A Whole Lotta Love 1 John 4:7-21
April 29, 2018- Moravian Music Sunday
Today is Moravian Music Sunday. I guess we could actually call every Sunday Moravian Music Sunday since every time Moravians make music it’s automatically Moravian music. But today is the Sunday that we celebrate Moravian music. It is the Sunday that we remember the rich musical heritage of our Moravian forebears. It is the Sunday that we recognize the wonderful contributions of the modern day Moravians to Moravian music. It is the Sunday that we try to ensure that all of our music has a Moravian connection. Most of the hymns today are kind of the “Greatest Hits” of the Moravian Church. And our closing hymn was even written by members of our church!
It’s a pretty exciting Sunday. But honestly, I am probably the last person who should be up here speaking about Moravian music. Because I’m not what you would call musically gifted. I can barely read music. Sometimes when I am trying to choose hymns for a service, I’ll have to look up the tune and listen to it online. I was the worst saxophone player in the Ardmore Moravian band. I felt that I had done a good job if I could just play the first and last note of each chorale. And I can’t sing, not a lick.
I remember one Christmas Eve in Mayodan. The kids choir was singing Morning Star and they starting singing the wrong verse. Since I was sitting right behind them, I started singing, pretty loudly, trying to get them back on track. As soon as I started singing, every SINGLE one of those kids stopped, and turned around and stared at me, as if they couldn’t believe that sound could come from a person. If you have the notion that all Moravian ministers are good singers, let me disabuse you of that right now. Because I can’t sing. Not a lick.
I’m actually ok with that. Perhaps it doesn’t make me the best candidate to be preaching on Moravian Music Sunday. But I’m not at all bothered that I can’t really play and I definitely can’t sing, not a lick. And I haven’t been bothered by it for a long time.
When I was growing up, at Ardmore Moravian, there was a man who always sat right in front of where my family always sat. Here’s a little secret- pastors like the fact that everyone always sit in the same place every Sunday because that way we know who’s not here. But anyway, this man always sat right in front of us. And he couldn’t sing. Not a lick. But just because he couldn’t sing didn’t mean he wouldn’t sing. And sing he did-loudly and badly. When I was a kid it was always kind of embarrassing but also kind of funny to hear him sing. It was hard not to giggle just a little bit.
So one Sunday there he was just singing away. And my brother and I started looking at each other and the next thing you knew, we both started giggling. We kept it under control for the most part. But my grandmother saw us. Now she wasn’t the kind of grandmother who would give you one of those looks that let you know you were in trouble. She was the kind of grandmother who would take those moments when we should have been in trouble but instead she would use it to teach us something, often in a way you didn’t even realize that you were learning something important. And after church that Sunday, Granny asked me “What did you think about that hymn?” and I knew which hymn she meant. “Why don’t you go back and look at the words.”, she said. So I did. And these were those words:
We who here together are assembled, joining hearts and hands in one, bind ourselves with love that’s undissembled Christ to love and serve alone;
O may our imperfect songs and praises be well pleasing unto thee, Lord Jesus; Say “My peace I leave with you.” Amen, Amen, be it so.
“O may our imperfect songs and praises.” When I read those words and really thought about them, I got what Granny was trying to teach me- that all of our songs and praises are imperfect. No matter how great a singer we are or how terrible a singer we are, it just didn’t matter.
What mattered was why we sang, and what we were singing about, and who we were singing for. I never again giggled at the man who sang so loudly and so badly because he also did it so joyfully, In fact, church was never the same once he died. The singing may have been better but something about it was still off-key.
That taught me that it was ok that my songs and praises were “imperfect” (because remember, I can’t sing, not a lick) so long as I always remembered why I was singing them and what I was singing about and who I was singing for. (And I know that it would be more grammatically correct to say “for whom I was singing” but that just doesn’t sound right) So I’m not at all embarrassed that I can’t play or read music. And that I can’t sing, not a lick. Because it just doesn’t matter.
As long as I keep offering my imperfect songs and praises with love, then God will take my imperfections and make them perfect. And not just my imperfect songs and praises, but all of my many imperfections. And all of our many imperfections. That’s what John is talking about when he writes: “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
God loves us despite our imperfections, God loves us despite our failings, God loves us despite our sins. He loves us so much that he sent his only Son to us. To die for us and for our sins so that we might be forgiven of our sins. Jesus, through his grace, through his mercy, through his love, forgives us of our sins and makes us perfect before God. And then he calls us to love each other in the same way that he loves us.
And that’s where it gets tricky. First, it doesn’t seem easy for us to let ourselves be loved by God. I know that I often struggle with it. And I feel sure that WE often struggle with it. We don’t feel that we are worthy of anyone’s love, let alone Gods. For we know the depths of our sins, of our failings, of our imperfections, we know how unworthy we truly are. We can’t imagine that ANYONE would ever love us. Yet God loves us.
God, the Creator of heaven and earth, of ALL that is, seen and unseen, that same God loves us. God loves me and God loves you and God loves all of us. God loves us and claims us and calls us his beloved children. God loves us so much that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him shall not die but shall have eternal life. God loves us so much that he became one of us.
If, or when, we believe that God became human in Jesus- that he lived among us as we live, that he felt the same feelings that we feel- the joy and the sorrow; that he shed the same tears and laughed the same laughs; that he truly knew what it is like for us to be us, then that is how we know that God truly loves us. God didn’t do that because WE love God. God did that because God loves us. It wasn’t a response to our love for him that caused him to come to us, it was because he already loves us so much that he came to us and died for us. So the response is up to us.
And that is the REALLY tricky part. As difficult as it is for us to allow ourselves to be loved by God, to be loved with a love that is so great that God gave up all that he had and all that he was, and that he then gave up the life that he took on, for us and for our salvation, it is even more difficult for us to take that next step and to love each other with that same love. Not the same kind of love, but the SAME love.
This is what John means when he writes: Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. First he reminds us that we are loved, as he calls us “Beloved” and then he tells us how much God loves us, so much that he sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. And then he tells us that we ought to love each other WITH THE SAME LOVE. Maybe John doesn’t come right out and say it but it is definitely clear through his words that this is the love that we need to have for each other- the love that God has for us.
And that is really, really, really difficult. For as clearly as we can see our own faults, and failings, and imperfections, it is even easier to see the faults and failings and imperfections of others. And once we see that, how can we love them? Because we know that they will fail us, they will disappoint us, they will show us that they aren’t perfect. They will show us that they don’t deserve our love. That’s what makes it difficult to love each other with the love that God loves us- when we confuse love with something that is deserved, something that is earned. But it just isn’t. Love is given and love is received. It is not earned, it is not deserved. It is just given. Or it isn’t.
Giving our love to others makes us vulnerable. It opens us up to rejection, to the love that we give not being received and not being returned. And we don’t want to do that. We are afraid to do that, we are afraid of being vulnerable, of being rejected. So we hold on to our love. We make it something that has to be earned and deserved. But that’s not love. At least it’s not the perfect love that cast out fear.
There’s that word again “Perfect” we tend to shy away from it because we know that it is impossible. Perfection is impossible. It’s why I like songs that request our imperfect songs and praises be well pleasing. Because we know that is the best the we can do. We can strive for perfection but we can never achieve perfection. With one exception.
And that’s love. We can be made perfect in love. We are made perfect in love. When God looks at us in love, in God’s all encompassing, self-giving love, God sees not our failings and shortcomings and imperfections, but He sees his beloved child, who he created in his image. And God sees us as perfect because God is perfect. And we are perfect because God and God’s love makes us perfect.
That is what we need to remember when we hear the call to love each other. We need to remember that we are loved with the perfect love that casts out fear. And because we are loved in that amazing way, then we are free to love one another in the same way. With a perfect love that casts out fear- fear of that love being rejected, fear of that love not being returned. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” When we accept the perfect love of God, because God does not reject us or our love, then we can offer that same perfect love to others.
God is a God who is identified by his love- it is a love that is so great it caused the creation of the heavens and the earth, and of you and me. It is a love that is so great it caused the salvation of all of God’s creation from ourselves, from our faults and our imperfections, our failings and our sins. It is a love that is so great that it sustains us through out the ups and downs of life. It is a love that is so great that it makes us perfect in that love. The love of God is a love that is so great, so perfect that it has to be shared, without fear but loudly, proudly, and joyfully. It is a whole lot of love. And it is enough for us and for us to share with all the world.