God started It!

I John 4:7-21, John 15:1-8, May 3, 2015

The story is told of the man who saw his minister in the grocery store, he approached him and angrily said, “I am never coming to your church again!”

The minister replied, “I’m sorry to hear that. Why?”

“Well, the sermon’s never new and we always sing the same hymns!”

The minister answered, “Really? I’m surprised you feel that way. Which hymns are you tired of?”

“Well, every time I come to church,” the man said, “you have us either sing ‘Silent Night’ or ‘Jesus Christ is Risen Today’!”

A similar thing happened to Dr. James McCord, once President of Princeton Theological Seminary, once a man commented that he was never going back to a particular church because all they ever talked about was “give, give, give.” Dr. McCord said, “I cannot think of a better definition of Christianity than that: ‘give, give, give.’” Because that’s what God has done for us.

God has given us life.

God has given us families.

God has given us the beauty of the earth.

And, most importantly God has given us his son to set us free from sin. God has given us

everything. Anything we have to give away was first given us by God.

My title this morning comes from my youth—and maybe yours too. Whenever my brother and I would fight, I would always point out that he started it. And we always agreed on this one…we always agreed that the other one started it. So our retaliating was really our honest, sincere effort to make things fair. And fair to the mind of a 6 or 10 year old is that both sides are suffering equally. But we never reached the point where things were fair. Not once did we stop fighting because we had achieved “pain equilibrium,” justice had been served and peace could prevail. I cannot tell you how many times mom said wearily, “That’s how wars are started.”

As we think about the life of a Christian we face the fact that in a similar way we will never get to fair. We will never be able to give back to God everything we have received, it simply isn’t possible.

The First Letter of John makes this point very clearly and memorably. “We love because God first loved us.” God “started it” by loving us. By loving Creation. And because God started by loving us, we can be born of God, John writes, and know God by loving others. The great depth of God’s love should prompt us to love others, and by loving others, God lives in us and love is perfected—that is, made complete—in us, when we love others.

Last week I talked about my culture shock in moving to Mankato, MN from Chicago. Shortly after I arrived at that church they started a huge project to renovate their building. Every single room was completely redone, re-wired and they had sprinklers installed. Only the sanctuary was untouched. It took more than a year to complete the project and it was noisy, dusty, stressful and cold around there for a long time. When everything was complete, there was a dedication service and all kinds of Presbyterian hotshots came and spoke in the worship service. The Executive Presbyter was there and the President of Louisville Seminary delivered the sermon. The music was as glorious as it ever was on Easter. I only remember one thing about that service. One of the members of the church who had overseen the daily progress of the contractors gave the prayer for illumination. The presence of so many prominent, respected, outside people made Jean quite nervous, yet she spoke the most memorable words that day. Her prayer for illumination began, “We love you, God..”

Those four words reminded everyone present that day why we had endured the stress and inconvenience of the renovation project. We hadn’t done it for ourselves, we had done it because of our love for God, because of our corporate desire to serve God, because we are grateful. Because God started it. “We love you, God.” And being loved by God makes us different. Being loved by God shapes our lives.

We love one another, we love God, because God loved us first. God started it. Every week we sing, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” We hardly notice the words, they are so familiar, but notice those words today, All blessings flow from God. Have you got a blessing? You don’t have to look very far to see that your blessing came from God.

My friend David Westerberg tells the story of his kindergarten teacher who was leading the class in a thanksgiving lesson. She would ask, “Who made the sky?” and the class would answer, “God made the sky.”

“Who made the stars?”

“God made the stars.”

“Who made the earth?”

“God made the earth.”

It went on like this until the teacher asked, “Who made the trees?”

“God made the trees.” But David raised his hand and said, “Teacher, sometimes when squirrels bury nuts they forget where they put them and trees are made that way!”

The teacher glared at David and asked, “Who made the squirrels?”

“God made the squirrels,” David replied meekly.

I could stop here. God loved us first is a terrific message for people to receive; and if you remember that I’ll consider this worship service a success…but there’s another point that I need to make: God’s love is ongoing! God did not love creation, then step back and abandon it. God’s love is ongoing! Here’s a sentence I found in Wednesday’s newspaper, “God has been taking care of our spiritual guidance from the time of Adam and continuing his spiritual rainfall whenever the human spirit is most in need.” God’s guidance continues.

That’s exactly the point Jesus makes to his disciples when he tells them “I am the vine, you are the branches.” We need to stay connected to Christ in the same way that branches can only grow when they are connected to their vines. If that connection is severed, the branch will wither and die.

Here’s what I want you to think about—how are you connected to the Vine of Christ? What does that feel like, and how would you describe it? Are you aware that you are growing? Do you feel that connection, that rootedness?

My experience is that I feel that connection more strongly at different times. If that’s your experience too, when do you feel especially connected? What are you doing right? Or you might think of it this way—what is God doing right, by helping you experience being loved?

There are lots of different kinds of plants, and there are lots of different kinds of people who feel claimed, loved, nurtured, guided and protected by God. We don’t all grow the same way, and we don’t all bear the same fruit.

I say that because the person whose quote I found in Wednesday’s newspaper who mentioned spiritual guidance from the time of Adam, is my friend Khurram Ahmad, the president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Oshkosh. While he might not imagine Christ as the vine to which he is attached, and from him he draws a sustaining life-force, I am confident that his faith tradition has a similar understanding. And the same God who first loved me, also first loved him. And that god is very great. Amen.