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Activating Love
May 13, 1979

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

1 CORINTHIANS 13; 1 JOHN 4:7-12

There's lots of talk about love. There's lots of writing, there's lots of singing about love, but it's like the weather. Wasn't it Mark Twain who said, “Lots of people talk about the weather, but not many do anything about it.” Love is like that. Especially on this day, we talk about love. We give gushy cards to mother that contain the word love. Our scripture lesson from the book of 1 John encourages us not just to talk about love, not just to let love be in words, but in action. Let's activate love. In keeping with that spirit, I will talk about love in this sermon, using words and pointing to some insights that will help us to activate love. 

I believe we were put on this earth to learn how to love. I believe that God placed you and me on this earth to learn many things—to grow, to mature, and most especially, to learn how to love. That's a simple statement, but it's very profound. Perhaps it's one of the most difficult lessons we have to learn while on this earth. You and I have a long way to go. All we have to do is to look at this world and see how far we have yet to go to learn how to love. “What the world needs now is love, sweet love.” Beginning in the home, beginning with relationships between parents and children, and children and parents, between  siblings, brothers and sisters, we learn how to love in that training ground in order to able to go out into the world, into other intimate relationships, to neighbors and to spread it. 

Paul called love the greatest gift of all as we heard  in that beautiful passage from 1 Corinthians 13—the greatest gift of all. Even if you speak in tongues, but have not love you are like a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal. We forget that the beautiful 13th chapter is placed in the context of Paul discussing tongues—speaking in an unknown language. He says, “Yes, it's a gift.” Yes, some people speak in tongues. But those who say you must speak in tongues in order to be a Christian, Paul says, “Let me show you a more excellent way.” And then he says even if you speak in tongues, but have not love, you're just a lot of noise. Even if you sacrifice, even if you give away everything you have, without love, you are nothing and you gain nothing. Love is a gift, not something you earn, but a gift. We are placed here to learn how to love but we're not left alone to discover it. Love is a gift. We don't dredge it out of nowhere. We don't work hard and earnestly strive to love. We don't force ourselves. It's a gift and there is evidence on every hand of how you are loved. 

As our scripture lesson pointed out, as it does throughout the New Testament, Christ died for you. Christ died so we may know the love of God. How can we sit and look at the cross, how can we sit here in this beautiful place and look at the cross and realize the death of Christ was for you and for me without feeling that awesome feeling again of how we are loved. The place to begin learning how to love is to receive the love and accept the love. Why is that so hard for us to do? We think we're so bad or we think we're so sinful, we feel so guilty, we think nobody could love us—little old me. Why is it so difficult to realize God so loved you, he gave his only Son. 

Every day try this exercise. Every day say aloud, not just inside you but out loud, “I am a child of God and God is interested in even the smallest detail of my life.” God has counted the number of hairs on your head. For some of you that's not too big a job. Believe that God knows so much about you, that God is so concerned about you and so interested in you that God has counted the hairs on your head. Do you believe that? How could you possibly believe that and not believe how special, unique, important and loved you are. Say every day, “I am a child of God. God is interested in even the smallest detail of my life, God loves me.” And then sit there in prayer and let God love you. Every day open yourself and let God love you. Some people image a white light, picturing the love of God in the image of white light engulfing them and filling them with warm love energy. Some people image Jesus holding them in his arms—leaning on the everlasting arms. However you want to do it, say it out loud every day and sit there in silence and experience that love. 

Then, begin loving by activating it, by doing love. Like a muscle that gets flabby with disuse so love becomes stronger by using love, by saying throughout the day, “What is the loving act to do here?” And then do it. Which leads us to the question, what is love? Our culture has trouble with this word. We are so confused about what does love mean, especially as the Bible uses it. A youth once said, “Love is that itchy feeling around the heart that you can't scratch.” You know what that is. That's true. But that doesn't apply to all situations. If we wait to act loving at home until we have an itchy feeling around the heart, it will be a long time coming. The love that Paul talks about and the love in our 1 John lesson is not that itchy kind of love. John defines it, “This is how we know what love is. Christ gave his life for us, we then ought to give our lives for others.” That's what love is. As Christ laid down his life for you, you lay down your life for others. That's love. 

Love is the giving of oneself. As one has received this tremendous gift from God, so now one shares with others. It's receiving and giving. That's love. That's what life is all about—receiving and giving. I understand up in northern California in a redwood grove, there is a sign. The inscription stands among the tall redwoods. Some of those redwoods have been growing since before the Buddha was born and before Jesus was born. Those redwoods have been growing, and they will continue to grow long after you and I leave this earth. But someday each redwood will die. But even in their death, there is meaning. This inscription reads, “When a tree dies and lies on the earth's surface, all is not over. Decomposers begin their job of breaking the tree down slowly. As the years go by, the tree blends into the soil, returning all it took so that other trees may live.” That's what it's all about—receiving life and giving it back. 

Love is the giving back to God all that we've received. Love is the giving back to parents all we've received. Love is the sharing, the giving of ourselves to those around us. What a difference our families would be, even if just once a day, we would each consciously say, “What can I give of myself to those in my family? What can I give in love?” 

To what end— what is the purpose of giving love to those in our families or those we love? What is the purpose of giving this love? What is the purpose of giving ourselves? That the other person may grow, that other redwoods may grow, that other trees may live and grow, that other persons may live and grow and become beautiful people, that other persons may grow out of dependence into independence, out of immaturity into maturity, out of irresponsibility into responsibility. Love is to enrich, surround, and give to others that they may grow. 

I was in a park once and a mother came with her son about four or five years old. She had him by the hand. They were immaculately dressed, just beautifully dressed and she was so careful to keep him clean. She lifted him onto the swing and pushed him. She helped him up the steps on the slide and then ran around and caught him when he came down so he wouldn't get hurt and get his clothes dirty. The poor little kid was just “Mama this, Mama that” and hanging onto her hand. I suppose she thought she was a loving mother. I thought she was a smothering mother. 

Contrast that kind of love with a story told by Dr. Leo Busgaglia. When he was 17, he received a small portion of his grandfather's inheritance. He said to his parents, “I'm going to take that money and go to Paris. I want to see the artists. I want to visit the music studios and hear people learn how to sing. I want to go to the museums. I want to go to Paris.” His parents tried to talk him out of it, but he was insistent and it was his money. So they said, “All right, go. But don't expect anything from us. You're on your own. You made this decision. You’ve got to live by the decision.” The summer in Paris was beautiful, but then fall came and then winter came. They say it's cold in Paris in the wintertime. As money started to run out, he got hungry and couldn't get heat in his room. He had to move into smaller, colder quarters to save money. He was cold and he was hungry. He scratched together enough money to send home a telegram. All he could afford was two words— “Mama starving.” He waited in anticipation for the reply. A few days later, a telegram came with two words—“Starve Mama.” She said later in her life that was one of the most difficult decisions she had to make—Mother love, to let him stand on his own feet and accept responsibility for his decisions. 

Love is to receive the love from God that enables us to grow and to give that love to others that they may grow. A great author by the name of Unknown wrote this poem. 

I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you. 

I love you not only for what you have made of yourself, 

but for what you are making of me. 

I love you for the part of me that you bring out. 

I love you for putting your hand into my heaped up heart, 

And passing over all the foolish weak things that you can’t help dimly seeing there. 

And for drawing out into the light all the beautiful belongings 

that no one else had looked quite far enough to find. 

That's love. How do we give such love? Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13,  “Love is patient. Love is kind. It is not jealous or conceited or proud. Love is not ill mannered or selfish or irritable. Love does not keep a record of wrongs. Love is not happy with evil but is happy with the truth.” We give ourselves to others by being patient, kind, accepting, forgiving, supportive and honest. And we learn how to do those things by doing them, by being patient, by being kind, not when we feel like it, but when the situation says this is the loving thing to do, and do it. And in the doing, we find it strengthened and growing. Love is to be open to the fact that we are loved by God and to give that love, to sacrifice, to lay down our lives that others may grow.

© 1979 Douglas I. Norris