Sunday, May 9, 2021

The first part of our Gospel reading will serve as the basis for this today’s message: Jesus said,

“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments,
you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have
said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my
commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay
down one’s life for one’s friends.” Thus far our text.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

I believe I have experienced an epiphany of sorts recently. For a long, long time I have been
teaching and preaching that grace is the most important thing in the universe, and therefore my
most favorite word. But there is another important word used 14 times in today’s readings from
the Gospel of John and the first letter of John. Last Sunday, this same word was used 26 times
in just the one reading from 1 John. I am now convinced this is the most important word and
concept in the universe. I think you know what that word and concept is… LOVE.

Of course, grace, the undeserved gift of forgiveness which flows freely upon us from God, is a
result of love. Without love, there would be no grace. God so loved the world that He sent His
Son to bring grace to bear upon on our lives. See what love the Father has given unto us, that
we should be called the children of God. As a matter of fact, according to 1 John, *God is love.

The image of The Divine Dance—the Triune God depicted as three outwardly focused persons
lovingly orbiting around one another within the form of one being—continues to dance around
in my head. The Father loves and orbits around the Son and the Spirit, with the Son and Spirit
in the same way orbiting around the Father and one another, helps deepen our understanding of
not only the Trinity, but also what it means for us to having been created in the image of God.

We are designed to reflect and participate in The Divine Dance, being outwardly focused and
orbiting around God and one another in love. The destructiveness of sin flipped this whole
thing on its head, causing our wounded nature to make us self-centered, to see everything and
everyone—including God—centered on us, serving us. And this destructiveness is at the heart
of all that is wrong in and around us.

God’s design for Creation was and is so very beautiful, and it is so very important for us as His
beloved children to increasingly be transformed back into our created design, to become people
who first experience, and then extend, God’s radical, reckless love to others. The more we are
able to recover the divine image and design within us and participate in the outwardly focused
dance of divine love, the more our lives will be filled with meaning and with beauty. As John
wrote: our “joy will be complete!”

A story of one man’s journey from self-centered to others-centered living is powerfully told in
the movie “Schindler’s List.” Oskar Schindler was a German industrialist who, after joining the
Nazi party, found ways to increase his fortunes early on during the reign of the Third Reich.
However, Schindler developed a great compassion for the Jewish workers of a factory he owned
and operated in Kraków, Poland, and he found ways to protect them, eventually being credited
with saving as many as 1200 Jews. By the time the war ended, Schindler had spent his entire
fortune on bribes and black-market purchases needed to take care of his workers.
 

Now we might focus on the heartbreak, on the regret Schindler experienced because he realized
he could have saved even more. But I would like to focus our attention on the love. He was
changed as the story unfolded from being self-centered to being other-centered, and Schindler
experienced profound meaning in sacrificial generosity. And those he loved and cared for
returned the love, embracing him in his time of regret. As a matter of fact, I learned something
new the about how this story ends. That loving embrace didn’t end there in that scene.

After the war ended, Oskar and his wife moved to Argentina and tried their hand at farming. It
didn’t work out, and they went bankrupt. Schindler left his wife and returned to Germany, only
to fail at several more business ventures. In the end, he depended significantly on financial
support from Schindlerjuden ("Schindler Jews")—the people whose lives he had saved during
the Holocaust. When he died in October 1974 Schindler was honored by being the only former
member of the Nazi Party to buried in Jerusalem on Mount Zion. The love went full circle.

Stories of radical and sacrificial generosity can powerfully touch us. Do you know why? It is
because inside each of us is the image of our Creator, the God who is defined by that one very
important word: love. When we are inspired and empowered to move beyond the lie that the
best things in life are the things we accumulate and the all the stuff we do for ourselves, we can
discover that there is so much more joy and meaning in joining The Divine Dance. This is at
the heart of the recalculating or reorientation of our lives Pastor Ryan spoke of last Sunday.

Is this type of outward-focused, others-focused, sacrificial generosity easy? By no means. At
times the needed sacrifices are painful. At times, those we love may not return the love, may
even be ungrateful, might even seek to take advantage of us. At other times, we might be so
overwhelmed by all of the need which surrounds us that we find it easier to escape back into the
distractions or try to return to living for ourselves.

But the greatest love, which produces the deepest joy, is found in living more and more fully in
the way of Jesus, the way of radical love and sacrificial generosity. As Jesus Himself said, “No
one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” When God works through
us to bring His love and His grace into the lives of others, leading them to rediscover the image
of God within themselves, we rediscover our created purpose.

Yes, ongoing repentance continues to play a role in our transformation. Yet it is so critically
important that we do not focus our attention on our sinful woundedness, but even more so come
to see the beauty which is within us and those around us, the beauty of the image of our Creator,
the beauty of the divine potential God has granted to His children.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let this be our goal: to increasingly abide in God’s love, and to
bear beautiful fruit as we love one another, and as we invite more and more of God’s wandering
prodigals to return with us into the loving embrace of our Creator Father, where we can be
transformed together by the power of love.

 
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