The text for Narrative Lectionary preachers following the summer schedule of readings this coming week is 1 John 4:7-21. This is the last reading of the suggested four week series centering on 1 John. The topic at hand is love.
I am writing this post from Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa where I am attending the 61st annual Synod School of the Synod of Lakes and Prairies of the PC(USA). Synod School is essentially a large family conference with daily worship, a convocation speaker, and week long class options for all ages. One of the classes I am taking is taught by two brothers, one pastor and one English professor, on Christian Wiman’s book, My Bright Abyss. On our first day in class we read the essay that Wiman wrote the essentially propelled him toward writing prose that turned into the book that is the subject of our class. In this essay, “Gazing into the Abyss,” Wiman relates a story told by Simone Weil about two prisoners in solitary confinement cells next to each other. Their cells are divided by a stone wall. Over their long captivity they figure out away to communicate with one another with taps and scratches on the wall between them. “It is the same with us and God,” Weil said about this story. “Ever separation is a link.”
Upon reflecting on the direction the discussion in our class began to take and this passage in 1 John, I have begun to think of love as the taps and scratches on the walls of our existence that mediate a direct face-to-face experience of God. The wall, as we talked about in class, is hopefully not has stark or impassable as the wall of a jail cell, but essentially we live in a cell that is defined by what we can perceive with our senses and our experiences. So, our cell is not the drab depressing wall of solitary confinement, but is instead the beauty of creation, the people in our lives, everything we can see, hear, taste, feel, and smell. The reality of God is that God is outside the wall of what we can experience with our five senses. But God chooses to tap and scratch. God chooses to try to communicate from the other side of the wall, and God desires that we will communicate back through taps and scratches ourselves. What I hear John saying in this letter is that love is these taps and scratches.
Love is how God has chosen to communicate with us. God did this by sending Jesus into our experience (in this case breaking through the wall and giving us someone to actually see, hear, taste, feel and smell), but God continues to do this by expecting each of us to be a part of loving relationships and communities. We both receive communications of God’s love through the love of others and are communicators of God’s love when we live in love. Each of these expressions of love are the taps and scratches of God communicating with us into our human experience.
If I were preaching this weekend, and unfortunately I am not, I think I would go this direction. I think I would want to preach about God’s primary form of communication is love. As Christians we would say that this is most readily seen in the person, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus, which the writer of 1 John points to in vv. 10-11. But this is also seen in the love to which we are called as brothers and sisters in the family of God (vv 20-21). A preaching possibility might be to pull from the Narrative Lectionary gospel stories from last year in John to show what Jesus’ love looks like. The preacher could also do well by combining these scriptural examples with examples of expressions of love in the life of the local community, calling the gathered community to be the taps and scratches of God’s communication for others while also recognizing the love the receive within creation as God’s taps and scratches to them.
- Other preaching directions could include:
Abiding love, dwelling love, love that will not let us go – Particularly in a community that can more readily feel the wall of separation between us and God than they can hear the taps and scratches, the Spirit might be calling the preacher to speak of God’s abiding presence and love. God who dwells with us, God who accompanies us, God who shows up in love could be a powerful message in this context.
- There could be an evangelism direction in this text, too. It might help reclaim that word a little to recognize that evangelism, sharing good news, is not about going out to “get” people or “fix” them or “save” them, but to love them. Evangelism at its best is about letting the love that God pours into each of us and all of creation overflow out of our lives into the world. God’s love is so abundant that we must share that love with those around us or we are not truly honoring the loving God who poured it on us with abundance in the first place. There is no shortage of love. The word itself is abundant in this passage, used in one way or another twenty-seven times in these fifteen verses.
So, preachers, what are you thinking? Do you have some sense of a direction for this week? How have you experienced love, divine and human, in your own experience recently? Reflecting on that love might be a wonderful way to begin your own meditations in preparation for Sunday. Feel free to join in a conversation in the comments. Share the love.
photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/clugg14/5445671036/”>Clugg14</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>