The Love of God

A Sermon preached by the
Rev. Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA
Sunday, March 11, 2018

Text: John 3:16-17; Ephesians 2:1-10

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
All measureless and strong;
Redeeming grace to the human race—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And everyone a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

Refrain:
Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

Truth be told, I’m tired. I’m weak. I’m worn. The days are long, the conflict strong. I’m not sure I can do any more. I feel a bit like Evillene in The Wiz when she belts out, “Don’t nobody bring me no bad news!” I’ve heard enough. I’m up to my neck in gloom and doom, in tragedy and horror, in misinformation and half-truths, in incivility and bullying, in violence and just plain evil. I have a friend who has given up watching the news, at least for Lent, and maybe for good. It’s not that he doesn’t care about what’s going on, he’s just feeling overwhelmed, helpless and hopeless from an endless stream of bad news. I don’t know about you, but I’m with my friend. I’m sick and tired of the abundance of bad news under which we’re being buried these days.

Now don’t panic. Don’t think I’ve given up the fight. I’m likely to be in a different place next week, but today I want to wrap myself in a little good news – no, a lot of good news! And behold, the lectionary has accommodated me. I could have chosen to preach on the grumbling, dissatisfied Israelites wandering in the wilderness or all the ills from which Psalmist pleads for deliverance. But these verses from Ephesians really spoke to me this week, and, of course, John 3:16 and 17 can be taken as bedrock good news.

Rather than hang out with Evillene, let’s listen to Dionne Warwick as she reminds us, in that great pop song from my youth, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love, it’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.” Today is a good day to talk about the love of God. In reflecting on this theme, I was reminded of that old gospel song, “The Love of God.” It also was popular in my youth, but in different circles. It was a staple of the Billy Graham Crusades and I can still hear the beautiful bass-baritone of George Beverly Shea caressing the crowds with its affirmation of the steadfast love of God to which one may always turn.

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell…

The love of God is both creative and transforming. It’s life-giving and life-saving. It is the original source of all that is and the power of new creation in Christ Jesus. The writer of Ephesians says that “God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…” There’s something there that we might hang on to – an image of God as “rich in mercy,” a God of great compassion, a God of infinite love, “measureless and strong.” Isn’t that the love the world needs now, the abundantly sweet love that there’s just too little of?

What do we know of such love? How have we experienced it? Where have we seen it? Do we trust its power to save us, to transform our lives, to turn the world right side up? I’m tired. I’m weak. I’m worn. Is there enough love to go around, enough grace to save a wretch like me?

“You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.” Wait a minute! Didn’t I say, “Don’t nobody bring me no bad news”? Thanks Paul, but I don’t need to be reminded of my weaknesses and limitations!

Of course, that’s not really the writer’s purpose here. He’s using a little hyperbole, along with his preacher’s license to contrast the dire straits where we might have been, or might still find ourselves, to the richness of God’s mercy and the infinite depths of God’s love. In today’s Words of Preparation, C. S. Lewis reminds us, “…it appears, from all the records, that though God has often rebuked and condemned us, God has never regarded us with contempt. God has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us, in the deepest, most tragic, most inexorable sense.” What a word of hope and possibility, of goodness and guidance, “God has never held us in contempt…God has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us…”! There is an enormous difference between critiquing behavior, thoughts, and feelings and judging the worth of a child of God, a being, even with weaknesses and limitations, made in the image and likeness of God, though I suppose God could. But, that is not the way of love and God is love. Amazing grace! The grace by which we have been saved.

In fact, don’t we too often get ourselves into a quandary precisely because we forget to focus our lives on the love of God? We tie ourselves in knots trying to fix things, to make everything come out right, to insist, like a recalcitrant child, “I can do it myself,” without remembering that the only power in the universe that is really worthy of our devotion is the love of God – the “love of God, how rich and pure! How measureless and strong! It shall forevermore endure,” the steadfast love of God.

OK, you probably know me well enough by now to know you weren’t going to get away without a little reminder to do right. There is this eternal tension between wrapping ourselves securely in the gifts we’ve been given and being asked to consider what we might do with those gifts. I have read this passage from Ephesians many times before but this time I was especially taken with the last verse, “For we are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works…” Some translations read, “We are God’s handiwork,” or “We are God’s masterpiece, created in Christ Jesus for good works.” I don’t want to wade into the battle over faith versus works this morning. You already know that I believe the two are inseparable, and here we find the writer of Ephesians making just such a link.

The writer is very clear, we are “saved by grace.” He proclaims, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” Amazing grace! How sweet the sound…” In fact, the writer says we have been “raised…up…and seated…in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come God might show the immeasurable riches of…grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.“ God’s kindness toward us in Christ Jesus? “God so loved that world that God gave God’s only son…” Do we believe it? Do we trust it? That we have been raised up in Christ Jesus, lifted up into the very heart of love? If so, “how can we keep from singing?”

You see we are created in Christ for good works, but this is not meant to be some burden laid on us. Rather the good we do in world is the direct result of being loved by God, for love can only produce love, and the closer we are to God, the more likely we are to live our lives in the love that God is. When I remember to wrap myself in the love of God I really do feel a little less tired, a little less weak, a little less worn. Maybe I can face a little more bad news but from a different perspective, one that truly transforms bad news into good. Perhaps I can engage in just a little more good work, not because I have to or am expected to or must in order to earn my place, but because that work flows directly from the love of God through me and I can do no other. What do you think? Amen.

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