What Love Does To Us
June 16, 2013
We’ve already had a full meal – on Scripture, on the depth of poetry in music expressed as prayers of our hearts, on the celebration of new life and a family committed to have Jesus as the center, and on the testimony of faith of a man in our midst. And it is Father’s day, and that is present in many of our minds as we have plans and thoughts that will begin later on. With that in mind, I just want to try to weave these various pieces together into a single theme – that of “what love does to us”. And I’m going to end with the challenge that if love produces that strong a response, then maybe we should love more deeply.
Tugging the Threads:
So let me pull on the threads, and for each the question is, “what does love do to us”?
Threads from Scripture:
We heard a number of different Scriptures this morning – Psalm 32, the story of Naboth’s vineyard, Paul confronting Peter, and Jesus at Simon the Pharisee’s home. Throughout, there is a theme of sin, confrontation, forgiveness, and the result – love.
There are some great, powerful stories in these Scriptures. The story of Naboth’s vineyard is a story of total selfishness, insatiable greed, and horrific wickedness. In many ways, it is a story about what happens when there is no love, when there is only concern for self. The king, so self-absorbed that he sulked in his little bed when he didn’t get the veggie garden he wanted, refusing to eat, acting like a spoiled 2 yr old in a toy store. His wife, the wicked queen, mocking his weakness and proving how weak he was by taking over and devising her own plot which as we read involves lying and conspiracy and murder. All for the convenience of a veggie garden. There is no love here… so perhaps from this story the question is, “what does a lack of love do to us”? It turns us inward, petty, harsh, and even violent. And any sane person looking in is revolted.
The second Scripture talked about Paul confronting Peter over a creeping hypocrisy. It starts off innocent enough – Peter is trying to avoid criticism and keep up appearances, but Paul sees a deeper issue, a much more important issue: Peter’s actions as a leader were about to cause a major division and create a major stumbling block to non-Jewish people coming to faith in Jesus. And – here is the key – Paul loved enough to confront. Paul loved the non-Jewish people enough to defend them, even against Peter who had walked with Jesus himself, and whom Jesus himself had entrusted the leadership of Jesus’ earthly Kingdom. Paul loved Peter enough to confront him, when Paul could have just walked away and let a great schism happen and Paul could have started and led his own thing. And, perhaps most important, Paul loved Jesus enough to fight for the truth of Jesus’ Kingdom and make sure that the main message – “that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ”, was the message that won out. So what does love do to us? It makes us bold, it makes us willing to fight for truth, it makes us see what really matters when we slip into just wanting to keep the peace and avoid criticism. It empowers, and the right prevails.
The third Scripture is the powerful story of Jesus at Simon’s banquet, with the woman who appears, is obviously a sinner, is incredibly inappropriate in her intimacy with Jesus by kissing his feet and washing them with her hair, and ends up as the model by which the Pharisee’s hospitality is embarrassed. Jesus tells this story, “41 Then Jesus told him this story: “A man loaned money to two people—500 pieces of silver to one and 50 pieces to the other. 42 But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?” 43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.”
What does love do? First, the love of Jesus welcomes the outcast. And when she experiences the love of Jesus – in effect, having her insurmountable debt cancelled and she is then suddenly free to live life once again – when she experiences that love she is forever completely changed. Do you think she went out and lived Jesus’ way because she felt she had to? Do you think she obeyed out of fear? Do you think she ever thought “well, I guess I have to do this or that because I am supposed to”… Do you think she lived a changed life regretting accepting help and feeling she owed Jesus something and had to pay Him back? No! She was full of love. This is what love does to us – it awakens something deep inside our spirits, something that reflects and expresses and connects with the very heart of God, which is love. God’s love, as we see in this story, turns everything on its head – there is nothing of earning it, nothing coercive or manipulating, nothing of “being forced to do this or that”, nothing of “I have to obey or else I’ll get in trouble”. This is Christianity – a life lived out of experiencing the love of God for us, His forgiveness, and then our response is simply the overflow of our love to God. So often we forget this. We live our Christian lives from some negative place of “I have to or I’ll get in trouble”; or “I don’t want to but I’m supposed to”; or “well fine then I’ll do it your way Jesus”. And when we do that we are Simon the Pharisee; saying “Hey Jesus, come be part of my life on my terms. Make me look good. Let me presume to be in control and decide for myself what I think about you.” But when, instead, we experience the love of God, what does that do to us? See, Jesus’ point in the story is that recognizing how great the debt was that was cancelled connects to that deep place inside us that wells up with gratitude and love that then responds with joyful exuberance that will do anything to please God and delight in it. Now if you read that story and think your debt was small – that you only had the 50 pieces of silver forgiven – then you are dead wrong. We all have the same debt; we all have complete hopelessness without Jesus; we are all, therefore, recipients of such lavish love, such outrageous forgiveness, that surely when we recognize and grasp that, we will respond with extravagant love in return.
So, from the threads of Scripture, what do we see of what love does to us? It galvanizes every part of us – heart and mind and soul and strength – and moves us to joyful delight in following this Jesus who has lavished His love upon us.
Threads from our lives:
So how about the other elements of our service this morning? If we pull on the threads of our lives, what do we see that love does to us?
Let’s first think about the birth of a child. What does that do to us? It changes everything . Sleep – changed. Time use – changed. Money spending – changed. Revulsion at bodily functions – changed. Priorities – changed. Focus on ourselves – changed. We could keep going… And why? Because of the love we experience for and with our newborn. We could tell stories all day of parent’s sacrificing everything, including their very lives, for their children. Out of duty? Because someone is forcing them to? For some promise of future personal payback? Nope. It is love, pure, simple, and perhaps the greatest force on earth. What does that love do to us? It shapes everything, it changes everything, it reorients everything. When it is done poorly or is absent, the pain inflicted is devastating, which all the more witnesses to how powerful this actually is. What this love does to us is deep, and I really believe it connects us to a deep place in God who has told us to relate to Him as a child to a parent. What does this love do to us? It calls out the best in us.
One final thread: the story of coming to faith in Christ. The public profession of faith which we have heard this morning is a story of what love does to us. What the love of God does to us, to be more precise. It parallels the story from Luke – an encounter with Jesus, sins forgiven, leaving with rejoicing. What does the love of God for us do to us? Too much to try to put into words. And that is a good thing! Once again, that experience must awaken something deep within – not just our mind, but our entire being, experiences that love of God and then lives with joyous abandon to and in that love. This is what it means to live as a follower of Jesus.
So far, this message has all been pretty much review… But now let me ask a heart question: are you living out of love? Is that where it comes from, your daily actions, your daily decisions, your daily priorities. I am not talking about sentimentality or pure emotionalism. I am talking about life – what are you living from? Is it, honestly, being lived out of your experience of the love of God for you? Is that the source, is that the power, is that the motivator? We are the forgiven woman in Jesus’ story, we are the ones who have been forgiven much. Are we living out of that, or are we demanding more from God and sulking like King Ahab when he didn’t get his convenient veggie garden. Or are we like Peter, more concerned about others around us and what they might think of us, and having forgotten that at the bottom of it all, the beginning of it all, the foundation of it all is really, really, really simple: I was a sinner, hopelessly lost, dead – and then the love of God found me, forgave me, and freed me. I was lost, but now am found, because God loved me.
So, then, if love is really this powerful, if it really can change everything and turn everything around, what might happen if we really got out of ourselves, like Jesus did, and really loved others. What might happen in their lives, what might happen in ours?
I want to end with a story that comes out of Sports Illustrated:
Strongest Dad in the World
Rick Reilly for Sports Illustrated (Sports Illustrated Issue date: June 20, 2005, p. 88)
I try to be a good father. Give my kids mulligans. Work nights to pay for their text messaging. Take them to swimsuit shoots.
But compared with Dick Hoyt, I suck.
Eighty-five times he's pushed his disabled son, Rick, 26.2 miles in marathons. Eight times he's not only pushed him 26.2 miles in a wheelchair but also towed him 2.4 miles in a dinghy while swimming and pedaled him 112 miles in a seat on the handlebars – all in the same day.
Dick's also pulled him cross-country skiing, taken him on his back mountain climbing and once hauled him across the U.S. on a bike. Makes taking your son bowling look a little lame, right?
And what has Rick done for his father? Not much – except save his life.
This love story began in Winchester, Mass., 43 years ago, when Rick was strangled by the umbilical cord during birth, leaving him brain-damaged and unable to control his limbs.
"He'll be a vegetable the rest of his life," Dick says doctors told him and his wife, Judy, when Rick was nine months old. "Put him in an institution."
But the Hoyts weren't buying it. They noticed the way Rick's eyes followed them around the room. When Rick was 11 they took him to the engineering department at Tufts University and asked if there was anything to help the boy communicate. "No way," Dick says he was told. "There's nothing going on in his brain."
"Tell him a joke," Dick countered. They did. Rick laughed. Turns out a lot was going on in his brain.
Rigged up with a computer that allowed him to control the cursor by touching a switch with the side of his head, Rick was finally able to communicate. First words? "Go Bruins!" And after a high school classmate was paralyzed in an accident and the school organized a charity run for him, Rick pecked out, "Dad, I want to do that."
Yeah, right. How was Dick, a self-described "porker" who never ran more than a mile at a time, going to push his son five miles? Still, he tried. "Then it was me who was handicapped," Dick says. "I was sore for two weeks."
That day changed Rick's life. "Dad," he typed, "when we were running, it felt like I wasn't disabled anymore!"
And that sentence changed Dick's life. He became obsessed with giving Rick that feeling as often as he could. He got into such hard-belly shape that he and Rick were ready to try the 1979 Boston Marathon.
"No way," Dick was told by a race official. The Hoyts weren't quite a single runner, and they weren't quite a wheelchair competitor. For a few years Dick and Rick just joined the massive field and ran anyway. Then they found a way to get into the race officially: In 1983 they ran another marathon so fast they made the qualifying time for Boston the following year.
Then somebody said, "Hey, Dick, why not a triathlon?"
How's a guy who never learned to swim and hadn't ridden a bike since he was six going to haul his 110-pound kid through a triathlon? Still, Dick tried.
Now they've done 212 triathlons, including four grueling 15-hour Ironmans in Hawaii. It must be a buzzkill to be a 25-year-old stud getting passed by an old guy towing a grown man in a dinghy, don't you think?
Hey, Dick, why not see how you'd do on your own? "No way," he says. Dick does it purely for "the awesome feeling" he gets seeing Rick with a cantaloupe smile as they run, swim and ride together.
This year, at ages 65 and 43, Dick and Rick finished their 24th Boston Marathon, in 5,083rd place out of more than 20,000 starters. Their best time? Two hours, 40 minutes in 1992 – only 35 minutes off the world record, which, in case you don't keep track of these things, happens to be held by a guy who was not pushing another man in a wheelchair at the time.
"No question about it," Rick types. "My dad is the Father of the Century."
And Dick got something else out of all this too. Two years ago he had a mild heart attack during a race. Doctors found that one of his arteries was 95% clogged. "If you hadn't been in such great shape," one doctor told him, "you probably would've died 15 years ago."
So, in a way, Dick and Rick saved each other's life.
Rick, who has his own apartment (he gets home care) and works in Boston, and Dick, retired from the military and living in Holland, Mass., always find ways to be together. They give speeches around the country and compete in some backbreaking race every weekend, including this Father's Day.
That night, Rick will buy his dad dinner, but the thing he really wants to give him is a gift he can never buy. "The thing I'd most like," Rick types, "is that my dad sit in the chair and I push him once."