Last week, we said that God’s plan for each person centers on love. Now we cannot measure love on a scale. We cannot buy or earn love and you cannot duplicate it. Love is invisible; however, we can feel love. Love is invisible; however, it can move and change what is visible. We all can feel love.
Perhaps a simple illustration might help. About 17 years ago, my mother, who was living in a nursing home in Plymouth, Massachusetts, was in the last stages of Alzheimer’s disease. I would visit her about once a month. She no longer had the ability to speak and due to a broken hip was unable to walk. She stayed in her bed. Day and night had lost their distinction. One day, my sister, who lived in Plymouth and could visit our mother often, called to report that my mother’s disease had progressed to the point where she did not recognize people, including my sister. It was sad news. A few weeks after that news, I visited my mother. As I entered her room, my mother looked up at me. Immediately, a smile came over her face and tears came down from her eyes. Although the disease had captured much of my mother’s abilities, the invisible presence of love moved her mind and heart to respond. Love is invisible but it is a powerful force in our physical world.
We have such capability to love and express love because who God loves made us in His own image. God is always expressing His love for us and reaching out to us that we would know His love and respond to it. In our Old Testament reading today from the Book of Jeremiah, we heard God express the manner and means He would love the people. We read, “’The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant [I will express My love another way] with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors; the people broke that covenant. [This time, instead of writing My words as rules upon stone tablets] I will put My words into their minds and the writing I will do will be upon their hearts. [This will be new and they will new because] I will no longer remember the sins of the past.’”
This and similar passage of Scripture give us reason to pause. The passage says, God, whom we cannot see, will express love, which is, as we said, invisible. Moreover, the record of this exchange of love will be found in our minds and our hearts, neither of which we can actually see ourselves. Talk about a God moving in mysterious ways. But at the time of His choosing, God did show His love in a very personal way. To do this, God became most like us. God sent Jesus to us, as God in human form. Why? To love people in a way that could be felt in their hearts and to teach people by transforming their minds with living word of God. The mysterious way God showed His love was through the very real person of Jesus Christ. We read throughout the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) that Jesus loved people.
From the Gospel of Mark, a rich young man came to Jesus and asked, “I keep all the commands writing upon in stone, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” The Bible says, “Jesus looked at him [the man] and loved him. Jesus said, ‘You lack one thing. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” The man, who was willing to keep track of God’s commandments etched in stone, lacked the willingness to give his mind and heart to God and feel God’s love. In this man’s case, money captured the man’s ability to love.
Jesus came to love. The Gospel of John said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” To show the greatness of God’s love, Jesus laid down His life, that others, His friends, you and I would be moved to receive God’s Word into their minds and hearts.
How do we allow the Spirit of God to move us? Jesus explained this change in a person this way. From Chapter 3 of the Gospel of John we would read, “There was a man named, Nicodemus, a prominent leader among the Jews. Late one night he visited Jesus and said, “Rabbi, we all know you’re a teacher straight from God. No one could do all the miracles you do without God. Jesus said, “You’re absolutely right. Take it from me: Unless a person is born from above, it’s not possible to see what I’m pointing to—to God’s kingdom. Nicodemus said, “How can anyone be born who has already been born and grown up? You can’t re-enter your mother’s womb and be born again. What are you saying with this ‘born-from-above’ talk?” Jesus said, “You’re not listening. Let me say it again. Unless a person gives authority to God – to His Spirit, the invisible presence who is able to move the visible, and receive a baptism into a new life—it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom. When you look at a baby, it’s just that: a body you can look at and touch. But the person who takes shape within that body is formed by something you can’t see and touch—the Spirit—and becomes a living spirit. So, don’t be so surprised when I tell you that you have to be ‘born from above’—born again.” If we want to feel God’s love in our lives we must receive Him and let Him change the spirit within us so that we move in the body in such a way as to honor God.
To receive God’s love and be born again, is not something your parents can do for you. It is not something your friends can do for you. It is not something that another person can force upon you. I remember reading in Church history, a European king said if he won a battle he and his army would become Christians. The king won the battle. So, the king ordered his army to march along the edge of a river. At the river’s edge, a priest stood with a branch full of leaves. As the army marched by the priest dipped the branch into the water of the river and sprinkled the passing troops believing they were born again by God’s love. This is not love. Receiving God’s love means you do it. In receiving God’s love, you are born again into a new being able to be moved in visible ways that show God is within you.
Now there is something interesting about receiving God’s love and being born again from above. While the experience may be different for each person, all who receive God’s love are transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. Now you might be saying to yourself, “Pastor, I just have a tough time believing that we are all made into the image of Jesus Christ. I mean it is possible for me to be in the image of Jesus but not for some other people I know.” My wife had a friend who used to like to say, “All the world is off except thee and me; and even thou art a little off!” I know it is hard to believe, but God’s love changes us into the image of Jesus Christ. And when we are all in the image Christ, then we have unity. Think of it this way. When a musician tunes an instrument, say a piano, he or she does so by tuning the keys to a standard such that the standard and the key play the same note. If that musician tuned ten pianos that way, then the ten pianos would be united whenever they all played the same note. That is unity and harmony. So when we all accept God’s love we are all tuned to Him and thus have unity.
Jesus explained this interaction of love and unity. We read about it in our New Testament reading from the Gospel of John, Chapter 17. Please turn with me to John, Chapter 17. This is part of a prayer Jesus made to God just before his arrest. Jesus said in verse 13, “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they [my followers] may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14 I have given them your word.” Jesus’ mission was to impart God’s word into the mind and hearts of his disciples. In that transformation of these men, it was as if Jesus tuned them to be alike in their thoughts and hearts. Now comes the challenging part. God never intended for Jesus to stay in this physical world forever. Verse 18, Jesus continued, “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them [my followers] into the world.” The plan was for the invisible love of God to be made know continually was through the message of the Gospel brought forward by Jesus’ disciples. Those here today and who know anything of God’s word do so because of the work of one of Jesus’ disciples. We are connected to the people hearing Jesus pray these words. That was the God’s plan.
Jesus confirmed this plan as he continued in His prayer in verse 20, “My prayer is not for them [my followers listening to me] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message [that is you and me], 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity.” The prayer of Jesus was that the disciples would show the love He had for them to the world and that those who receive the love of Christ would continue to then share it with others. In receiving that love from Christ, then each Christian would share unity with all other Christians. Jesus said, “Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
You see friends, receiving God’s love and having unity with other Christians is God’s plan to continually show His love to the world. You and I are to be united and responsible to show God’s love in this world. God’s invisible love becomes real and moves people visibly in the world. Such unity cannot be forced. Such unity comes only when we all give our lives over and accept the love of Christ. When we are not acting united, love suffers. A few years ago, a good friend where I had worked asked me if I would do the wedding for his son. I said, “Before I agree to do so, I have one question. Are your son and his fiancé both Christians?"” He said, “My son is a Christian but his fiancé does not believe in God.” I said, “I am sorry. I cannot do the wedding because it would not be a marriage built upon unity but would be wedding of disunity.” The Bible tells us “You cannot have two instruments, tune one to a standard and leave the other untuned and expect the two instruments to play in harmony.” It does not mean we cannot have a relationship with someone who does not believe in God; but we will never have the unity.
Jesus called Christians to live in unity and harmony. Paraphrasing Jesus’ half-brother James, we learn that the Christian life of unity requires wisdom. James wrote, “Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.” [James 3:13-18] That is an illustration of community of unity and harmony that catches the attention of the world. That is the invisible love of God made visible.
What then do we say when we come to realize that all Christians do not live in harmony and that there is evidence of disunity? We see that all the time, don’t we? If there is disunity in the church or in a Christian home, then there is a problem with love because unity is based upon love. Jesus’ disciple Peter who heard Jesus’ prayer for the unity of all Christians said, “Above all, love each other deeply because love covers a multitude of sins.” I do not often cite the Message rendition of the Bible, but I did like the paraphrasing of Peter’s words, “Most of all, love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. Be quick to give a meal to the hungry, a bed to the homeless—cheerfully. Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it: if words, let it be God’s words; if help, let it be God’s hearty help. That way, God’s bright presence will be evident in everything through Jesus, and he’ll get all the credit as the One mighty in everything.” Our life is all about receiving God’s love, becoming born again, being united with one another, and then making God’s love clear by sharing His words and by showing that bright presence in an otherwise darken world.
God loves you and me. God sent Jesus to us that through Jesus we would see God’s love and be united to Him. God sent Jesus to us that through Jesus we would be united with one another. Jesus sent his disciples and he sends you and me to live in His love and unity. There are many convincing and persuasive logical arguments for Christianity, but the most powerful testimony is a life of love and unity. What is the word of Christ without an example? You and I are Christ’s chosen example of love and unity. Now, let’s joyfully live as that example. Amen and Amen.