You may recall, we live out in the country. I shared last week how we can see so many stars in the sky on a clear night. When you drive to our house, you climb Green Mountain until it levels out at about a thousand feet. Not huge, but still a mountain. After it levels out, you’re actually on the side of the mountain where you can see out towards Vancouver and Portland. Even though we’re out in the country, the sky to the south of our house has an orange glow that seems to be getting brighter. It’s harder to see stars in that part of the sky. But, when you look straight up or to the north, you can find the north star and see the big dipper and start to get your bearings.
During this Lent season, we’re talking about becoming love. The problem we are facing is one of light pollution. The light of God’s love is being polluted by the many lights of this world. We have a hard time seeing God because we can’t see beyond the right now. We can’t see God for all the lights in our faces. They’re smaller, far less significant, but because of our proximity to their glow, we we can’t see the bigger light of God. It’s there if we choose to see it, but we have to minimize the glare from the other lights first.
Becoming love requires that we have the right heading. Simply because a light is brighter to us because of it’s proximity to our location doesn’t mean we should allow that light to be our guide. If you and I are outside at night, I can shine a tactical flashlight in your face and tell you to follow it. You’ll be so blinded by the light of my flashlight that you have no idea what’s in front of you. Because you can’t see past the light of my flashlight I’m shining in your face, I could lead you right into a trap.
And that’s exactly what’s been happening to mankind for thousands of years. And, that’s what’s happening to us in our society right now at an alarming rate. We’re following all these flashlights that are getting pointed in our faces without giving any consideration to the source of the light.
Which leads us to the question we’re asking today. What love are we becoming? Becoming love is a great goal, but what love? More specifically, who’s love? We said earlier this week that God’s love empties itself, sacrifices itself and gives freely of itself. That’s the love of God. If we are to become love, that must be what we become. And I think we know that intellectually, but practically speaking, we aren’t becoming like that. In fact, we seem to becoming something quite different.
The love of the world is all about me. The love of the world says we need to get what we deserve. We have every right to be happy and to do whatever it takes for us to be happy. We are well within our rights to reshape our identities, our truth and even reality itself in the pursuit of this happiness. It doesn’t matter if our pursuit of happiness has a negative effect on someone or something else, we are entitled to that pursuit. It doesn’t matter if our pursuit of happiness has a destructive effect on the environment, I deserve to be happy. Negative effect on the people in my life? Doesn’t matter, I deserve to be happy. Negative effect on my community, my coworkers, society at large, etc. Doesn’t matter. I deserve to be happy.
Happiness is good when it’s the byproduct of truth. But, when happiness become our sole pursuit, it can have a devastating effect. It’s a very similar thing that happens with narcotics. We want the feeling or we want to escape a feeling so we’re willing to do something wrong to get that feeling. Eventually the pursuit of that feeling becomes the most important thing to many who struggle with addiction. Often times ending with taking advantage of people, places and things around us in pursuit of that next high.
We’re all doing the same thing with happiness. That’s because the feeling of happiness is fleeting. The feeling of happiness is a chemical reaction in our brains that God created for specific purposes. One of those primary reasons is to get us to get past all the junk that might keep us from forming deep relationships with one another. Sometimes we need an assist to get us outside ourselves. These feelings can last for 6 weeks to 18 months. Then something happens.
We “fall out of love”. Not really, but that’s what it feels like. We lose that “loving feeling.” What we do in these moments tells us who we are. Do we go to a deeper level of intimacy with the person, the organization, the community, etc.? Or, do we move on to something new and shiny so we can get that feeling back? Our world tells us to move on, go find what you’re looking for, you deserve it, you work hard, you have every right to seek it out.
What does that tell us about ourselves? It tells us that we’re seeking the feeling. And, while most people would say this isn’t true of them, it tells us that we are actually using people, places and things to get that feeling for ourselves. You can see this in so many ways in our world. Look at the rise of the dating app Tinder. We are using people to get a fix. Look at the rise in vacations, camping trips, beach trips, Disneyland trips and so forth. We like the feeling going somewhere new gives us. Look at the throw away society we live in. We used to buy good products and fix them when they broke. Now we throw them away and buy something new because we like feeling of getting the new things.
This is the worlds love. It uses people, places and things to get our own needs met. This is the love that is being portrayed on and off the screen. It’s the love being modeled to us by our celebrity leaders and our politicians. We can’t work together for the common good anymore because we are only looking out for our side. Right now, the congress in Oregon is at a complete standstill over a Cap and Trade Bill. The democratic party wants to pass it and they have the votes to do so. The republican party does not want it to pass and their only move is to leave the state so a vote can’t take place. And they did this same thing last year. Similar situations happen in the national government and other states all the time. We aren’t able to see beyond our own ideas and paths to happiness. The only solution is for people to bend to our will or get out of the way so we can find someone who will.
This is not love. This is the pride of life. Oh, and it’s not just people outside the faith who do it. We’re guilty of it as Christians too. I’m guilty of doing this as a pastor. That was one of the mistakes I made early on in my role as lead pastor. I made decisions for the church based on what was best for my family. That’s not love, that’s selfish. I have since tried to change that, but I’d be lying if there still weren’t times when I’m prompted to lead a certain way because it’s easier or more beneficial for me.
This is not love. What is love then? We have already read these verses, but they’re important to repeat:
16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.1 Jn 3:16-18
9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.1 Jn 4:9-12
But, one definition we haven’t read yet is Paul’s definition in 1 Corinthians 13. You’ve probably heard it read at weddings, as it should be. But that wasn’t Paul’s intent when He wrote that. His intent was for this to be the kind of love the body of Christ had amongst itself. Just read 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14 to get the picture. Chapter 12 Paul is talking about the body. Chapter 14 Paul is talking about the body and the worship service. Chapter 13 is right there in the middle.
1 Col 13:1-13 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Miraculous signs and even incredible selfless acts are not love. What is love? It’s patient and kind. It does not envy, boast and isn’t proud, isn’t self-seeking, isn’t easily angered. It doesn’t dishonor others, keeps no record of wrongs, does not delight in evil (remember that list from yesterday in Galatians 5?), but rejoices in the truth. Love always protects. Love always trusts. Love always hopes. Love always perseveres. Love. Never. Fails.
The miraculous signs are temporary, but love is forever. The right now isn’t perfect. We are living in the not yet. The struggles, challenges, doubts, fears, pain and suffering and all of that of right now is only temporary. We are broken people living in a broken world. God has given us those miraculous things to see that there is a not yet, there is something beyond the here and now. As great as those things are, they are only pointing the the true reality we were all created for. Love. One day we will know fully and be fully known. None of the stuff that makes love difficult will be there anymore.
And the thing that ties that eternal reality into today is love. Unconditional, unselfish, sacrificial, giving, patient, enduring love.