The sermon draft text below speaks to the theme from the third week of Experiencing God, "A Loving Relationship." It is offered in the context of a multilingual worship experience with music ranging from preschoolers, the Chin, and our Sanctuary Choir. It will also feature a relational testimony and the sharing of the Lord's Supper.
I hardly know where to begin this morning. My task is to help us look at the third week’s theme in Experiencing God focused on claiming a love relationship with God. My struggle is that although we find ourselves within the walls of this historic church, I am speaking a foreign language to many. In some recent reading Nolen Dunaway ran across something that speaks meaningfully to our conversation this morning. He reports; According to the Barna Research Group, a majority of people who attend church leave without felling that they truly had experienced God's presence. Less than one-third of the adults feel as though they truly interacted with God. Stunningly, one-third of adults who regularly attend worship services say that they have never experienced God's presence at any time during their life. According to George Barna, "The research shows that while most people attend church services with a desire to connect with God, most of them leave the church disappointed, week after week. Eventually people cease to expect a real encounter with God and simply settle for a pleasant experience."[i]
I long for you to know so much more than a pleasant experience. I long for you to know the power and the joy found only in the depths of a real and meaningful love relationship with God. You heard Carlos read our focal passage earlier in our worship service. Hear it again; 16This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 19This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence 20whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
This passage demands that we understand that love is more than a fleeting emotion. It is the living and breathing expression of our faith relationship with God. It is a love modeled in Christ. We hear that the way we know what love looks like is that Jesus laid down his life for us. In a few short words the passage carries to the foot of the cross and the moment of divine sacrifice. For much of my life it seemed that the cross of Christ was almost exclusively an instrument of guilt. The pastors of my childhood seemed determined to make me feel the agony of every strike of the anvil – they wanted me to understand my place, my responsibility in the crucifixion of Christ. It made it first and foremost my story. I believe that they were wrong. First and foremost the cross of Christ was an act of God, an act of choice to make the way of redemption. I have my place at the cross, but we must first see the cross as the ultimate symbol of love. It is a place where God takes the initiative. It is the consummation of the John 3:16 promise that God so loved the world – so loved you and me -that he sent his son. In a few minutes we will come to the table to once again celebrate Communion. It reminds us that the reason for the broken body and shed blood is to bring us into communion – into an intimate relationship with God.
Our passage then turns the tables. It tells us that the love we discover at the feet of God is supposed to become love in action. When we know the love of God it should change everything for us. It calls us to be willing to sacrifice for the sake of others, to be more focused on their needs than your wealth or wants. I am not talking about a social gospel that drives us to do good for others out of our desire to be good or benevolent. It is not a top down – let those who have look out for those who don’t. It is about caring for others because the love of God so stirs within us that we see people the way God sees them – that we love them because God loved them. We love because they are a part of us – those whose lives are defined by God’s love. It is the kind of love relationship we heard testimony to earlier in our worship experience. It is the kind of relationship that Betty and Nuam share. It is a love relationship born in the willingness of both to open their lives to each other. 18Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
The passage concludes by reminding us that this love relationship with God is a matter of the heart. It paints the picture of our hearts finding rest in God’s presence. Can you imagine the kind of love relationship with God where we can find freedom from the stresses and the fears that so often consume us? Can you imagine the kind of relationship with God where God leads us by the stirring of our hearts? This kind of a relationship with God gives us a glimpse into the nature of God’s love for us For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
I sometimes wonder if we forget that the desire of God is that we claim the kind of relationship where we can experience God’s love – a transforming and redeeming kind of love- and in turn we love God and each other with the same kind of love. I wonder if we forget that the intention of God from the creation was an authentic two way relationship. In our study series we hear Henry Blackaby tell us; “A love relationship with God is more important than any other factor in your life.”[ii] It is not just about us singing songs, listening to sermons, our even analytically studying our Bibles – it is also about allowing ourselves to experience God’s love and God presence. Our goal is not to settle a pleasant experience at church, but to experience an intimate loving relationship with God that changes everything in our lives and our walk with God.
OK, you are probably thinking, this sounds good and sounds like a lot of good church talk, but how do I make it real in my life?
*It begins by making the choice to accept God’s love for you. God initiates the relationship by making the way for a relationship through Christ.
*It calls us to allow God to move in our heart and life. It is about opening our will and our way to the kind of love we see modeled in Christ and lived out in action.
*It beckons us to see that this love relationship with God is to be the most important factor in our lives. It is about seeking God’s face – listening to God’s voice – claiming the two way relationship where we allow God to love us and in turn pour ourselves into loving God – doing whatever it takes to connect with God.
*It is about claiming moments like this one and seizing a way of worship where we move from observers and spectators to become active participants – diving in, lifting our voices, opening our hearts, listening for God’s voice, letting God stir us and move us – letting ourselves rest in God’s presence and lingering in God’s love.
I bring you good news. God loves you and wants an intimate personal relationship with you. Are you ready to experience the love and the presence of God? You don’t have to settle. It’s time!
[i] Beard, Steve, Power, Holiness and Evangelism: Rediscovering God's Purity, Power and Passion for the Lost, an article cited by Nolen Dunaway in a communication with his Experiencing God small group.
[ii] Blackaby, Henry, Experiencing God, Revised and Expanded, (Lifeway Press: Nashville, 2007, Third Printing 2009), p.54