. God is love becomes love is God. There is
This group of people were called Gnostics. Gnostics is a fancy word. It is spelled g, n, o, s, t, i, c, s. Gnostics. A heretic is a person who distorts the central message of the Christian faith. A heretic is a person who nibbles at the nucleus, who shaves the center, who colors the core. A heretic is a person who muddies and muddles the essential message of the Christian faith and changes it. Heretics don’t distort the fringe things but the central thing.
These Gnostics of John’s day were starting to distort the central thing. That is, they didn’t emphasize that Jesus was the Son of God who had been raised from the dead. They didn’t emphasize that God came from heaven down to Earth and became flesh in the person of Jesus. Instead, they preferred to emphasize Jesus’ teachings about love. These Gnostics worshipped love. They worshipped the principles of love. They worshipped the ethics of love. They worshipped the feelings of love. They said that love is God. Yes, love is God. In fact, these Gnostics were in love with love. Instead of Christianity, people were starting to believe in loveianity. Loveianity became more important to them that Christianity.
The Apostle John had said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” The Gnostics would say, “Believe in love and you will be saved.” The Apostle John had said that Christ is the way, the truth and the life, and the Gnostics would say that love is the way, love is the truth and love is the way to live. Love is the life. No person comes to God except by loving.
For the Gnostics, Christ became merely a symbol of love. Christ became only a representation of love. What was really important to the Gnostics was not that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. What was really important was that Jesus Christ was the greatest human being who ever lived. Why was Jesus the greatest human being who ever lived: Because he embodied love. Christ became a symbol of love. Love is what is important. A symbol points to something greater and Jesus became the symbol of a greater reality: love.
So John the Apostle, knowing that there were people Gnostics who were saying that Love is God and Love is the way, love is the truth and love is the life, gave us two commandments: the first commandment was this: to believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God in the flesh. And the second commandment: love one another as I have loved you. Why did the Apostle John, the apostle of love, emphasize the first commandment was to believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God?
Today, as in the Apostle John’s day some twenty centuries ago, many Christians, half-Christians and non-Christians find it easier to believe in love than in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. To believe in the principles of love, to the ethics of love, to the feelings of love more than believing in Jesus Christ the Son of God. In this modern age of relativism and modernism, it is somewhat uncomfortable to confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that Jesus Christ is my Lord and my God. It is easier to confess that God is love, love is God, and whoever lives in love lives in God. That is not too offensive. You won’t offend anybody by saying that love is the way to go. You won’t offend anybody by saying that love is the way to live. Such statements are palatable, reasonable, and acceptable. It is harder to confess nowadays that Jesus Christ is my Lord and my God, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
I have been such a person. That is, for me personally, I am attracted to the concept of love as being the central message of all world religions, including Christianity, and I too have fallen into that heresy that love is God. I too have nibbled at the nucleus and have believed in loveianity more than Christianity.
I am also aware that many of you have fallen into the same pattern. That is, it seems to me that Christians nowadays like to hear practical sermons about love. We pastors have an applause meter on all of our sermons and we know that sermons about love normally get the best applause and verbal approval from the congregation, especially if a good schmaltzy story can be added about love. People love sermons about love. Love is practical. Love is relevant. Love has to do with everyday life. But soon as a preacher starts to talk about Jesus Christ the Son of God, many people fall asleep mentally in a moment.
So many Christians today find it easier to believe in the principles of love than in the person of Jesus Christ, the ONLY Son of God. Yes, the principles of love more than the person of Jesus Christ.
But John gives us the first commandment: believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God, and then love one another. Why was the Apostle John’s first commandment to believe in Christ?
Now, we know why the second commandment of love is so important. I don’t have to tell you why love is important. You know why love is important. Love is what makes the world go around. Love of family. Love of neighbor. Love of self. Love is what makes the world a better place. Love improves marriages. Love improves families. Love improves neighborhoods, cities and nations. Love makes the world go around. The whole world needs more loving people in every corner of the globe. I don’t have to tell you that love of God and neighbor are important. We all value love and being loving people.
I recall the quotation by Tielhard de Chardin, the Roman Catholic philosopher, who said, “When the human race finally harnesses the energy of love, it will be as if they discovered fire for the second time.” Yes, when you personally harness the energies of love in your life, you will have discovered the power of fire. (Actual quote of Chardin: “The day will come when after harnessing space, the winds, the tides, and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for a second time in the history of the world, we shall have discovered fire.”)
So we understand “the why” of the second commandment and why harnessing the power of love is so important. But why is the first commandment so important? Why is the Apostle John’s first commandment to believe in Jesus Christ? Why is the Apostle John insisting that we are to believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, as very God in the flesh of a human being? Why is this so important to the Apostle John?
First, because...because...because...it...is...true. Not because it is practical. Not because it is handy. Not because it is useful. But because it is true. The Apostle John is convinced that Jesus is not merely another teacher about love, but that Jesus was the very Son of God, the Messiah, the heart and mind of God becoming a human being. Why is that so important? Because it is true.
True is a favorite word of the Apostle John. Jesus is the truth about God. It is true that there is a personal God. It is true that Jesus came from God. It is true that Jesus was raised from the dead. It is true that Jesus will come back at the end of history to judge the living and the dead. It is true when Jesus said to the man on the other cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” It is true that later that day, Jesus and the other man on the cross met in paradise. It is true that when you die, that you will be immediately in paradise with Christ. The Apostle John talks about truth very often in his gospels.
The Apostle John tells you the truth about Jesus based on his personal experiences with the Risen Christ. Let me explain. As I have said to you previously, the Apostle John is the only one of our four gospel writers who is an eyewitness to the life, death and resurrection. The Apostle John was our reporter on the scene. So on that first Easter morning, the Apostle John gives us a play-by-play account of the resurrection stories. That is, Mary Magdalene comes running and tells that the grave is empty. Both Peter and John run as fast as they can to the tomb. John arrived first; then Peter. They looked into the tomb and saw that the body was gone, that the linen shroud was lying there, that the linen napkin that had been over Jesus’ face was rolled up neatly like a napkin. John says, “I am telling you the truth about that first Easter morning and that is what I saw. I saw and believed.” The two disciples went home. Later that night, the disciples were together and the door was locked because they were afraid of the Jews, and suddenly and miraculously, Jesus appeared to the disciples. Jesus showed the disciples his hands and his side. The Apostle John was the reporter on the scene. He said, “I am telling you the truth about that first Easter morning and that is what I saw.” Doubting Thomas was not there. Eight days later, when the disciples were gathered together again, suddenly and miraculously, the Risen Christ appeared again. Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Put your finger in my side and see my side.” John is saying, “This is what I saw. I am telling you the truth. I saw up close the Risen Lord. I saw Thomas touch the holes in his hand and side.” I want you people to know that I, John, saw the Risen Christ and I am telling you the truth about Christ: He is the Son of God.
Secondly, why is it important to believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God? Why is this so important to the Apostle John? I need to ask you a question. Have you ever tried praying to the principles of love? Have you even talked your personal problems over with the principles of love? Have you ever brought your aches and pains to the principles of love? Have you ever cried out in the middle of the night when your heart was breaking apart, did you call out to the principles of love? Have you ever wondered what happens when your child dies? Does your dead child go and live with the principles of love? Do the principles of love watch you as you walk every step of every day? Do the principles of love watch you as you sleep during every breath of every night? Do you say, “Love, help me with this problem. Love, give me the strength and wisdom for this situation.” No, we say, “Jesus, I need your help. Lord, I need your strength and wisdom. God, please work your miracles.” When we pray, we never pray to love. When we pray, we always pray to a personal God who has a name. We never pray to a principle.
You see, there is something cold and abstract and intellectual and non-personal about the principles of love. But Christ is the personal embodiment of personal God.
Have you ever been to a Unitarian funeral? Most people haven’t but those who have will confirm what I about to say. Unitarian funerals are very depressing. Dry. Cold. Sterile, Empty. At Unitarian funerals, they talk about the principles of love, the principles of justice, the Supreme God, the Supreme Force, the Supreme Energy behind the universe. The readings feel cold, sterile and empty. If you attend a Unitarian funeral and if you remove the person of Christ, it is empty. A friend who had been to a Unitarian funeral came up to me one time and said, “Yes, I went to my aunt’s funeral and they said that my aunt was going to be fertilizer for the flowers. Why fertilizer for the flowers? Because the aunt was a gardener.” For the Unitarians, such is God’s good destiny for us: we are to be fertilizer for the flowers of the future.
Why is the first commandment of the Apostle John to believe in Jesus Christ? Because Jesus was the Son of God in the flesh. The Incarnation. God had become human. Why is it so important that God became a human being? Why didn’t God just remain an idea of love? Why did God become the Incarnation of love?
At the early service last Sunday, we had all the men present who were on the men’s retreat. All thirty men got up. We sang some kind of a schmaltzy hymn that the men liked. People were feeling good about his. Oozy, goozy, goose bumps. The next service, a the later service, I told them about this event from the prior service. There were no goose bumps. There were no oozy, goozy, emotional feelings. It didn’t do anything for the people at the later service. But if you would have been here to feel the warm bodies of men sing, it would make a powerful impact on you. The same is true with the youth. The youth sing at a worship service and everyone is moved by their song. Touched. Tears. Power. I tell about the kids later in another worship and the kids are not there to sing. I simply tell the story about the kids singing. And there are no tears, no emotions, no feelings. Why, the power of the Spirit of God living in the bodies of our young people is much more powerful that a story about it.
Similarly with the idea of showing compassion to the homeless. I can share that idea with you, but if for some miraculous reason you were fortunate enough to be with Ellen Heffner when she was downtown Seattle under the viaduct and she was sharing food and stories and laughter with homeless men, you would have been blown away. Seeing the living compassion within her conversation with those homeless men was so much more powerful than telling you about it.
By analogy, Jesus Christ was the warm body of God. God came in a warm body like Ellen Heffner. Jesus was not an intellectual idea about love. Jesus was not the piece of paper on which ideas about love were written. Jesus was the warm body of God and his warm body was filled with love. His warm body moved people like ideas could not.
So we come to the end of this sermon. We are reminded that at one time or another, most of us unconsciously nibble at the nucleus of the Christian faith. We slightly shave the center. We color the core. What is the nucleus, the center, the core of the Christian faith? Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, the Son of God in the flesh who died for our sins and gives us eternal life. He taught us to love another.
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