Sermon 6/15/08: We love because God loved us first!

June 17, 2008 at 6:45 am Leave a comment

I always look forward to Vacation Church School.

Sometimes I say I always look forward to Vacation Church School being over.

It’s always chaotic and busy, but it’s always good.

It’s always good to have everyone around for a week.

This week was very hot towards the beginning

and got tolerable about mid-week.

We only had one notable accident,

a little boy who got a pretty good goose-egg

after falling on the asphalt outside.

Some of you may have seen how we had Shaheen Hall decorated like a rainforest.

It all came together Sunday night and I had almost nothing to do with it.

You can look at the slide show in the narthex on your way out

and see the kinds of things we did.

As usual, some of the songs are stuck in my head.

One of them in particular stands out.

“First!  God loved us first!

We love because God loved us first!”

And then it repeats about a bazillion times.

It’s 1st John 4:19.

It’s a good way to teach Scripture, right?

Our organist Carol is fond of the following couplet:

Scripture learned in verse and song

is Scripture remembered the whole life long.

 

But it struck me in looking over today’s readings

that in that little song we have a six-word summary

of what is going on in all three readings and the psalm.

We love because God loved us first.

Or, to be more wordy about it:

The priority of God’s action is primary and paramount

in the lectionary texts we are considering.

Nah, let’s stick with the first summary.

We love because God loved us first.

It pretty much says it all.

 

In the first reading,

this is just before the Ten Commandments are given to the people of Israel

on Mount Sinai.

That’s very important to remember.

God did all these things for the people of Israel,

rescuing them from Egypt, bringing them out of bondage,

leading them through the Red Sea,

before they were given the Commandments,

before they obeyed or disobeyed them,

before they had proved themselves

unworthy or worthy of God’s love.

We love because God loved us first.

 

In the Gospel reading,

we see Jesus looking at the crowds,

the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren

of those who had listened to Moses in the desert.

Matthew describes them as “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

Other people looked at them and only saw people who didn’t go to synagogue,

didn’t keep the commandments,

didn’t love God with all their heart, soul, strength and mind.

didn’t appreciate what God had already done for them.

Jesus looked at them and saw people who were under attack by sin,

who were helpless against the forces in their lives.

And so before they shaped up, before they wised up,

while they were still helpless and harassed,

he had compassion on them – and the word compassion means he suffered with them.

He loved them first – before they loved him.

 

St. Paul says something very odd in his letter to the Romans.

He says that “at the right time” Christ died, “while we were still weak.”

Why is that the right time?

He goes on to explain that this proves God’s love,

that while we were sinners, before we loved God,

God loved us enough in Christ to die for us.

To him, this proves that God’s love for us is not first dependent upon our love for him.

As I said before, the priority of God’s action is primary and paramount in this reading.

Or, to put it another way,

We love because God loved us first.

 

Now many times we have to resist the temptation to make these Sunday’s texts

all about what we are supposed to do.

Especially focusing on the Gospel lesson,

where Jesus sends the disciples out to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,

to proclaim the Good News that God is here with people

and to cure, cleanse, cast out demons, and raise the dead.

We have a to-do list, and so often we focus on the to-do list

rather than on the overall picture.

The overall picture is that God has loved us first.

The things that the disciples are supposed to do

are the very things that Jesus has been doing all along.

The reason they do them for other people

is because Jesus has done it for them.

You see this in the first reading as well.

Remember the great-great-great-great-grandfathers and grandmothers,

the Israelites out in the desert waiting for the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai?

God tells them through Moses,

You have seen what I have done for you,

in rescuing you from slavery.

Now because I have done this,

you are to be like me in rescuing other people.

God rescues Israel so that they may be part of his rescue mission –

to bring the whole world into relationship with him.

 

Like all of us would have, Israel misunderstands him.

They think that God has rescued them because they were especially obedient,

or God has rescued them in order to make them powerful in the world.

Don’t we think the same things often?

That God’s feelings towards us are determined by our behavior?

That is why it is so important to remember the priority of God’s action.

We love because God loved us first.

And, along with the priority of God’s action,

the content of God’s action is important as well.

God’s whole being is love,

and he rescues us in order to catch us up in that love,

so that in our lives we may imitate that love of Christ which loves first.

 

In Holy Baptism,

whether we are a screaming baby or a shy teenager or an adult,

we cannot understand the depths of what God does for us,

but God takes us and washes us and cleanses us to stand before him.

In Holy Communion,

Christ’s own body and blood are given while we are still sinners,

because he has compassion on us, harassed and helpless ones.

 

We love because God loved us first.

Many things become clear to us when we hold to this truth.

If we are asked to give of ourselves, whether financially, or with our efforts, or simply with our support,

to the church, or to those in need,

we don’t ask first if the people are worthy,

or whether we will gain anything from the transaction,

instead we focus on how God has given to us,

and upon our need to give as he gives:

to imitate God in every way,

so that the life God lives might be ours as well.

We love because God loved us first.

If a neighbor or family member or another church member

or if someone on the street wrongs us,

we don’t need to seek revenge or restitution, or first look for an abject apology,

because our whole mind is focused upon the love of God

who forgave our sins before we asked for forgiveness,

and so we are free to imitate God’s grace.

We love because God loved us first.

If we are confronted with a choice,

about whether to use another person for our own ends,

or sacrifice our own desires and felt needs,

we don’t ask first about our own desires or needs

but about the good of the other,

as Christ did when he was facing the sacrifice of his own life for others.

We love because God loved us first.

And so knowing who we are,

the ones God has loved,

we know who we are to be,

the ones who show God’s love to others.

Seven little words –

seven very, very simple words –

and yet how very difficult to live them!

So let us repeat them often until our hearts learn them as well as our ears and our lips.

We love because God loved us first.

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How to Nap Sermon 6/22/08

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