Summary: Sometimes we experience God’s love directly. But other times, we receive God’s love *through* things like prayer, reading the Bible, and Holy Communion
[This was from a sermon series I preached based on the sermons of the founder of Methodism, John Wesley. While the illustrations and language are updated, many of the concepts and ideas, as well as the general structure and message of the sermon, are taken directly from Wesley’s sermon entitled "The Means of Grace" which was first preached in the 1740’s.]
Yesterday evening, my wife and I took the train into Chicago to attend “Taste of Chicago.” We enjoyed a beautiful summer day. We had our choice of dozens of overpriced food selections. And we joined several hundred thousand people in a free concert. The band put on a good performance, and we thoroughly enjoyed the concert, the food, and the sun. It’s always a different experience when you see a band perform live. It’s funny – even though this band has been singing and playing music since long before my wife and I have even been alive, we had never heard their music directly from the band. Instead, their music has always come to our ears through another way – through the radio playing their songs, through a compact disc, through a televised performance of them in concert. In these cases, the original music and my ears were separated from each other. It was only through the cd, radio, or tv that their music could come to me. The cd isn’t the music itself, but *through* the cd, the music of the band can reach my ears and be heard and enjoyed.
Love can be the same way. There are many times when my wife shows her love for me directly. She’ll tell me directly with her words, “I love you,” or she’ll show her affection directly with her actions. But there are just as many times that she’ll share her love for me, not directly, but through something else. I’’l come home and find that she’s left a kind note for me to find. Or I’ll discover that she’s made plans for a nice evening to spend together. Or she’ll prepare my favorite meal for a special occasion. Or she’ll say we’re going to the hardware store and end up taking us for frozen custard instead for a surprise treat. Or any number of other ways she shows her love, even though she doesn’t say it directly. In those situations, her love is shown through the note, through the romantic evening, through the meal, through the surprise treat. And really, they tell about her love just as loudly as her words ever do.
When Jesus lived and walked the face of the earth, his followers had direct access to his love. They could directly experience the love that he shared with them. They didn’t need a cd of Jesus’ teachings – they had the original right with them! They didn’t need a recording of his wisdom – they could receive it any time they asked him! They didn’t need anything to remind them of his love – they knew his love firsthand!
After Jesus’ death and resurrection, it was clear that his followers wouldn’t have direct experience of his love in the same way they were used to. Yet Jesus promised that he wouldn’t leave them all alone either. The final words of the book of Matthew record that Jesus told his disciples, “Remember, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” So how would this be? Jesus’ followers would still be loved by Jesus, but it wouldn’t be the same direct access they had enjoyed while he was living with them.
From the earliest days of the church, Christians have found that Christ’s love is still available to us. We’re not just remembering a love that was given to somebody else who came before us, but we can experience God’s love for ourselves in the here and now. And in the earliest days of the church, sometimes God’s love was felt directly, so that Christians could personally feel that God was directly touching their hearts. At other times, God’s love was felt coming through other actions. During a time of singing praises with hymns, they felt God’s love coming *through* the music. During a time of praying, they felt God’s presence coming *through* the words of their prayers. During a time of Holy Communion, they felt God’s strength feeding them *through* the bread and the wine. During a time of serving someone in need, they felt God’s love moving *through* their actions. During a time of reading the Bible, they heard God’s voice speaking *through* the words on the page.
In Acts, chapter 2, the Bible talks about the birth of the Christian church. Peter preached a sermon about the incredible things God had done in the world, the Holy Spirit moved powerfully among them, and 3,000 people were baptized as Christians that day. And how does Acts describe the activity of this brand new church? Acts 2:42 says: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” So in these four ways, they grew stronger as a church and stronger as individual Christians. They learned from the teaching of the church leaders. They spent time together in fellowship and friendship. They broke bread together in the Holy Communion meal. And they prayed.