a Sanctuary for all

Repeat the Sounding Joy: Loving Joy

December 8, 2019 – Rev. Jeri Viera Dahlke.

Isaiah 11:1-10, Romans Matthew 3.

May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of our hearts honor you, O Holy One, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

The end is near.
This Christian witness is common today along with signs that say John 3:16…
they’re there on freeway overpasses, sporting events, or where there’s a TV news camera.

Fear is indeed a powerful motivator.
Christians over the centuries have used it to influence people:
to get people to join their church,
to get people to give financially,
to get people to behave according to their understanding of God’s expectations.

Doom and gloom are ahead.
Better get your life in order!

This is part of the dominate public Christian message.

When many folks hear John the Baptist’s words, this is where it takes them. It’s where it took me until I paid attention to who the intended audience was and to who I was at that time.

Who does John call a brood of vipers or snakes? His harsh words are intended for the faith leaders of that time because they had come down to the river to check him out. They were checking up on the locust eating, camel hair wearing, unauthorized oddball leader.

This section is not even in the Gospel of Mark which was the first gospel written.

Certainly, these words were challenging for those faith leaders. My guess is that they did bring comfort, too—comfort to those who were being judged so harshly by these same faith leaders.

In 1952 Bill Bright, Founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, wrote what is called the Four Spiritual Laws. As with most things, there’s some content that is problematic for us. Let’s set that aside of attend to the most important thing about it for us today. When he was working out the wording, this is the order he was working with…

1. People are sinful.
2. God loves you.
3. Jesus is God’s only provision for sin.
4. We must individually receive Christ as Savior and Lord.

Each one has an “and” or “so” with more content. This was the core. Then one night he had sense, a dream, a tugging, compelling him to change the order.

This is what he changed it to…as it remains to this day…

1. God loves you.
2. People are sinful.
3. Jesus is God’s only provision for sin.
4. We must individually receive Christ as Savior and Lord.

The biblical basis for this change is clear. When we did the Genesis bible study, we saw God’s love was there in the beginning. Then, I John 4:19 states it plainly, “We love because God first loved us.” That is the source of our joy. That is why we speak of loving joy.

God is love.
God’s love for us is first.
God’s love for us is primary.
God’s love for us is fundamental.
That’s our fundamentalism, you might say.

After Christmas, we will remember the story of Jesus’ baptism by John. It was there that Jesus was called Beloved. God is Love. Jesus is Beloved. We find the words of Isaiah describe Jesus so aptly. If we put in Jesus’ name, this is what we hear…

Jesus will judge the needy with righteousness,
and decide with equity for those who suffer in the land.
Jesus will strike the violent with the rod of his mouth;
by the breath of his lips he will kill the wicked.

Notice these are not words to be taken literally. This describes the Jesus of the Gospels who verbally pops the power bubble of those who lord it over others. This Second Sunday of Advent we are invited to recognize that the one who has come, the one who is here, the one who will come again is the Beloved, the one who comforts and binds up the brokenhearted while challenging the comfortable.

God is Love.
God is Beloved.
God, Spirit, is Lover.

Spirit Lover is the power, the channeling of God’s love to us. Last week Pastor Trudy talked about preparing room, opening space for God in Christ to enter. Part of preparing room for the Beloved means opening up to experience the Lover.

I had an unexpected experience of this love during a very unusual moment in the movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” I encourage everyone to see that movie if you haven’t already.

God loves you. This is not just an intellectual fact. Clint loves me. I can describe how he looks at me and what I feel. I can tell you loving things that he does and what that has meant to me.

Remember Pastor Trudy talked about the five love languages? God loves us, too, in those different ways. God loves you…

with words of affirmation in scripture, words of people who know & don’t know you through acts of service other people do for you
with tangible gifts…all that you have are gifts of God
with the physical touch of other people, sometimes a mystical touch
the most Holy One loves you with undivided attention—

God listens to you and is present with you

God is your Lover. How have you experienced, received, felt God’s love for you in the past few weeks? Let’s take a moment of silence to let the Spirit love you into remembering…

If you haven’t been able to think of anything, then preparing room might mean allowing yourself to consciously pay attention every day. Because, trust me, God is actively loving you. But that type of vulnerability is very hard for some people.

Our awareness of God’s love, whether the abiding awareness or those special moments, brings great joy, loving joy.

God not only loves us individually; God also loves us as a community of faith. Joy to the World encourages us to “repeat the sounding joy.” With our focus on loving joy, each time I say,
“Repeat the sounding joy,” I invite you to respond with, “God loves me. God loves you.” Let’s try that,

Repeat the sounding joy.
God loves me. God loves you.

God’s people individually and as a faith community remember and tell the stories of God’s love. They tell the stories over and over as a guide, an encouragement, as way to endure the difficult times. Over 50 years ago, people gathered at the poolside to hear what God was saying to the people who were to become St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church. Over the years, countless people gave time, energy, resources, talents so that people they did not even know in the future would hear, feel, experience the love of God.

Repeat the sounding joy.
God loves me. God loves you.

Just a few years ago, the people of St. Stephen’s gathered to listen, to learn, to wonder about what God was doing among all of the people inside of the church and beyond the church walls. That group , including many of you here, recognized that God has always been welcoming and loving of all people no matter their age, their abilities, their skin color, amount of resources, their gender identity, or who they loved. That group committed themselves to learning how to grow in their ability to love as God loves and we carry that commitment forward today.

Repeat the sounding joy.
God loves me. God loves you.

As some of us have been responding to the call to love our neighbors in need of food, housing, mental health and physical health care, we have encountered countless obstacles and injustices. We are witnessing what those on the margins have been crying out and bringing to our attention. The enormity of the work weighs heavily upon us. In the midst of anger and suffering, there is still loving joy. There are the partnerships you are forming with other faith communities, the encouragement you give to one another to serve, the many times God has prompted individuals to take a risky step or a big step in love and they have taken that step. We have witnessed small ways that wrongs have been made right.

Repeat the sounding joy.
God loves me. God loves you.

Every ending is another beginning’s end. It’s cliché, but true. There’s a loud message out there that says, “Be afraid. You’re bad. Yeah, God is love. Do what I say is good and bad according to the Bible. There’s nothing you can do about other people’s problems. The end is near.” Indeed, there is death and loss everywhere and always. We do have much to grieve. At the same time, when we listen to Jesus, when we listen to God’s Word from beginning to end, we hear a different message. This is a message we are learning to live. It is a message we are learning to tell. It is God: Love, Beloved, Lover who has the last word. And what is that word?

Repeat the sounding joy!
God loves me. God loves you.

Amen.

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