“All you need is love” (The Beatles)
Earlier this week I was pondering what to preach about. I was pouring over 1st John looking for some profound theological insight to share with you all. I think I got a little frustrated because all this John guy keeps talking about is love. Just love. Can’t we get beyond that and talk about something deeper – something more profound and existential! John, the apostle-pastor and evangelist simply cannot stop talking about love! He keeps returning to it as if that’s all that mattered.
When I told Pastor Johnson I was thinking about preaching about love, he immediately launched into singing the chorus of “All you need is love” by the Beatles. In case you were wondering, this is a pretty accurate look into the divinely inspired and very serious task of sermon writing in the St. Paul’s office.
But don’t we know enough about love? Don’t we hear about it enough from our favorite songs and on television or movies? Don’t we talk about it enough? Don’t we say it enough, “I love you.” And haven’t we heard it before? For all the talk about love we ought to be experts at it by now! Love, however, does not naturally rule our hearts and minds. It is grossly easy to harden our hearts toward those who have slighted us in some petty insignificant way. How easy it is for us to withhold our love from other, carefully rationing it out for others, in a way that is convenient for ourselves – in a way that gives us maximum benefit with the least amount of effort.
After all, we need more than love, don’t we! That cannot be it. We need personal safety and security. We need to plan for the future. We need nice stuff. We need our pursuit of happiness. And somewhere in this race, love is pushed to the side.
Yet, when all our nice things are no longer well…nice. And when we lose that which we built up, what remains? What is the one thing that does not lose its sweetness for us. The one promise that has any meaning. What is the one comfort that does not pass away? It is love, Oh love how deep, how great, and how wide.
The message of Saint John seems to sound a lot like that of the Beatles, “Love is all you need. John writes to his hearers, “For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” This is the Genesis message. This is the Gospel stripped down to its essence – love itself – Jesus himself.
One significant mistake we often make is thinking that God’s love is like our love. It is true that Jesus is a man, fully man, with a body likes ours. He is given to human needs with truly human affections. Sometimes in our attempt to understand the birth of Jesus, and His entrance in our world we mistakenly make him too much like us. For God made us from the beginning in his image and every since we have been trying to return the favor! That is to make him after our likeness!
God’s love is not in our image of love. No, he loves differently, without expectations or demands. He does not carefully select whom to love based upon their worthiness or certain attractive attributes. He does not love us based upon our usefulness in His kingdom.
Unlike us, he is incapable of ever saying to us, “I do not love you anymore” or “I do not love you like I used to.” His declaration of love for us is not merely an emotion or human feeling. It is not a sentiment or a nostalgic thought. It is a movement – a procession from heaven above to earth he comes. Love is a historical fact and has a face and name – Jesus.
Love is God in action. Leading the wise men, crying from the manger. Love caused the incarnation and Christmas and brought him to us. He comes into our lives and softens our hearts. He moves us outside of our own self-obsessions and into the lives of others. He unites us in his love. And in the words of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “love is all you need.” And it is ours “given for you” says our Lord.
Our Lord has no second thoughts about loving us. And though he loves his creation with the deepest emotions, tears, and joy, his love does not end there. He loves through his action and work in which he covers all our sins in the light of his cross.
We receive this love in faith because it is all we need. It is our priceless treasure, our safety and security. It is our joy and our pursuit of happiness. For love never leaves us because God himself is love. And we are the beloved ones for whom he came.
The Gospel in one word is love, and it is yours, and all you really need. Amen.