Yr B ~ Easter 5 ~ 1 John 4:7-21
We’ve talked about it before but it bears mentioning again – anytime we try to define God, or explain God, or seek to say anything about God at all we are instantly and necessarily babbling idiots. God is beyond any of our feeble-minded attempts at categorization or explanation. As soon as you think you’ve got a handle on God and start to believe that you understand God you’ve utterly failed. Any god you can understand is not a god worth having. And any person who claims to tell you what God is all about is a fool. And so I begin. And I’m euchred from the start.
But I can’t not talk about God – partly because that’s my job, but mostly because I’m alive! It’s a question that has fascinated humanity since the beginning.
What is God?
Well, let’s start with the basics. Is God animal, vegetable, or mineral? No, no, and no.
Is God solid, liquid, or gas? Nope, nope, and nope.
Is God discernible using any scientific method whatsoever? Negative!
Then doesn’t that mean God isn’t real? No, it just means that God is not discernible using any scientific method! You don’t use a thermometer to measure distance. It’s a useful tool, but fundamentally the wrong tool for certain jobs.
Christians have, from the beginning, made the claim that while we don’t understand God we ‘know’ God – intimately. Anyone who’s ever been partnered in a serious way knows that you can intimately know someone and never really understand them! And in our intimate interactions with this God we know we’ve come to express our sense of God in one succinct, powerful sentence – God Is Love. I’m going to prattle on for another 30 or 40 minutes here (j/k) but I’m never going to say anything better than God is Love – because that says it all.
God is love. That’s the answer to the ultimate question. God is love.
Author Douglas Adams in his Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books humorously suggested that the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything was 42. Well, that was the first answer – later we learned that 42 was actually the answer to ‘what do you get when you multiply six by nine?’ If you just did the math and realized that that doesn’t make 42 you’re right. His point was that life, the universe, and everything had no point. Adams was an atheist – a funny one, but still an atheist.
As much as I liked his books I disagree fundamentally with his premise. Life, the universe, and everything most definitely has a point, and that point is love. Every poet and artist and musician in history has understood that. Every person who looked into the eyes of their lover has understood that. And everyone who has ever marvelled at a sunset, been humbled by the power of the ocean tide, drawn a deep breath of fresh air, been the recipient of an act of generosity or kindness, had a friend, or has witnessed the miracle of birth and the relationship that a family has – everyone of those people has at least subconsciously intuited that life has a point, and that point is love.
Just because you can’t make a rational argument to support love doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Love is not rational, but it’s not irrational either. It’s transrational. It’s not without reason, it’s beyond reason. That’s why we say God is love – beyond reason (transrational) – only able to be known and experienced, and never understood.
Let’s look at 1 John 4:7-8 My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love – so you can’t know God if you don’t love.
I’d argue that this doesn’t say that an atheist doesn’t love – what it says is that if they love then on some level they know ‘God.’ Whether their intellect allows them to name it as such is really irrelevant. Every atheist loves, but they don’t make the association that we would, that love and God are one. If you love, you know God on some level, for God is love.
Does it work the other way too? If God is love, is love God?
God is love. Yes! Sounds wonderfully spiritual.
Love is God. Love is God. Hmm.
I’m just going to let you think about that…for like, a year!
Sometimes it’s just language and metaphors that stop someone from acknowledging God’s love, yet language and metaphor are all we have to describe God. I always mockingly use ‘the big guy in the sky’ to show how silly our God-talk can be – as if God is an old guy with a long white beard, that lounges on clouds, and chucks lightning bolts at people. If that’s your image of God then you need to chuck that as soon as possible. That God is way too small and too distant (and too ridiculous).
I really like expressions like ‘Holy Mystery’ to describe God – or Sacred Harmony, or Numinous Oneness. A couple of days from now it’s Star Wars day (May the 4th be with you!). Star Wars, as you probably know, introduced us to a concept called ‘the Force.’ As far as God metaphors go that’s not bad, but it runs the risk of being impersonal. God must somehow be personal. God is love. Love is personal. Somehow, mysteriously, incomprehensibly, the Holy Mystery that we name God has intentionality, personality, direction, a desire for harmony, oneness, and shalom. God is not a cold, mindless power that pulses through the universe on auto-pilot. God is love.
One way to describe this is to say that God is not an “IT”, rather God has the character of a “THOU”. ITs can’t love – THOUs can’t stop loving. And now we’ve exposed a problem with the original question I asked. ‘What is God?’ is the wrong question. The right question is ‘who is God?’ Whats are its – whos are Thous! Marcus Borg says that God isn’t about “it-ness” but more accurately is all about “is-ness”. (See how hard it is to talk about God?!)
1 John 4:12 No one has ever seen God (you can’t see an ‘Is’); if we love one another, God lives in us, and (God’s) love is perfected in us.
If we love one another, God lives in us. Yup. That makes total sense.
If we love then love will flourish in us because God is love, so God will live in us because we love! (Catch that?!)
The verse ends – “and God’s love is perfected in us.” That word perfected doesn’t mean what you think it means. It’s not perfect as in without error or flaw: it means completeness, or maturing. If we love then God’s love will flow in us and God’s love is perfected (maturing) in us. No one has ever seen God, but as we love God perfects (matures) us and God’s love is revealed – and since God is love then when we love God is revealed. So, no one has ever seen God, except as revealed through our love! (Does your head hurt yet?)
Love, because God is love.
Love, because love loves.
1 John 4:19 says, We love because God first loved us.
Why love? Because! By cause!
In theology books God is frequently described as the First Cause, the Uncaused Cause, the Unmoved Mover.
We love because the First Cause causes it! “We love because God first loved us.”
I’ve been pretty abstract today, but ironically 1 John is a very practical letter or sermon. It was written to a community of Christians who were experiencing conflict because some of them thought it was ok to accept the love of God and worship and pray, and not have to be bothered with loving others, or the others in their faith community. They professed love, love, love, but only bothered actually doing the first one – which of course meant they weren’t really doing any of them.
1 John 4:16 God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.
Let’s review. God is love, and perhaps we can say that love is God.
And that love, this God, abides in you and me – lives in you and me – as we live in and abide in that love. God is love.
And if you abide in God and God abides in you…Does that mean you’re love too?
And if God is love – and YOU are love…then does that mean you’re…..
God in us – God ‘is’ us? [head explodes]
This is one of those sermons where I’ve said a lot of words and none of them are better than the basic ones I started with and keep returning to: God is love.
This part of 1 John 4 basically says that you can’t accept God’s love and not live it out. You can’t ‘get it’ and not ‘do it.’
God is love. And God is in you. So you are love. And love must love. So love. Because God is love. You can’t be love and not belove! And neither can God!
One last thing about this love stuff. You probably know that there are different words for love in ancient Greek that all get translated into the single word love in English. The one we’re most attuned to in faith circles is the word agape which is holy, spiritual love – the highest order of love – the love of God, and the love for God. Someone looked it up and found that agape is used 33 times in the short letter called 1 John – and 19 of them are in today’s reading.
Maybe that’s what I should have done for today’s sermon?
Maybe I should’ve just stood here and said, “Love, love, love, love, love – agape, agape, agape, agape, agape!” [many, many times]
Remember what I told you at the beginning of this message? – that I’d prattle on for a while and never say anything better than ‘God is love.’ Now I’ve just proved that! After all the brain-bending mental gymnastics of trying to explain God we’re back where we started. If I asked every one of you to complete the sentence ‘God is…’ we’d probably have dozens upon dozens of different, wonderful, beautiful answers, and none of them could improve on, or be as rich and full and deep and moving as this ancient expression:
God is love! So love!