I need to let you in on a secret – I have found it very hard this week to think about how to preach on God’s love and abiding in God.
In particular, I’ve been reflecting on our lived experience of ‘abiding’ in God’s love as John describes it; and how we share this with other people, with all of God’s creation both in my life and in our shared lives in the church family.
My initial thoughts about ‘abiding’, had me thinking about our willingness to live completely in God’s love, lives surrendered to God. You will remember God’s commandment to us, discussed last week: to love one another as God loves us.
However, my sadness is that in spite of this, in the political, ideological, theological, social, cultural and economic contexts in which we live, we clearly choose to love only some things, some people and some aspects of God which suit us, but not others. My question about these choices is: what are we frightened of, that God’s love is not enough for us?
We choose to maintain entrenched poverty for billions around the world and here in Australia. We accept the reality of homelessness, violence against women and children, insufficient mental health services and discrimination against the First Nations people, those of other races and other faiths. We spend billions on weapons of war and on violence, rather than on life-giving services and peace. We break our promises and we find excuses. The most recent responses to the pandemic and climate change have highlighted these choices being made by us.
I’m sure you could come up with a long list as well, which will likely be different to mine, but we arrive at the same place, where our love of God is not yet present with our neighbours, where our love for one another has very tenuous connections, where our love of God is conditional as we love ourselves more. In such circumstances, its obvious human love is limited, we bind it with caveats and get-out clauses; it is hedged with fear and anger.
I then thought about people I have met who refuse to talk about their past behaviour and actions; who won’t accept the awful impact they have had on others. You may not know, but I work on Safe Church matters for the diocese. I deal with both historical abuse claims and I work on our current system, structures, policies and practices while working with people over current conflicts, poor behaviour and with persons of concern. The desire by others to abide in God without any change in behaviour is challenging. A safer church for God is something I am fiercely committed to ensuring yet denial is still strong and often, overwhelming.
So as I reflect on the disconnection between our stated faith and our current practice, words and behaviour both in the church and in our daily lives, I am sad and weary and concerned for the safety of others; and what this says about the God we believe in. In such places, I struggle to see love and I do what Jesus asks, I abide. There nothing else I can do.
You will have also seen there has been a lot of discussion about the influence of personal faith practiced in the public square, particularly when we live as Christians in the community.
I regularly ask myself, what might we be compromising on, to ensure we continue to live in the world comfortably without having to count the cost? What have we turned away from, to ensure we can continue our comfortable lives with the good opinion of our peers?
Into this reflection offered by Jesus to his disciples, the reading in 1 John 4:7-21 makes a powerful contribution. It was a letter written in response to conflict in the church community and the writer was reminding the community about what was important in their relationship with God and one another. This first letter of John was likely written about 100 CE. He writes:
Let us love one another, because love is from God….whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 1 John 4:7-8
The writer reminds us, God sent God’s only son to live and die in the world to show us how much God loves us. Jesus was willing to die rather than betray God and us.
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 1 John 4:16
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:18-19
I pray and think about the experience of God’s love in my life and in our shared lives, how we express it, share it, live in it and abide in it. I look around this parish and see our love of God, and the desire to abide, expressed in our Op Shop ministry, food ministries, pastoral ministries, our leadership decisions and in our daily prayers, our behaviour and actions.
For many, our real desire is to be with God and simply be in God’s presence. So it is in this moment we hear Jesus’ invitation and deep desire for us to live, to abide in God. Our acceptance of God is expressed through our love for one another, and by this very acceptance, God’s love is made alive.
Jesus said: ‘Abide in me as I abide in you.’
On this final night at their last meal together, Jesus prepares his disciples for the time he will no longer be with them. Abide, he asks, invites and shares. Remain with me as I remain with you. Continue with me as I continue with you. Dwell with me as I dwell with you. Endure with me as I endure with you. Be present with me as I am present with you.
In such an invitation, our growing understanding of love knowing no fear becomes more real as we test God and try it for truth in our own lives. As we look into the darkness of hate, fear and violence, the light of God’s love shines in the darkness if you choose to see it. We can choose the light, or we can choose the dark. And in our busy Christian lives, God doesn’t ask us to be so busy about God’s work we have no time to think about loving God and one another, or no time to think about the disconnect between what we say and what we do. But rather, God asks us to understand in the beginning, middle and end of our lives, we are simply to abide in God.
In the brokenness of our humanity, in our choices which often bring so much grief and regret to ourselves and to others, at any point we can choose a different way, a different path and simply follow Jesus. In that single choice, God’s love will abide in us and we will abide in God for ever.
The Lord be with you.