Sermon for April 7

First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kent Allen
April 7, 2019

Scripture: John 3:16-17; 1 John 4:7-21

So last Friday, Suz and I were fortunate enough to participate in our grandson Henry’s grandparent’s day at his preschool in Durham, NC. We love the school there. His older brother Jonah went there as well and it is located in the Friends meeting house where Christine, our daughter, and their family worship.

We sat together- Suz, Jonah, Henry and I, and sang songs together with the rest of the grandparents and students- it is something that the classes at the school do together every day. We sang together, ”Love is something if you give it away, give it away, love is something if you give it away, you end up having more”. I found myself moved in the moment and a little teary. I loved the innocence of the children and the enthusiasm with which they sang. I was also moved by the truth of the words sung. But that was mixed with the awareness that these 3, 4 and 5 year olds had an innocence that would not last forever. At some point, Henry would experience someone’s bullying. Someone would make him feel less than. He will make a mistake and experience shame. In fact, I’m certain that that has already been part of his experience. My hope is that that will not dissuade him or those around that circle from remembering the power of love.

It is significant that the two verses from John read this morning be read together. So often only verse 16 is shared, “for God so loved the world that God sent the only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” Jesus did not come to condemn or to judge us, but rather to show us the possibility of unconditional love — agape.

Perhaps you have experienced this phenomenon. Perhaps you’ve owned a dog who was always happy to see you, even if all you did was to go out and get the mail and come back in the house. Or perhaps you have spent time with a newborn (especially when he or she is not crying) and felt that there wasn’t a way in which you could love that child more, or perhaps you have felt really forgiven for a mistake that you have made that you thought was impossible to forgive. These are all moments of agape. And Jesus came into the world so that we might know about this love and so that we might live into experiencing this love from God. But sometimes it is just too hard to believe.

Things happen to us, or we make mistakes and begin to wonder if we are worthy. We question whether or not we are enough. And we do things to compensate or to catch up or to hide our pain. So there is Botox and body sculpting, there are shiny objects advertised that are guaranteed to improve your status, and there are a whole variety of substances available to help take the pain of feeling “less than” away. Or perhaps one can take them to drown some shame.

But sometimes this feeling of unworthiness manifests itself in outward ways. This notion emerges that is harmful and counter to who God would have us be. We convince ourselves that in order for us to get ahead, we need to leave someone else behind. We need to judge another as inferior, to soothe our own souls. And this can cause some to “win” at all costs. If another can be diminished, then I won’t feel as badly about myself.

This is the antithesis of what Jesus came to teach. He came to show that all are beloved, all are redeemable, all are sons and daughters of God. A life is meant to be spent in becoming one’s best self, even with all its imperfection. And the promise is that we have everything we need within to be enough. The road requires that we love, we love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Both. In order for us to get ahead, it requires that we work hard at making sure no one is left behind. Could that possibly be true? Jesus told us that the last shall be first. He taught that it is in giving that we receive.

Some of you may be familiar with Gary Chapman’s book entitled, The 5 Love Languages. He reminds us that there are different ways that each of us give and receive messages of love. A simple act of kindness, a word of compassion, a small gift, a pat on the back, a special note. These are only a few of the ways that we can give another a feeling of being loved, and also some of the ways others may show their love to us.

I love what Donna Schaper says about love, “The pivot from suffering to joy, from pursuing rightness to pursuing community, is found in the choice to love, even if all we have is a little love left in our hearts. Love rights wrongs. This is not a drill. It can, however become a habit.” There are people along the way who have taught us such things. People who have dared to love us or have given us second chances, folks who have shown us that they really want us to succeed, to thrive. If there are those who haven’t felt that yet, may they feel it here. Unconditional love is not to be confused with always approving or always liking our actions. Rather it is a love that will stand by us no matter what. This is one of the themes of the Lenten season, it is one of the mysteries of our faith. God’s love is one that will never let us go.

Love is something that when you give it away, you end up having more.