This was my second official Auburn sermon:

Last week, I talked about God’s love for us: God’s acceptance of us as we are, and God’s ongoing concern for our well-being. I talked about it as Grace, our acceptance of a gift freely given: not something we’ve somehow earned. This week, using our gospel as the jump off point, I want to talk about our love of God.
Our gospel begins by saying: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” The Message paraphrase renders this: “If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you.”
If, then. That’s what it tends to sound like to us, doesn’t it? If you do this, then that will happen. It sounds a lot like something earned, doesn’t it. Something like if we do what God tells us to do, then God will love us. And I’ve been telling you God’s love is a gift!
But it’s probably meant more like a when, then – in the sense that when this happens, then something else follows naturally. I’m thinking a better cultural translation for us would be something like “When you love me, it will show up in what you do.”
Something like when I clap my hands, then it follows natural that you can hear a sound. When a mother loves her child you can see it in how she cares for her child. Or when a man loves his wife you can see it in the way he looks out for her. When we love God, we show it in how we live our lives. It’s more like we’ve received a gift, and the way we respond to what we’ve been given allows us to give in return.
In a very real sense, a child is a gift from God.
In a very real sense, my wife’s love for me is a gift from God. It’s a sacrament of our church, in fact. It’s a visible, physical manifestation of God’s love for me. It’s a way I experience God’s love for me concretely in this world. It puts skin on God’s love.
You’ve probably noticed that in a good marriage, over time the partnership becomes visible to outsiders. Others can see that they have found a way to work together. The two become one. They are something God has joined together out of the loving care they give each other.
There is a sense in which this is a mystical union.
A very important sense.
But it’s also something very concrete.
It’s also something very day to day – or everyday.
We have a tendency, I believe, to try to separate the spiritual from the secular. I don’t believe that separation really exists.
The life you live, every day, is your spiritual life. The actions you take throughout each day are your spiritual life. Mind you, those actions may well include (and probably should include) things like time apart for God in prayer, Bible reading and reflection, which are aids to our spiritual growth and well-being. But how we treat our family, and our next door neighbor, and our co-workers are also very much a part of our spiritual lives.
I’m not sure we always recognize this.
In other congregations I’ve been part of, if I asked people what they valued coming to our church, what they valued about being here, why they attended here rather than somewhere else, they always knew the answer (and were always willing to share these things). But if I asked them the same question with other words, say “how has your faith journey brought you to our church?” they’d become very uncomfortable and they had no idea how to answer.
But the things you value in your life, the things that bring you here to St. Luke’s, are part of your faith journey – lived out concretely here in this congregation. The everyday ordinary things we all know about are in fact the spiritual things that make up our spiritual lives. They are as mystical as the love of a mother for her newborn child and as concrete as a fathers tender kiss on the forehead of his newborn child. They are one and the same thing.
That’s how loving God is too.
The physical skin comes from our children and our spouses and our neighbor and God’s creation around us and how we, in concrete ways, care for all of them. And as we care for them, as we care for those who might be considered the least among us, we care concretely for our God. When did we see you in need Lord and care for you? Whenever, he tells us, we’ve done it for the least among us. In caring for these, in loving them, we are learning to love our God also.
I think of this world we live in as a school of love.
God’s love for us comes first.
It’s a gift which we could never earn, but we don’t have to earn it. We are loved, and invited to be partners in a loving relationship. And as we accept that gift of love, as we respond to that gift of love, we start to learn how to live lives of love ourselves.
And when we live out that love in our daily lives, we show our love in what we do. It’s the natural order of things. It’s the way things go.
“They who have my commandments and keep them,” Jesus says, “are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
If I were saying this myself, I’d say it like this:
Jesus tells us that as Christians we are to love each other, not just our families or even members of our own congregation, we are to care for each other as Jesus loves and cares for us. When we love him, it follows naturally (however imperfectly) that we live our lives this way. We are loved by God. We are loved by Jesus. Are lives are changed. And we begin to more fully know Jesus in the same way that any married couple learn to know and care for each other in any loving marriage.
Jesus will go on to talk about this in the next chapter of John’s gospel using the image of the vine:
Live on in Me,
as I do in you …
My Abba will be glorified
if you bear much fruit
and thus prove to be my disciples.”
It’s a mystical image our our life in Christ – the partnership we share with him.
But that mystical union is lived out in the ordinary, day to day course of our lives. In Emily Dickinson’s words, “Instead of getting to heaven, at last -I’m going all along.”
When we take hold of the hand that God is reaching out to us and accept our part in the relationship, this is what happens naturally. We live in Christ, and Christ live in us. It’s obvious from the fruit we bear in our lives.

I say this to you in the Name of God: Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer. Amen.

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