Summary: Just as Christ generously gave of himself for us, so are we called to be generous of ourselves and our resources for the sake of others.
This morning, we are going to talk about what it means to “give in love.” This is the last sermon in a series which has focused on the four missional components that will define who and what this church is as we seek to reach out in our community: Rooted in Christ. Grounded in Hope. Growing in Grace. Giving in Love. Those of you who were here last week will remember that as we learned about “Growing in Grace,” we looked at John Wesley’s teachings on grace and how God’s grace moves us from complete separation and naivety, through transformational change, toward Christ-likeness. And I ended by sharing with you that John Wesley taught that by God’s sanctifying grace, we can be made “perfect” in this life, where perfect is defined as perfect love of God and perfect love of neighbor—complete fulfillment of that Greatest Commandment we just heard Jesus proclaim.
So let’s talk about this perfection, or full sanctification for a minute. Because the thing is, Wesley went so far as to teach that in this life, we can reach perfection; we can achieve perfect love of God and neighbor, even as Christ was perfect. Now, I shared with you all last week that I really have a lot of trouble wrapping my head around that idea and I have since I first learned of the teaching. You see, before anyone is ordained as a United Methodist minister, they have to answer what are called the “Historical Questions.” These are questions that have been asked of ordinands all the way back to Wesley. There are thirteen of them, and if you don’t answer each one correctly, then there is a possibility that your ordination could be denied. So, one of the questions is this: “Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?” And if we want to be ordained, we all say, “Yes!” And what I’ve decided in the seven years since I was ordained is that what I am really affirming in my “Yes” response to that question is that I believe that all things are possible in God. But what I’ve also learned is that the question that follows is really the more important question. It is this: “Are you striving after it?” In other words, “Are you working towards a more perfect love of God and neighbor?” It is that striving for perfect love that should be the guiding directive for our lives, so that is our focus for this morning.
In the most quoted verse in all of the Bible, we hear John declare, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life.” To me, this is a statement of love in its highest form—given, shared, offered for someone else’s well-being; everything else is a weak imitation compared to God’s love in Christ Jesus, a “striving after.” Yet, Christ tells us striving after perfect love is exactly what we have to do. For thousands of years, the Israelites had followed hundreds of laws and commandments in order to fulfill their covenant to God. So one day, an expert of these laws comes to Jesus and asks what’s the greatest commandment? And Jesus says, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” There it is. The most important commandment for us as we seek to live as disciples of Christ: love God and love neighbor.