Sunday, May 14, 2006

Easter 5: Love Is Fruity

John 15:1-8; 1 John 4:7-21

For some strange reason, our culture has come to believe
that love and craziness automatically go together.
You have to be a little fruity to be in love.
Have to let go of reality.
Have to give up being rational.
I looked up a database of songs recorded since 1953.
There were over 80 completely different songs
with the same title “Crazy Love.”
And there were 100’s with other variations.
Crazy with Love
Crazy from Love
Crazy in Love
Crazy ‘bout Your Love
Crazy but I’m in Love
Crazy to Be So in Love
Love Crazy
Crazy to Love You
Crazy Little Train of Love
Crazy Lovesick Fool
Just a small sampling.

But you know, losing your mind when you’re in love
is not a new idea, or an American idea.
In the late 1800’s French author Jules Renard wrote that
“Love is like an hourglass...
as the heart fills up...the brain empties.”

This morning I want to argue that the opposite is true.
That love takes brains.
That love—when it’s authentic—
is one of the smartest things we can do.
That, of all the ways to live your life,
living by the rule of love
is the most sensible, most logical,
has the most intellectual integrity.

Now, to build this argument,
I have to start by asserting something
that I cannot prove scientifically or rationally.
But I also happen to believe that scientific rationalism
is not the only way we use our brains, our intellect.
I’ll build my argument on two assumptions:
that God exists, and that God is love.

I doubt there are many people in this room
who could not also affirm those two statements.
And furthermore, the vast majority of people in our culture
would also affirm those two statements.
Which makes me wonder how our culture has managed
to so utterly distort the meaning of love.

The epistle reading this morning makes the point—
over and over, and in many different ways—
that God is love.
In fact, the writer of 1 John practically equates God and love.
Take a look, if you would, at 1 John 4, beginning in v. 7.
We see in verses 7 and 8,
that love is from God, and that God is love.
And since God is the source of love,
as well as the definition of love,
then a certain number of other truths stand to reason.

Some of these truths seem self-evident.
Such as, if we love God, and God’s love lives in us,
then that love will result in us loving each other.
V. 11: “Beloved, since God loved us so much,
we also ought to love one another.”
V. 20: “Those who say, ‘I love God,’
and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars.”
V. 21: “Those who love God
must love their brothers and sisters also.”
That’s all reasonable.
The love of God gives birth to, results in, our love for each other.

But another truism in this passage might surprise a few people.
See, it also works the other way around.
If you truly love another person,
it means you’re connected to God’s love.
V. 7 says that everyone who loves—everyone who loves—
is born of God...and knows God.
In other words, experiencing authentic love is not even possible,
without being in touch with God in some way.
And he goes a step further.
V. 12: “If we love one another,
God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.”

Are we ready to embrace that scripture?
Wherever we see authentic love at work in the lives of others,
there God can be seen.
Whether they recognize God or not.

So, how do we know when we have witnessed true love?
How do we recognize authentic love when we see it?
I think the answer to that question is deceptively simple,
and it’s one of the most humanly difficult things to pull off:
Authentic love... is self-sacrificing love.

We cannot read scripture without facing this truth head on,
page after page after page.
This God, who is love,
is presented in scripture as a God who gives of himself without end.
Time after time, God exhibits self-emptying love,
in order to draw us human beings toward himself
and toward each other.
God gives humans the gift of freedom,
and thereby sacrifices his control over us.
God limits the exercise of his own power,
in order to give us freedom to choose
whether or not to submit to God’s love and power.
All through the Hebrews scriptures, the Old Testament,
we are shown a God who restricts himself,
who pulls back from controlling his people.
Instead, God draws them to himself with love and mercy.

But the height of God’s self-sacrificing love in scripture
is the incarnation of God in Jesus of Nazareth.
God gives the supreme gift,
by taking on himself all the limits of humanity,
in the person of Jesus.
And then God even lays down that earthly life,
in an act of loving self-sacrifice.
In a supreme act of apparent weakness,
which is also a supreme act of love,
Jesus lays down his life,
and overcomes the forces of darkness.
And through the resurrection, which we celebrate this season,
God demonstrates the power of self-sacrifice and love,
over the sinful, self-oriented, empire-building power
that put Jesus on the cross, and in the tomb.

Now, because of that supreme gift of God,
we have a whole new way of thinking about the nature of love.
It’s this love, demonstrated by God in Jesus Christ,
that inspired a hymn-writer to pen these words:
“What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul?
What wondrous love is this, that caused the Lord of bliss
to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul?”

Authentic love sacrifices self.
Even when God is the lover.
How much more,
when we are the ones doing the loving?
How much more are we called to lay down ourselves for the other?
Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

C. S. Lewis wrote,
“To love at all is to be vulnerable.”
It’s to open ourselves to the possibility
of pain and heartache and disappointment.
It’s to open ourselves to life.

So how is it, I wonder, that we have gotten so far off-base,
in the way we define love, as a culture?
And many of us Christians, I’m afraid,
have bought into this distorted definition.
We see love as something that’s primarily in here. [self]
It’s about me.
About the things that I feel.
About my emotional responses.
About my physical sensations.
About my thoughts and feelings.
If I’m “in love,” it means I’m feeling a certain way—
Happy. Giddy. Crazy.

We can hardly help thinking this way about love.
We have it pounded into us,
every time we pick up a newspaper or magazine,
flip on the TV,
watch a movie,
read a book,
walk down the sidewalk.
It’s in the air we breathe.

Unfortunately, the love we hear so much about
is a cheap imitation of the real thing.
Love is most assuredly not about me.
Even though every voice in our culture is telling us otherwise,
loudly and repeatedly.
No, love is a deliberate way of behaving toward another.
Love is a carefully considered way of thinking about others.
Love is choosing a different and better way—
choosing rationally, thoughtfully, brain-fully—
a different way of relating the “I” to the “You.”

Leonard Sweet recently wrote a book titled,
“The Three Hardest Words in the World to Get Right.”
The three words he’s talking about are, I...love...you.
He devotes an entire chapter on each word.
In his chapter on “I,” he says culture has tended to either
“godify” the I, or “demonize” the I.
We either worship it, or hate it.
But either way, we are focusing on it.
Better, to understand the “I” as a wonderful paradox.
It becomes filled, as it is emptied.
It finds itself, as it lays itself down.
We discover who we really are,
as we single-mindedly seek the presence of God.
The proper place for the “I,” the self, is to be found in Psalm 27,
which is full of I’s, me’s, and my’s:
One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord, and to seek him in his temple.
My heart says of you, “Seek his face.”
Your face, Lord, do I seek.

־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־־
Now I don’t mean to dismiss every manifestation of love in our culture,
as being empty and corrupt.
No, no, no.
Authentic love is actually alive and well.
If we take time to look for it, we will see it being expressed.
We do see people laying down their self-orientation,
and turning toward others.
We do see examples of self-sacrifice every now and then.
Unfortunately,
the best of these are usually held up on a pedestal
as the rare exception,
the one-of-a-kind miracle on earth.
The Mother Theresa’s of this world,
are quickly given sainthood,
so that we’re all clear that they are a human oddity,
and no one will be tempted to think
that it’s actually our duty to live sacrificially,
that it’s actually expected of us.

And occasionally, even pop culture will give us a glimpse
of looking at love in a different way.
I was surprised to run across the lyrics to a song
by the hip-hop group “Black Eyed Peas,”
who I’m sure have their fair share of songs about cheap love,
and I wouldn’t share all the values they represent.
But listen to the lyrics of their hit song, “Where is the Love?”
I feel the weight of the world on my shoulder
As I’m gettin’ older, y’all, people gets colder
Most of us only care about money makin’
Selfishness got us followin’ our wrong direction
Wrong information always shown by the media
Negative images is the main criteria
Infecting the young minds faster than bacteria
Kids wanna act like what they see in the cinema
Yo’, whatever happened to the values of humanity

People killin’, people dyin’
Children hurt and you hear them cryin’
Can you practice what you preach
And would you turn the other cheek

Father, Father, Father help us
Send us some guidance from above
‘Cause people got me, got me questionin’
Where is the love
Where is the love

Even pop culture, in a rare moment of truth,
is capable of sensing the emptiness
of so much of what passes as love.
So many people are reaching out to find, to discover something deeper.
I think we have a message the world needs.
But it’s a difficult one to really hear, and absorb,
and take to heart.
Because it involves radical re-formation.
It involves letting go of something we’ve come to treasure—
the all-important self,
the sacred, self-directed individual.

That’s why the image of the vine and the branches
that we heard this morning from John 15,
are so fitting, and necessary to hear.

You know, if we take time to carefully reflect on it,
to use the minds God gave us—
the fullest and most authentic life we can choose
is the connected life.
It’s the life that is most assuredly not self-directed,
but God-directed, and community-based.
It’s the life that is attached to the vine,
whose sustenance flows from the vine,
whose purpose is established by the vine,
whose fruit is determined by the vine.

That is the logical, rational conclusion
from the assumption I started with.
God is love.
So if we are to experience authentic love,
we must be connected to the source.
If we abide in God’s love, God’s love will abide in us.
And if we love like that, we will be different people because of it.
We will bear the fruit of love.
I guess what I said at the beginning is true.
To be in love, you have to be fruity.

If we are connected to the vine, our lives will bear fruit.
But the fruit we bear is not self-determined fruit.
We don’t decide the fruit we want to produce.
The kind of fruit hanging on the branches,
is not the decision of each branch.
It’s the decision of the vine-stock.
And it’s already been determined.
Our sole responsibility in life is to open ourselves to God,
to stay connected to the life source.
The fruit will come.
We won’t need to manufacture it.

That’s why it makes no sense to go it alone.
We need to live the connected life,
connected to God and to each other in community.
You know,
the relationship here is not only between the vine and a branch.
Every branch that finds its life source in the vine,
is also connected with every other branch.
That same life courses through every branch and leaf and tendril
in the vineyard.
What comes from God flows
into us and through us,
into others and through others,
and back to us, and then to still others,
and we become an intertwined and interdependent
community of life and love and hope.
We become God’s fruitful garden.

So my prayer for us, the garden of God at Park View Mennonite,
is that we do all we can to vigorously resist
the cheap substitute for love and for life
being pushed by our culture,
and that we demonstrate to the world
that the fullest life imaginable,
and the deepest love imaginable,
can be found when we lay down our selves—
our self-directed agendas,
our self-oriented desires—
and put ourselves at the mercy of God,
and God’s other children.

If we are able to show the world genuine love,
we will be able to introduce them to God.
Because, “where charity and love are found, God is there.”
Those are the words we’re going to sing right now.
#452 in the blue hymnal, “Ubi caritas et amor.”
Where love is, there is God.

—Phil Kniss, May 14, 2006

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