Sermon for Sunday, October 9, 2016
First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem PCUSA
Rev. Dr. William Hess
One of the most interesting courses I ever attended was a New Testament Biblical Studies course taught at Princeton Theological Seminary by Dr. Bruce Manning Metzger titled, Faith, Hope and Love. We learned that early Christians called Paul the Apostle of faith, Peter the Apostle of hope, and John the Apostle of love. We examined the various writing of those three New Testament authors and how often they wrote about faith, hope, and love.
When you read the New Testament writings of the Apostle John you will discover how frequently he writes about love. In John’s gospel we find what might be the best known verse in the Bible: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
John’s emphasis on love runs throughout his letter – I John. 3:1 – “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called the children of God.”
4:16 – “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God and God abides in them.”
It should be interesting to know that the Apostle of Love – John – wrote the Book of Revelation.
Tell me the truth – do you associate the Book of Revelation with love?
It is more likely that what comes to mind are frightening images like the four horsemen of the apocalypse, the dragon, the lake of fire, or the Great Tribulation.
But I would dare to suggest to you that, rightly understood, Revelation is a vision of a loving God. Why? Because:
Love is ultimately fair and just.
Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing – but rejoices in the truth.
Revelation proclaims the truth that Jesus is the Lamb who has the Book of life – and the authority of final judgement rests with the one who loved us so much he gave his life for us.
It was the Apostle John who recorded: “No one has greater love than this but to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13)
It is so often the truth that the loving thing to do – happens to be the right thing to do, the just thing to do. Revelation is all about final justice. Ann of Austria once told the evil Cardinal Richelieu, “God does not settle his accounts each day, my dear Cardinal, but he settles them.”
Revelation affirms that in the end – God is not mocked, God will settle his accounts. The Satanic, evil and demonic forces will be defeated – and there will be a glorious new heaven and a new earth. The second and third chapters of Revelation contain seven individual letters written to seven churches – the first of these appropriately addresses the largest and most important city of all – Ephesus.
The church in Ephesus is commended for doing many things well – “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance.”
“You have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false.”
“I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary.”
The biggest church in the most important city appears to be doing well. They have good theology – resisting false teaching. They have good works – they toil and labor faithfully. They are enduring whatever persecution is against them.
Sounds wonderful – until we come to verse 4: “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”
We all know what Paul wrote, “and if I have faith to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”
Perhaps in their search for sound theology – the Christians in Ephesus became too critical, too narrow minded, too judgemental – even turning on one another. Perhaps in all of their hard work they just became tired and worn – many Presbyterian church officers feel that way – just tired – and perhaps they forget to pause for refreshment, for fun, and fellowship with one another.
This we do know, that you can speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, you can have prophetic powers, you can have faith to move mountains – but if you do not have love – you are nothing.
What a pity – the church in Ephesus lost the love it had at first. How about this Church? Jesus commanded, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Regardless of circumstances, we must love precisely as we have been loved by Jesus.
I like the thought, “Church is not a place you go to, it is a family you belong to.” How do we keep love alive through all the years? How do we avoid what happened to the church in Ephesus –
Good theology, good works, patient endurance – but they lost the love they had at first.
Long ago I discovered a helpful book that I used in premarital counseling sessions. Even grooms read this book and would say it was helpful. “The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts” by Dr. Gary Chapman. Gary was an Associate Pastor of a large church, and he was a trained counselor. After many years of ministry and counseling hundreds of couples he believes God led him to identify these five basic ways we express and we experience love.
- Giving Gifts “You don’t bring me flowers anymore.”
- Quality Time Most important date, is the first one after your first child.
- Words of Affirmation I am proud of you. You are wonderful. You’re the greatest.
- Acts of Service I’ll cleanup the kitchen. I’ll feed the dog. What can I do for you. How can I help?
- Physical Touch (Intimacy)
These five ways of experiencing and expressing love – the secret to love that lasts – they are applicable to our life in the church.
Giving Gifts – The church is a family where you can give your talents, your skills – if you come here to get and not to give – love will fade away. The church should not be first class religious entertainment – the performers up here and the audience out there.
Quality Time – The church is a family where you can spend quality time together. The most successful churches have numerous small groups. Fellowship activities – softball team – quilting group – women’s circles.
Words of Affirmation – The church is a family where you should hear encouraging words.
6 things you should say to your children every day:
- I love you.
- I like it when . . .
- You make me happy when . . .
- I’m proud of you
- You are special
- I know you can do this
Acts of Service – The church is a family where you can offer acts of service for one another –
Physical Touch – The church is a family where a warm handshake, a kind smile and a gentle hug may be all you need to make it through another week.
Through the years – criticism, judgementalism and selfishly demanding your own way (traditional – contemporary) will cause your love to fade.
Through the years – encouraging one another, affirming one another, sharing with one another, and having fun together – will keep your love alive.
Be sure to tell the people around you what they mean to you.
Garrison Keillor tells a great story from up there in Lake Wobegon. A young Scandinavian Lutheran couple had just returned from their honeymoon – and they went to the grooms parents home for dinner. His mother asked him, “Well tell me, how was your honeymoon?” Being Norwegian and Lutheran he answered, “It could have been worse.”
He looked across the table to his bride, and he could see surprise in her face – in fact – he thought she might begin to cry. He was thinking – it had been the best time of his life. He still couldn’t believe she married him – he was the luckiest guy in the whole world. He has never been happier in his whole life. Everything they did on their honeymoon was fun – just because she was with him.
But he couldn’t say this. He leaned across the table, looked into her eyes and said, “No, really, it could have been a lot worse!”
When someone asks me how my time at First Bethlehem is going, I might say, “It could be worse.” “No, really, it could be a lot worse.”
Instead, I can say, “I have met the nicest, kindest people.” I can say how much I enjoy the inspirational music during worship in such a beautiful sanctuary – our choir is a blessing. I can tell them about so many people volunteering so much time to handle a difficult situation – with a good sense of humor. I can tell them about the kind and caring support from Presbytery of Lehigh.
I can honestly say to anyone who is interested, “I love those people – and you would love them too!”