“Love”

Sharing the Good News: Part 1

1 John 4:7-19

The Reverend Phillip Blackburn

August 21, 2016

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Thank God it’s almost football season.   Am I right?  I mean, my life will finally be worth living again.  These last 9 months have been horrible.  Anyway, it’s almost here, and I know a lot of you like to go to Razorback games.  This is going to be a good season too, I can feel it.  You know on October 8 they host Alabama.  The defending champs!  Boy, that will be a game.  Are you going?  Whether you are or aren’t, let’s think about that day for a second.  It’s a crisp autumn morning and you get all your Razorback gear on and you head for Fayetteville.  You walk through the crowds, the masses of people all decked out in Arkansas gear, the mood is electric.   The teams take the field and the game starts.  Alabama gets the ball.  On their first play the running back takes the ball and powers over left tackle for a 10 yard gain.  First down.  In front of you a guy in a hog helmet stands up and applauds enthusiastically, “Roll, Tide,” he yells.  Hmmm, you think to yourself, that’s weird, but you brush it off.  Probably already drunk, you tell yourself.  The Tide keep moving the ball, and then they score.  All of a sudden the entire section jumps up and cheers.  People clad in Hogs shirts, and red pants and Darren McFadden jerseys all cheer the Alabama touchdown in unison, shouting “Roll, Tide.”

That would be strange wouldn’t it?  You’d wonder if maybe you’d made some sort of mistake.  You’d think that maybe you were in the Alabama section, and then you do a double take and think, “no, these people all claim to be Razorback fans.”  Maybe you’d think it was a joke.  Who knows.  But as the game progresses and the fans around you keep cheering for Alabama, you would eventually probably give up and leave.  You can watch the game at home on your TV if this is how things are going to be.  Yes, it would be unsettling if you walked into someplace expecting one thing and getting another.

Now, let me speak honestly to you.  This is how many people experience the Church.  And I mean the capital “C” church.  They hear that God loves them.  They hear that Jesus died for them.  They hear that “you will know we are Christians by our love.”  Then they show up in church.  People look at them askance if they aren’t dressed right.  They are met with judgement.  They find Christians fighting with each other and a culture that says, “you are welcome here as long as you do it our way.”  For them, it is just as confusing to come into a church expecting to find Jesus and be greeting with judgment, anger or an expectation of conformation as it would be if you went to an Arkansas home game and everyone cheered for the other team.

For the next two weeks we are going to talk about one of the dirtiest words in the Presbyterian church.  Evangelism.  There is a reason that mission committee is our largest committee and evangelism our smallest.  We all want to help people, but we don’t really want to share our faith with people.  It makes us uncomfortable.  But the truth is that it’s really important for us to understand what’s at stake when we call ourselves Christians.  It’s not just about us.  When we call ourselves Christians, then we are saying that if people want to know what it’s like to follow Jesus then they should look at us.  No pressure there, right?  And then we proceed to get a lot of things wrong.

But fear not.  We are not the first to do evangelism poorly.  If the New Testament is to be believed,  the early church wasn’t any good at it either.  If they were, the author of 1 John, and Paul before him, wouldn’t have had to write so much about Love.  Love, you see, is the bedrock of evangelism.  We believe God loves us and so we are called to live our lives in Love.  Love is a big deal.  1 John makes this quite clear, and it also makes quite clear that the early church didn’t do love so well.  If they had, John wouldn’t have had to write so much about it.  But he did.  And what does he say?  “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”  Think that through for a minute.  The foundation, the very bedrock of our relationship with God is Love.  And how do we know this?  We know it because while we were yet sinners, God sent Jesus Christ into this world to reconcile broken humanity to its perfect God.  That is Love, and when we embrace this truth then we reflect it out into the world.  We can’t help it!

I want you to listen to this carefully.  We tell God’s story first and foremost by acting in Love.  Period.  Listen to this carefully.  We tell God’s story by acting in Love.  Now, what is that love like?  Well it doesn’t mean just being nice.  Being nice isn’t love, it’s just politeness.  No, it means sacrifice.  God’s love is, at its core, sacrificial.  God showed his love for us through sacrifice.  And if you think about it, that is how we show our true love of things, sacrifice.  Think back to the football game for a minute.  If you’ve ever been to a Razorback game, think about what you have sacrificed to go.  You have spent money, and probably a lot at that.  You have taken an entire Saturday.  You have crammed into a tiny little seat next to some huge guy.  You have sat out there in rain or wind or heat or snow.   And you have done it all without thinking?  Why?  Because you love that stuff.  I’ve done it.

And that sacrifice at the end of the day is not just about a game, it is about the crowd. It’s about feeling a part of something bigger than ourselves.  It’s the energy and electricity of a crowd before a big game.  It’s seeing friends from college.  It’s the being part of the roar of the crowd.  It’s the collective experience, the shared love that draws us to those things, that inspires our sacrifice.  If you are a Razorback fan, odds are everyone you know is aware of it.

When it comes to evangelism, then, I hope you can see what I mean.  Sacrificial love is the bedrock of sharing our faith.  It is the absolute cornerstone.  Our congregation should look like God’s love as best as we are able.  That means we love everyone who walks into these doors, and then, through prayer and practice, everyone one we meet with our best reflection of God’s sacrificial love.  We care about others.  We listen to others.  We consider others.  We don’t yell or argue or gossip.  We don’t fight.  We don’t judge.  We love.  We love others sacrificially.  Selflessly.  Do you not believe that this is how God loves you?  If you do, then pray and think about how you can show that love to other people.  God, you see, is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.  The first step in evangelism is not what we say, or even what we believe, it is how we love!  Amen.