Year B; Fifth Sunday after Easter; 4.29.2018
I John 4:7-21
On Thursday at our April Vestry meeting, we opened the meeting as usual by listening to a reading of Scripture. The reading I chose was the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch and Philip. Then we pair up and have a conversation about the passage. My conversation partner was Katy Rivera. Her comments were based on the Ethiopian saying that he needed help interpreting the passage he was reading. “How can I understand this reading with no one to help me?”
Katy shared that she believes it is extremely important for Christians to read and share scripture in community, not in isolation. Katy said she had just seen an article from “GQ Magazine” that listed 20 classic books no longer necessary to read. The bible was on the list because The Bible is redundant and confusing.”
I guess if you consider that the Bible is a collection of books, similar to a library, that spans a couple of thousand years, it might come across as redundant and confusing. It wasn’t exactly written to be a novel or a history book or even a collection of short stories! It was never meant to be a cohesive unit. Even scholars argue about how many authors there are for even one book of the bible, like the Psalms or the Pentateuch, (the first five books)… we call them BOOKS of the Bible for a reason!
For the people of God, the Bible informs us of our relationship with God, and we gather weekly to hear the lessons which point to God’s love for and salvation of God’s people.
The Bible is not intended ever to be read in isolation. It is a community book, and that’s why every single time the people of God gather, Scripture is read. It is how we are fed and strengthened in our faith.
Some of you will ask me to comment on a passage of Scripture for the bible as you prepare for Bible study class on Sundays. I love those conversations because you help me learn! Just recently, Larry Kalajainen, one of our own in-house bible scholars gave a class on the interpretation of scripture. It wasn’t a one-on-one tutorial. It was a class, full of people with questions and lively conversation. We help each other learn!
Scripture is meant to be considered in community.
If there is one thing that all Christians can take away from Scripture is that we are “beloved” of God. Because “God so loved us…the world, that he made his love manifest in his son, Jesus, and gave Jesus to the world.” That passage is from John’s gospel. Then, there is the First Letter of John that was our second reading this morning,
“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone, EVERYONE who loves is born of God and knows God.”
One theologian writes about how fundamental to the New Testament the First Letter of John is. “John’s letter…crafts one of the most powerful texts in the New Testament about how the initiative of God’s love makes possible the reality of human love.” (Feasting on the Word, Claudia Highbough)
Love is central to the Letter, and love is God’s initiative…God first loved us. You could say that God invented love!
We do not have to prove our worth. God loved us first. We do not have to prove our value. God loved us first. God’s fundamental character is love.
Children seem to understand this freely given love of God more easily than adults. Some of you may have seen the brightly colored rug that we put down on the floor for Family Worship. It is oval and at the edge of the rug, at its border are brightly colored letters of the alphabet. During homily time at Family Worship one Sunday, I asked the children to come up to the rug and find the first letter for their first name. Many of them went to the edge and pointed to their letter. “D” for Divi. “E” for Estella. “Z” for Zoe.
But one child went straight to the center of the rug where there is a large red heart and the words, “God is love.” That’s where she wanted to be! She seemed to know the truth, “God is love!”
“Beloved, let us love one another because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” God loves us first, and that is our worth, our value. “God has decided in our favor apart from our ability to reciprocate, gracing us with love prior to and independent of any response we might offer…” (Clifton Black) “Our conception of love does not define God; rather God in God’s love defines us; what God has done in our behalf.”
Last week I spent two days in retreat at the Society of St. John the Evangelist monastery in Cambridge. The theology the brothers live by comes from the Gospel of St. John, their namesake. Their theology is centered in God’s love and their beloved-ness.
The brothers, in the daily reflections they post on-line write often about love. Brother Luke wrote recently on this passage from this very passage from the First Letter of John. “Beloved, because God has loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.”
He writes, ‘When I receive a gift I have a choice. Do I just hold onto [it] and focus on the gift, or do I turn and say thank you to the one who gave it? Turning towards the giver and saying, ‘thank you,’ completes the gift, and builds relationship between us…God loves me and as I turn to love others, that too is a way of responding to and saying thank you to God for God’s love.”
The intent of the content of the First Letter of John is to be shared as a gift with others. It is a gift of encouragement. God’s love is to be nurtured and given to others as a gift. It is to be offered in gratitude to others, to our family, to our community, to the world.
“God is love” for me and mine, hoarding it and not sharing it is not at all what the writer intended. We are beloved of God and that is intended to be shared and to be lived and acted upon in community.
Last week I learned that my seminary New Testament professor has moved from Brooklyn to Maine. She posted on Facebook that she and her spouse have moved to Northport on the water and are exhilarated to be in Maine. I wrote her and welcomed her. I invited her and her spouse to visit me in Brunswick. She said she surely would be coming to Brunswick since she has a close friend who teaches at Bowdoin. That was exciting news, so I suggested that since I love to cook, I would like to have a dinner party for them.
Her simple reply delighted me because here was a New Testament and Greek scholar, a professor for I-don’t-know-how-many-years, defining her New Testament hope for our gathering as “The Beloved Community!”
I think if we were to write our own “gospel” of St. Paul’s, the Beloved Community it would certainly begin with “God is Love.” But what then are the characteristics of our beloved community?
I’m going to be a teacher right now and give us an assignment for the week. So, here it is: Think about and pray about what is your vision of the “Beloved Community.” What would St. Paul’s look like and feel like and be like if the beloved community became real for you?
“Beloved, let us love one another.”