How do we best think about God? What does it mean that ‘God is love’? How does that challenge us to act?
This sermon was the first in our sermon series on Understanding Christianity, based on the RE resource produced for schools. Near the start of the service, I read the reading and we spent some time quietly reflecting on it and listening to God, before sharing what we thought and what we’d heard. I preached later on, after a time of sung worship and our confession, hence how I start the sermon.
God; Reading: 1 John 4:7-17
We’ve already spent some time reflecting and praying about this reading. So, I want to talk about how it helps us to think about God. But first, I want to talk to you a bit about school.
If you’ve had anything to do with schools recently then you’ll know that the way that they do things now are rather different to how they used to be. As a school governor I was recently part of the interviewing panel for a new teacher. As part of that we had to observe lessons that each of the candidates were taking. One of them was teaching the 8 year olds what a ‘fronted adverbial’ was and how to use it properly. No, I didn’t know either.
And I know that lots of schools have been giving maths lessons to parents for a number of years, so that they know how to do maths the same way that their children are now taught.
So, whatever you think of these, I’m glad to say that they have also thought up new and better ways of teaching children about RE. The first of these is the new course Understanding Christianity. This was commissioned by the Church of England, who realised that Christianity wasn’t being as well taught in schools as might be. So, they developed a new way of helping children learn about Christianity, by focusing on 8 core concepts.
These 8 topics are: God, Creation, Fall, People of God, Incarnation, Gospel, Salvation, Kingdom of God. And there’s supporting pictures and information and all the rest.
Why am I telling you this? Well, a few reasons really. The first is that I wanted to let you know about what is happening at school. The children are being taught this course. Every week they have an assembly from Churches Together Assembly Team, and another one each week led by children themselves. And there is also a weekly after-school club called Jesus And Me, JAM Club, where the children get to have fun and find out more about God’s love for them.
So, please don’t think that children aren’t finding out about Christianity, and aren’t also finding out, like we heard in our reading, that we have a loving God who calls us to love him, and reveals his love to us. As John reminds us God loves us with a love that is stronger than death. God loves us and helps us on the adventure of discovering the difference that that love makes to us, to those around us, to the whole of creation. If, of course, we respond to that love.
And I also thought that it would be helpful for us to go through the main topics that the children are going through. One of the main pieces of artwork is the frieze designed by a artist to take you through the topics, show you the big picture that the Bible tells us about. And we’re going to look more at the frieze in the coming weeks. We’ve got a copy of it on our wall in the North Aisle. So do please have a look at it when you’re having a drink at the end of the service.
But, the first and most important of these doesn’t appear on the frieze. Mainly, because, how do you show God anyway? Well, one answer is in the picture that has been produced. Because as well as the frieze, each of the 8 topics also has a symbol, to sum up what each concept is about.
[For copyright reasons I can’t show the images- hopefully I describe it well enough for you to picture it] And this is the symbol for God. I think that this is an excellent way of picturing God. The 3 sides, reminding us of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The centre, a heart shape, the symbol of love. Reminding us that at the heart of who God is, is love.
God is love. That was repeated in our reading.
“God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.”
“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”
This is an active love. It’s a love that does stuff. It’s a love that sends Jesus into the world. It’s a love that calls to us, longs for us to respond. It’s a love that helps us to respond. That holds our hands as we take a few stumbling steps on the path to love. A love that walks with us as we carry on the adventure of discovering what that means for us, for our lives.
The early Christians told a story about John, the author of this letter. It was said that John ended up living in Ephesus, and living until he was very old indeed. His disciples had to carry him into church, and he could barely speak. And when he did speak, he would only say “Little children, love one another”.
Eventually, the story goes, his hearers got annoyed that he kept on repeating the same thing every time and asked him “Teacher, why do you always say this?”
And John replied “Because it is the Lord’s commandment and if it alone is kept, it is enough.”
Know that God loves you. Show God’s love in your words and actions. That’s pretty much a summary of the 8 topics, of the whole Bible. But, the problem is, that we don’t truly know it. And we keep failing to show it. We don’t know well enough that God loves us – to allow that fact to so transform us that our words and actions reflect that love.
Not least because, as John says:
No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
Let’s hear the challenge in that shall we?
People don’t see God, John says. But they do see us. People can see our actions, our love. We are God’s representatives. And when they see us, they have the chance to catch a glimpse of God. Which is, frankly, a bit of a worry. Well, it is for me at least. Writing this sermon has given me rather a lot of time to reflect on at least some of the many ways I’ve failed to do that, failed to show that.
And so God doesn’t leave us on our own. In his love he forgives us and he leaves his Spirit of love, his Spirit of power, of action, to work in us and through us. To help us and to guide us. To challenge us and to comfort us. To help us to point towards God, to reveal the Father in the Spirit’s power because of the Risen Son.
So God doesn’t leave us on our own. He gives us each other. To be like Jesus to each other. To grow in love for each other. To remind us that at the heart of the community of God is love. And at the heart of our community is the God of love.
In this too, we’re called to be like God. To mirror God and reflect God. Because as the symbol reminds us, God is both three and one. Three persons, but one God. What we call the Trinity. And this isn’t some optional extra, some advanced level for the really brightest students. No, this is the basis of our faith. This is where it all begins.
The Trinity. A community of three who are one. Who are so loving and complete that their love for each other spills out, draws us in. The Trinity has a love that looks outward, a love that flows between the persons of the Trinity. And so our loving God lovingly creates, and lovingly beckons us to join him, and gives himself so that we can be welcomed in.
All of which is another way that we are called to show our God of love. Our community, our church, is called to be like Jesus as well. It’s not simply about us as individuals. It’s about us, together.
And it’s about having a love, like God’s, that looks outward, that draws others in. This isn’t simply the love of flowers and chocolate and intimacy. Although it is that. It is also the love of action, of hard work, of time and energy. It’s a love that values and respects and challenges and seeks to transform. It’s a love that doesn’t want people to stay as they are, but beckons them in. There is more to discover, new things to do, new ways to be.
What else does this mean, practically? Well, it also means our support of Open Doors, helping persecuted Christians around the world. It means our support of the foodbank, of Tearfund, of Youth for Christ, of Little Sparks. Who could particularly do with some more help at the moment please.
It also means our prayers for and votes in the General Election. If you’re not registered to vote, please make sure that you do. And when you are registered, please prayerfully consider which candidate, which party, reflects to some degree the God of love.
It means our support for one another. It means our hospitality through the coffee morning with the Post Office. It means hearing the challenge to help people worship God at times which aren’t 10:45 on a Sunday morning. It means our support for other charities and organisations. It means our work and our care and concern for friends and family. It means things that we’re not doing yet.
God is love. And his love overflows. His love overflows. In creation. In sending his Son. In giving his Spirit.
God is love. So let us love one another. Amen.