Rose Park Sunday School (Adults and Children) at 8:45 a.m. / Worship at 9:45 a.m.

Madison Sunday School (Adults and Children) 10:15 a.m. / Worship at 11:15 a.m.

The LORD is Love

Based on 2Samuel 23:1-7, Psalm 132, Revelation 1:4b-8, John 18:33-37

          People have any number of different images and understandings of God.  This is to be expected when we are contemplating something/someone who is utterly beyond our ability to completely comprehend.  A many people imagine a God who is male and angry or retributive – in fact, many connect with the stern image used for many decades in Proctor and Gamble advertisements.  This is no surprise since most biblical translations preferentially use male pronouns for God.  In addition, it has only been in the last 30 years or so that pastors and seminaries have become intentional about using non-gendered and more inclusive language when speaking about God.  What is your favored image of God; that is, how would you go about describing God to someone?

          Challenging question that one…isn’t it?!  Biblical writers, scholars, teachers and everyday folk across time have attempted to employ our inadequate languages to convey some of whom and what God is and means to us.  Look at the many names of God, names which describe some aspect of how we encounter God.  There is “YHWH” the very name of God that God revealed to Moses.  Translated as Yahweh or Jehovah, it describes God as eternal and always becoming – “I Am Who I Am” or “I Will Be What I Will Be” (also El-Olam).  Addonai, Elohim, Elyon, Sabbaoth, Gibhor, El-Shaddai, all are different ways to say Almighty and Most High Creator.  There is Maccaddeshem – sanctifier; Rohi – shepherd; Shammah – presence; Rapha – healer; Tsidkenu – righteous; Jireh – provider; Shalom – peace.  At any point in our lives, we experience God in some or all of these ways.  In truth, we can never exhaust the words that we can use to describe God – and none of our words will ever capture the fullness of God.

          Our scriptures today speak to us of the overarching nature of God, which is that the LORD is love!  Each of the many names of God flows from this truth that at the center of who God is there is unconditional love poured out abundantly and constantly.  The psalmist and King David both speak of the loving faithfulness of God, of God’s hesed.  In the Revelation to John, the writer speaks of Jesus, “…who is and who was and who is to come…”.  The one who loves us enough to free us from our sins by his bloody sacrifice.  The Gospel of John invokes the loving truth of our king, Jesus, whose kingdom is not of this world.  Before we go farther, let us go to God in prayer and thanksgiving that our LORD is love…

          The psalmist writes of the covenant promise of God to David and how that continues to inform our lives as the descendants of Israel.  The scripture from 2Samuel contains the oracle from David on his deathbed.  David speaks (like the psalmist) of a faithfully loving God who fulfilled God’s promises in the everlasting covenant.  David knew quite well the loving forgiveness of his God and went to his death trusting that God would continue to be true to his descendants – one of whom was Jesus.

          The Revelation to John is a challenging, apocalyptic work.  The opening, however, is crystal clear in its understanding of who Jesus is.  He is the earthly manifestation of God, the LORD who gives peace and who is, who was and who will come again.  Jesus is the one who through his great love for us freed us from our sin through the sacrifice on the cross.  He is a part of the Holy Trinity and as such is the Alpha and the Omega, the Almighty loving one who is and who was and who is to come.

          In the Gospel according to John we have the final scene of Jesus and Pilate before Pilate’s judgment.  Jesus has just arrived back from the High Priest Caiaphas’ office.  The Jewish leaders can’t murder Jesus, so they have to convince the Romans to do it for them.  Pilate inquires of Jesus whether he describes himself as the “King of the Jews”.  Jesus deflects this question and asks Pilate where he heard such a thing.  Pilate asks Jesus what he has done, and Jesus tells him that the kingdom he represents is not of this world.  Pilate understands only the worldly concept of what a king is, and so he acknowledges that Jesus just told him he is a king.  We know that Jesus is not a worldly king, he is “Messiah”, the anointed or chosen one.  Kings were anointed by God, but the Messiah is from God and as Jesus says, he is the one, true king, who testifies to the truth that God is love and that the love of God is available to all – even Roman Prelates.  Pilate couldn’t grasp the truth of who was in front of him because his concept of gods and kings clouded his ability to see Jesus for who He is.  Pilate could not fathom that any god could be love.

          You have heard me preach a lot about God’s Almighty and creative love for us over our years together.  You have heard me preach and teach about how salvation is the culmination of our growth toward the loving mind and heart of Jesus, not some individualistic mindset or behavior pattern that consists solely of a personal relationship with Jesus.  In fact, you have heard me preach and teach that the Word that God spoke into the void and chaos was the word of love, and through that love all things came into being, including humans – formed by God’s creating love from the humus of the earth and enlivened by the breath of God.  God loved Adam and Eve enough that God didn’t end their lives because of their sin.  Rather, God gave them a natural consequence and went with them out of the Garden of Eden into their lives.  When the world became evil and God despaired of what had come of God’s creation, God lovingly spared Noah and his family and two of every living thing.  On and on, the Bible details the unconditional and saving love of God for God’s children and all of creation.  It is a wonderment to me that of all the descriptive names that humans have for God, the number one isn’t “El-Hesed”, the God of steadfast and faithful love!

          Today we celebrate the Reign of God or the Reign of the Christ.  Jesus told Pilate that he was a king unlike any human king; that his kingdom was other worldly in its function and its reach.  Believing in the reign of God means believing in the Almighty power of God’s love to heal us all from our sin and our distortion of the gospel message of Jesus.  What would happen to us as a species and especially that sub-species of human known as Americans, if we could get a critical mass of people to believe in the saving power of God’s love?  What would our broken, divided and violent world look like if we truly followed the two great loving commandments of Jesus?  How would our world be transformed if we turned off the T.V. and radio “talking heads” and stopped following the fear-mongering hate-speech filled posts on all our social media feeds – if we deleted Twitter, Instagram, Facebook/Meta, Snapchat, Tik Tok and every other mind-numbing distraction, and got back into personal relationships with one another and with the LORD of love described in the Bible?

          In his book “The God Shaped Brain”, Timothy Jennings writes, “…Does it matter which God-concept we hold to? Recent brain research by Dr. Newberg at the University of Pennsylvania has documented that all forms of contemplative meditation were associated with positive brain changes – but the greatest improvements occurred when participants meditated specifically on a God of love.  Such meditation was associated with growth in the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain right behind our forehead where we reason, make judgments and experience Godlike love) and subsequent increased capacity for empathy, sympathy, compassion and altruism.  But here’s the most astonishing part. Not only does other-centered love increase when we worship a God of love, but sharp thinking and memory improve as well. In other words, worshiping a God of love actually stimulates the brain to heal and grow….”

          There you have it, scientific research has shown that focusing on a LORD who is love is good for our brains and will heal us and improve our ability to be empathic, sympathetic, compassionate and to look out for the good of others.  Therefore, let us turn our minds back to the God of love and let God’s Almighty love heal and transform us into the people God’s love created us to be.  We begin a new liturgical year next Sunday, with the season of longing and waiting for the coming of Emmanuel, God with us.  Now is the time for us to put away that which hurts and focus our minds and lives on the love of God which heals.  Let the people of God say, amen!