Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10In 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. 11Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. 13By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
14And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16So 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. 1 John 4:7-16
At first, this reading from 1 John seems so nice. God is love. Doesn’t that warm our hearts. It makes us want to hold hands, get together, and sing kum-ba-yah. God is love. Such a nice feeling hearing those words, like a warm snuggly blanket on a cold day or the way you feel when you get a big hug from someone you love. God is love. Seems so right, so perfect, that maybe I should just say that again and end the sermon. God is love. Thanks be to God!
Uh, maybe not. Because I’m not sure we are prepared for what these three short little words mean for us, these words, “God is love.” John is trying to tell his people what this means and frankly, it might not be something we want. If God is love and we believe that God is love and that love is for us and in us, then that means that we are supposed to love our neighbors. Uh-oh. MAJOR RED FLAG. If we confess that God is love, that means we have to love that neighbor with the annoying dogs, the one who plays there music all night. That means we have to love our neighbor who is a staunch member of our opposite political party or roots for our rival sports team. That means we have to love the person who has a different color of skin than us, believes in a different God than us. It means loving that smelly homeless person on the street or the one we see begging for food.
If God is love, then that means we have to love our brother and sister, and I’m not just talking about that annoying sibling that drives you crazy. That means the person next to you in the pew. That means loving those people who are our enemies, the ones who have spread rumors about us. It means loving the ones that have let us down and the ones who have betrayed our trust. It means loving the person who annoys you the most, the boss that treats you unfairly, the teacher who never seems to give you a break. It means loving not only your closest friend but your greatest enemy.
God is love. But this love that God has given us and this love that God has called us too is a love without limitation. For if we confess that God is love, if we confess that God loves us and we do because we see it in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, if we confess that God’s love abides in us, then it is a radical love. It is not a wish-washy love. It is not a warm and fuzzy love. It is a radical love that embraces all. It means that all can receive it and that we are to be the ones to give it. We are the ones to bring that radical love into the lives of others. And that bothers us. That pushes us. That gives us pause because it means setting aside our judgments, prejudices, and in some cases, even common sense. How can we do this? How can we love our enemy, our annoying neighbor, our biggest rival, or the person that just makes our skin crawl? How?
We can because God first loved us. We can because Jesus Christ is the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Because are someone’s annoying neighbor, we have broken someone’s heart, we have hurt someone, judged someone unfairly. We are someone’s enemy. Yet, God still loves us. Yet, God still saves us through his Son. Why? Because God is love.
God is love. Let us not turn God’s love into some sappy catch phrase with no meaning. Let us live it. Let us believe it. Let it God’s love shine through our hearts, our actions, our words. Let it burst forth radically in our being so that all might come to know that love. God is love. God is love. Thanks be to God!