Sunday, June 04, 2006

“The Power of Love”[1]

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

The “Power” of Love? John tells us that God is love and that those who know God practice love. What exactly does “love” mean? I’m not sure we are at all clear about that these days.

Some of us may think of love as something soft, or warm and cuddly like a teddy bear. Or some may think of love as something elusive, like trying to find gold at the end of a rainbow. Some may think of love as something that belongs in fairy tales, stories that are too good to be true.

I dare say that none of us would think of love as something powerful. Unless we are thinking not about love, but about desire, or physical attraction, that is. You know, there’s Huey Lewis’ version of the “power of love”: Love can “Make a one man weep, make another man sing.” Or there’s Celine Dion’s version: “Lost is how I'm feeling lying in your arms … that all ends when I’m with you.”

But I dare say that none of us would think of connecting the worlds “love” and “power.” For us power—“real” power—means control, clout, authority, dominance, force. From that perspective, we see love as the opposite of power: love is a weakness, a shortcoming, something inadequate about us. In fact, the famous and highly influential psychologist Carl Jung basically said that power and love are mutually exclusive![2]

So what does that say about “God is love”?

The Power of Love! The fact is that true love is powerful. It has the power to bring the dead back to life. It has the power to call things into being. It has the power to grant freedom to the captives, new sight to the blind, healing for the lame. It has the power to relieve the suffering, to comfort the lonely, and to wipe away tears from every eye. Love even has the power to take the sting out of death itself!

Now, you may not believe me. But would you believe me if I told you I’ve seen one man courageously stop a tank just by standing in front of it? I’ve seen a government fall without a single shot being fired because people refused to be afraid [1989—East Germany]. Believe it or not, I’ve seen a broken man heal and return to a disrupted vocation simply because a good woman gave him love.

Are you beginning to get the picture? We could also talk about how plain old everyday people changed a nation by being willing to let hateful people curse them, attack them, and even beat them for protesting for their rights [Rosa Parks, the children of Memphis, the freedom riders]. Or how about the man who brought the British Empire to its knees simply by refusing to eat [Mohandas Ghandi]. Or then there’s the man who invited his former captors to his inauguration as President of South Africa, and then shared his government with those who formerly enforced the rule of Apartheid [Nelson Mandela].

Love is the power of God at work among us. Look at the life of Jesus the Christ—through him compassion and healing flowed together to those whose lives he touched. And they were never the same. The good news of the Gospel of Jesus the Christ is that God freely gives love to each of us. When we really understand that God loves us no matter what, we are set free from the chains of fear and anger and selfishness that bind us. We can then take that love to others bound by fear and anger and selfishness. Then we get a glimpse of the Kingdom of God right here and now—we see God’s hand working to heal and restore us all. Then we see the power of the resurrection bringing new life where there was only death.

Love is the power that liberates people from everything that binds them and empowers them to become all that God intends for them to be. Love does that—not control, not manipulation, not force, not clout, not dominance, not violence, not war—none of those things can accomplish that! That’s the true power of love!

How do we love? But what are we supposed to do about it? How can we really love one another in a dog-eat-dog, do-unto-others-before-they-do-unto-you, look-out-for-number-one world? By granting the same acceptance to others that we have received from God through Jesus the Christ—total, unconditional, absolute, irreversible, unqualified, and unlimited acceptance. It’s all about showing mercy because we’ve been shown mercy; it’s about extending grace because we’ve received grace. It’s about forgiving because we’ve been forgiven.

To love one another, we have to seek the fulfillment not of our own hopes and dreams but the hopes and dreams of one another—even if it means working for the success of worship style that is different from the one we prefer! Now that’s where the water hits the wheel!

If we have the courage to try relating to each other with that kind of love, then we’ll begin to see the power of the risen Lord Jesus revitalizing our congregation and our community!

[1] A Sermon preached 5/14/06 at First Presbyterian Church, Dickinson, TX.

[2] Carl Jung, On the Psychology of the Unconscious

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