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What the World Needs Now

Date:5/2/21

Passage: 1 John 4:7-21

Speaker: Rev. Dr. Michael L. Gregg

Does your life have a soundtrack? Often, The Beatles, Paul Simon, or John Denver provide a backdrop to my life. I hear songs in my head that help me make sense of the unbelievable things that happen in the world. With all of the violence, fear, misunderstanding, and hate I see all around us during this time, I’ve needed a soundtrack to soothe my soul. Do you know which song I’ve been singing to myself, humming in my mind? Dionne Warwick’s “What the World Needs Now.” In this song, she preaches a message of love better than any preacher when she sings, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love.”

What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It’s the only thing, that there’s just too little of
What the world needs now is love, sweet love,
No, not just for some, but for everyone.

Lord we don’t need another mountain.
There are mountains and hillsides enough to climb.
There are oceans and rivers, enough to cross, enough to last till the end of time.

Lord, we don’t need another meadow.
There are cornfields and wheat fields enough to grow.
There are sunbeams and moonbeams enough to shine.
Oh listen Lord, if you want to know.

What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It’s the only thing, that there’s just too little of
What the world needs now is love, sweet love,
No, not just for some, but for everyone.

The marvelous Dionne Warwick says it plainly and clearly. What the world needs is love. And that’s what John wrote in our scripture lesson for today. But, I think, John was even more clear than Dionne. John said, “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” God is love. If we, as faithful people, believe that in the beginning God created everything, and if we, as faithful people, believe that in the beginning was the Word, then we are urged by John to recognize that love is the soundtrack for everything.

God is love and love is God. Love was hovering over all of creation from the beginning of time. Love made order out of chaos. Love brought freedom to a captive people. Love came to earth in human flesh to die on a cross to reveal the power of that love to change the world. God is love and love is not just for some, love is for everyone.

Duke Professor, Will Willimon, recognizes that when we, as Christ followers, see Jesus, we’ve seen the love of God drawing near to us. He acknowledges that Jesus said many times “that he is the way to God. Jesus is the way to God because Jesus is one with the Father. That means not only that Jesus is our way to God but also that Jesus is God’s way to us. That means when we look at Jesus and see his boundary-breaking love, his far-flung compassion for the downtrodden and sick, his gracious way with sinners, then we see God. We’re not looking at an imitation of God, or even some mirror image of God. We are seeing God. We couldn’t make a way to God so, in Jesus, God graciously made a way to us.”

That’s what this letter from John is suggesting to us today. God made a way to us in Jesus. We have seen God because we have seen Jesus. And although Jesus died thousands of years ago, Jesus remains alive in each one of us, as Easter resurrection people. When we choose to love one another, take care of one another, be kind to one another, create space for one another, see one another, we are choosing to see God.

One preacher put it like this: “That’s what life is all about. From the moment we are born until the moment we die; every second, every minute, every hour, every day, every month, every year, every decade, and every moment in between, God is trying to teach us one thing. To love as God loves. And the shape of love is always changing. The shape of love is always expanding. Foolish is the person who thinks that she or he knows what love is at fifteen, or twenty-five, or fifty-five, or seventy-five, because the shape of God’s love in us is forever expanding and changing in our lives.”

When we love, we expand our capacity to do good in the world and we change lives for the better. But we often don’t see the divine in each and every face. We often fail to expand divine love in the world. When children get shot, when we lock people up, when we bully and berate, when we crush someone’s spirit, when we refuse to listen and learn, we are, in essence, telling God, I don’t see you. I choose not to see you.

And choosing not to see God’s love and createdness in others seems to be especially problematic for Christians. One commentator said, “These verses reflect the utter realism of the author, who knows too well that Christian communities need to be encouraged to love one another. As the author’s later remarks indicate, he understands that the Christian fellowship can be permeated with hate; and what’s more, Christians can make the dubious claim of living in the love of God while at the same time exercising active ill will toward one another.”

You see Christians not giving enough love to each other and to fellow human beings was a problem all the way back to the early church. You’d think in two thousand years we would’ve learned to be better at seeing everyone in love. You’d think we would’ve heard John’s opening words of “Beloved, let us love one another” as the very basic thing we should’ve been doing all along as Christians. Maybe it’s easier for us to simply say that we love God, a mysterious, unseen, far away God whom we can give lip service but don’t ever really have to encounter. Or maybe, just maybe, God’s love pushes us beyond loving a distant creator. God’s love, coming to us as Jesus, reveals how we are to love right here and right now.

You see, God coming to us in human flesh is the ultimate act of love. And Jesus used every opportunity in his ministry and mission to reveal God and to show love. He confronted the rich and comforted the poor. He dialogued with the elite and dined with the outcasts. He welcomed those who had it all together and redeemed those whose lives were falling apart. Jesus showed us what love is. And love is God. We are to be godly towards one another. We are to love one another the same way that God loves us through the life-giving, life-changing, life-altering love of Jesus.

William Sloan Coffin reminds us, “God’s love doesn’t seek value, it creates it. It is not because we have value that we are loved, but because we are loved we have value.” Did you hear that? We have value because each and every one of us was created by a loving God. It doesn’t matter our gender, nationality, ethnicity, race, religion, station, or economic worth. We aren’t any less created in divine love because we don’t fit within a certain circle we’ve created out of fear or personal desires for power. One commentator said, “The kind of love that abides in God disallows differences, guidelines, rules, and regulations. The love that abides in God, as expressed when people love one another, is not a love that contemplates either purpose or result. It is a pure and faithful expression.”

That’s what this world needs. Not some mystical, otherworldly love, but love that is making the life of each person better. Just as Dionne asks us to give love to all and not to a select a small few who we think deserve it, we are to strive to give love to everyone, everywhere, at all times. This scripture text today smacks us squarely in the face with the assertion that our fears and feelings of others divide and separate us rather than bring us together.

Friends, I know it might be difficult on some days to find that love inside you, to love our enemies or see others as God sees them. But that’s why Jesus came, to show us what the world needs, to reveal to us that Jesus is among us, that God’s love is among us. And for us to see God here and now, we are to see each and every person, no matter who they are or what they have done, not matter who we are, or what we have done, in love, sweet love.

Few pastors are lucky enough to have belonged to a community that even comes close to demonstrating the love of God. Royal Lane has been that place. We still know that we have a lot of work to do and a lot of help in learning how to love. Even in the most accepting communities where people are generous, honest, vulnerable, inclusive, and compassionate, it is often difficult to show love for every single person. And then, truly caring for those outside our boundaries is even more challenging because that means our love and our welcome is to be larger and exceedingly broad. Yet, it is in this love we are called to continuously grow as people and as a church. And with a growing love comes a growing maturity and a growing awareness of Jesus in each and every person.

Next week is my last Sunday as your pastor. As I finish up my final days, clear out my office, and sift through cherished memories, I’m leaving as someone who was loved by you. And I hope I am leaving you as a congregation who has learned how to love better. “No one has ever seen God,” says John in his letter. Maybe not. But I have seen God in you. And we will continue to see God in the people around us, the people who create hope and peace and justice and goodwill, “who are the face of God to us, who are the love of God for us, who are the presence of God with us.”

For if we love one another, that’s what the world needs.

What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It’s the only thing, that there’s just too little of
What the world needs now is love, sweet love,
No, not just for some, but for everyone.

Amen.