Sermon for April 29, 2018: “The Fantastic Four (Sentences)”

1 John 4:7-21
7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15 God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16 So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18 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. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

Sermon for April 29, 2018: “The Fantastic Four (Sentences)”

This morning I am once again looking at our second lesson
1 John.

Why is 1 John so important to me?

I believe John’s writing serves as a reminder for us that we never grow beyond our need to hear again and again about God’s love for us through his son, Jesus Christ.

That is a point of which John cannot let go:
This love that God has for us.
And this love is distinct because it came in the form of Jesus.

And this love is a saving love.

It is the love that saved Martin Luther.

When Martin Luther first went to seminary to become a Catholic Monk,
He saw God as an angry God.
Luther felt he was always being judged and convicted by a God who never found anything right in what Luther did.

What Martin Luther felt is not foreign to many of us today.

I know a lot of people who still have this feeling when it comes to God.
They are…scared…of God.

I remember a sweet woman, a member from one of my former churches, who was convinced…CONVINCED…that she never did enough to make God love her.
I would tell her over and over again that God did love her.
That he always loved her,
But she just could not see that love.
All she saw was judgment.

Much like Martin Luther.
And when Luther was struggling he went to his mentor, a monk named Staupitz.
Staupitz pleaded and urged Martin to do one thing when Martin started to fret over God’s acceptance.
That one thing was: Look To The Cross.

Finally, Luther followed the advice and looked to the cross.
And then he looked at the cross.
And he looked at the man on the cross.
That is where Luther saw Jesus.
That is where Luther saw God.
The true God.
The God who loved him.

The cross was God’s way of telling Luther that Luther was loved, not hated.
To paraphrase from our lesson, verse 9,
the cross is God revealing his love for Luther

The cross is where Luther realized that
God does not hate us.
God forgives us.
God loves us.

This was a true revelation for Martin Luther.
And afterwards, Luther’s worldview changed.
And Luther found a purpose.

That purpose was to help the world to see God as the God of love
and not the God of disappointment.

This became the first steps in the movement that would be named after Martin Luther:
Lutheranism

So, what does it mean for us to be in a Lutheran church?
What does it mean to be Lutheran in the 21st century?

Before I answer that let me share with you an obstacle we face.

When I tell people I am a Lutheran pastor,
I get three reactions:
The first is:
“Lutheran, eh? Is that Catholic?”

Second:
“Lutheran?! Are you even Christian?”

Third:
(And this is my favorite, especially with the young people I know and meet)
“I think it’s neat your church is named after Martin Luther King, Jr.”
Over time I just answer, “Yep. Me too.”

So that is an obstacle.
Not as many people know what a Lutheran is.
But the problem is not in those asking that question,
The problem lies with us, the ones giving the answers.

If I asked each of you to define what it means to be Lutheran in one sentence, could you do it?
Here is what I would say:
Being Lutheran is believing that “we are justified by grace through faith.”

I know, that is such a pastor thing to say.

But that answer doesn’t exactly make things clearer to people.
Believe me I know.
For years, when someone would ask me what is a Lutheran I would say:

(Have Bill play A Mighty Fortress:

“Lutherans believe we are justified by grace through faith.”

And the response would be (Again in threes)

“I’m sorry. What?”

“What did you just say to me?”

And the universal word that is understood in every language: “Hunh?”

So now I take a different approach
And it is the one approach I want to teach you today:

One approach.
Two sentences.

The first sentence came from studying theologian Paul Tillich:
It is a great modern definition of being a Christian Lutheran.

“I am accepted by God, even though I am unacceptable.”

Even though there are times when I can’t live with myself,
When I am disappointed in myself for what I have done,
God still accepts me for who I am.

And God accepts me because God loves me.

We don’t have to clean up our act before God can love us.
God showers love on us whether we deserve it or not.
And honestly,
who could ever deserve such amazing, immeasurable love?

It is a gift bestowed on me because God loved me first.

And this leads to the second sentence:

“We do not believe in an IF/THEN God, we believe in a BECAUSE/THEREFORE God.”

This sentence is vital to our understanding of what we are to do with God’s love.

I know I recently preached about this but it bears repeating.

For people of the Christian faith,
too many of us have made our relationship with God a Conditional sentence.
Conditional sentences are sentences expressing factual implications, or hypothetical situations and their consequences.
Examples:
If it rains, then the picnic will be cancelled.
If I poke a bear, then it will probably get very angry at me.

“If I do good, then God will love me.”

But Lutherans believe in another way.

Rather than “if/then” we hold on to “because/therefore”
BECAUSE God loves me (first and foremost), THEREFORE I do good.

God’s love is not a condition.
It’s a gift.

And we celebrate this gift by doing good works for the benefit of others.

Let me bring in the words of Jesus from John’s Gospel today:
Our good works
Are our Love
And this love is a “fruit” or a “witness” to the forgiveness
…to the gift…that has been given.

And led by the Holy Spirit,
we get to do these works as a community of faith.

And we come to church to be reminded of our charge:

to LIVE OUT the love God has given us by
Bearing good fruit
Doing good works
Loving our neighbor

That is why church is so important.

Gathering as a community of believers gives us the opportunity to
re-charge and
re-focus
on what it means t
o be loved by God
and to be reminded of
our challenge and
obligation
to love others,
especially the unlovable.

We come to worship in order to give thanks to God
and then we go out and show that thanks in how we live our lives by serving and loving others.

We gather to be sent.

Because I do not want us to see being Lutheran as a burden or a drag.
I see being a Lutheran Christian as a gift

It is a gift for which we should at all times and in all places offer our thanks and praise to our God.

It is a gift to be happy about!

It is not something begrudge!
It is something to behold!
So I say be bold, people!

Be bold in knowing what God has done and is doing.
Be bold in knowing that each and every day is a gift and a chance to live for God.

Be bold to tell people “Yes! I am a Lutheran. And yes, I am a part of wonderful community!”

When we talk about our faith,
Let’s not have our sentences end in periods,
Let them end in EXCLAMATION

And PROCLAMATION!

This morning I have highlighted four sentences:

“Look to the Cross.”
“I am accepted by God, even though I am unacceptable.”
“God’s love is not a condition.”
“We gather to be sent.”

Those 4 sentences are what being a Lutheran means to me.

And I hope after our time together, they can mean the same thing to you.