Sermon: Easter 3, 15 April 2018, Rev. Paul Weaver, St Alban’s

St.Alban’s Epping, 15th April 2018

 Rev. Paul Weaver

THE WORLD: TO LOVE OR NOT TO LOVE IT?

 (Acts 3:12-20; Psalm 4; 1 John 2:15-17; 3:1-6; Luke 24:36-48)

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” One of the best-known verses in the scriptures: a verse which powerfully sums up the wonder of God’s love, and the power of the Gospel of Christ.

But earlier this week when I read the opening words of our reading from the First Letter of John, probably from the same author as the Gospel, I saw some very different-looking words. “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” Surely if God loves the world, we should love the world. What is John getting at as he writes these words? That question intrigued me as I looked at today’s readings, and I thought that they deserved a closer look.

Are we to love the world, as God does? Or are we not to love the world, as John tells us? It all depends on what you mean! What does it mean to “love”? And what is this “world” that we are to love – or not to love?

Let’s think first about the world. When we think about the world, we think about planet earth, and as Christians we remember that it is part of God’s creation, in a sense our part of God’s creation. Genesis tells us that it was made good, and that we have responsibility over it under God.

But especially in the New Testament, there is another way of thinking about the world. It is the world of people, and that world of people is still loved by God. The problem is that people have turned against God. They do their own thing rather than obey God. They set up their own standards and priorities, rather than living by God’s standards and priorities. Jesus refers to the world this way: it is the world in opposition to God, the world setting itself up independently of God, the world giving priority to what is physical, rather than what is spiritually and morally true and right. The world made by God is good in itself. But the world has gone wrong, and pushes God aside. This world is in opposition to God. But remember that God still loves this world of people, people who have gone wrong and who need a Saviour.

But what about love? Many of you will know that C. S. Lewis, best known for the Narnia children’s books, wrote many insightful books about the Christian faith. One of these is called “The Four Loves”. He pointed out that in the Greek of the New Testament there are a number of words that can be translated as “love”, but really have different connotations.

There is passionate sensual love, love which often wants something or someone. There is family love and devotion. There is friendship and affection. And there is God’s love, love which serves, and which sacrificially seeks the best for the one who is loved.

Of course, we know that nowadays we use the word “love” in different ways. I love an old-fashioned roast dinner, and I love the music of certain composers. But that is certainly not the same sort of love as the love I have for Sarah my wife. And even that love is not quite the same as the love which I have for my children or grandchildren, or the love I am called to have for my neighbour. And if I say that I love God or I love Jesus, I know that there is something different again.

People can use “love” in other ways too. They might say that they’d love to do certain things – good or evil. And of course, people make love: but far too often something that God designed to be beautiful becomes instead an empty or even harmful thing. So we need to think about what we mean by “love”, if we are to understand it correctly. God’s love is a genuine concern for what is best for the loved one. But it is not simply a loving feeling, not merely a theoretical thing, but something which acts when that is necessary. Love actively seeks what is best for the one who is loved. That is what God has done for us in Christ, and what he calls us to do for one another, and for our neighbour.

And there is therefore a sense in which we should indeed love the created world. We are right to appreciate the world which God has provided for us, and to enjoy its beauty and its bounty. Because we are responsible for it under God, we are also called to take care of it. Sadly too many people in positions of power seem not to love the created world in this godly way. They want to use it but not to care for it. They put a premium on the quick profits that come more easily if we ignore our responsibility to care for the created world. I think you can fill in the blanks.

Perhaps we can’t control the decisions of governments who are more interested in the next election than in the well-being of our planet and of future generations: but we might think about ways we can make our views known, if we believe this issue is important. And we might think a little bit more about what we might practically do ourselves that will reduce our own impact on the environment. Increasing the number of people who do what they can really does make a real difference.

So there is a way that is right to love the created world, acting in ways that are for the good of planet earth and its people. But of course, John was hardly aware of environmental issues in his day. He was concerned about other issues. He recognized that we can also love the world almost in the sense of being “in love with the world”, and the things it offers.

We can be more concerned about things than about people, and their welfare and their needs. We can be more concerned about pleasing ourselves than pleasing God. The things of the world and the priorities of the world can get in the way of the things of God and the priorities of God.

John talks about “the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches”. He is talking about our desire for pleasure, our desire for wealth and for more and more things, our desire to get ahead of others rather than to do them good. These unloving things are what matter to so many people. They are, in a sense, the world’s way. But that is not God’s purpose for us.

Greed, selfishness and pride: these are not God’s ways. And their value is short-term. In the long-term they have little value, and they can keep us from God and his blessings. I am reminded of the multi-millionaire who was asked how many millions he would need to get before he would have enough: his answer was “Just one more: always just one more!” The word for coveting in the New Testament means “the desire for more”. That is the way of the world.

It is wise as human beings to live in the light of the future, and that is not just the short-term future. It involves the big picture. As John says, “the world and its riches are passing away, but those who do the will of God live for ever.” Do we live in the light of our eternal future?

John goes on to say that God calls us his children, as we trust and follow Christ. As God’s children, we are called to reflect the goodness and love of our heavenly Father. And as God’s children, we have wonderful blessings promised to us in eternity. We shall see God in all his glory, his holiness, his love. And John calls us to prepare for that glorious vision here and now. Here and now we will of course not be perfect: we will continue to need to confess our sins and failures. Sin is lawlessness, says John: it is saying that I will not let God or anyone else tell me the way I am going to live. But that is not to be our approach to life. We know that Jesus shows us and has shown us the best way to live. He came to do away with sin. As his followers and as God’s children, let us then seek to live as God’s children and as Jesus’ followers.

As many of you will know, Bruce Wilson and I are shortly to present our piano concerts. Because we know the concerts are coming up we prepare for them, just as wise students prepare for their exams. And because we know that we are promised an eternal home in God’s kingdom, John calls us to seek to live as those who are preparing for that glorious future. No, we are not perfect, but we seek to live as children of God.

The created world is a wondrous gift from God. Let us appreciate its blessings, and live as God’s servants in this world. And let us live as people who love our neighbour, seeking and acting for their good, and steering away from the selfish attitudes that are so prevalent in this world. And let us not be so devoted to the things and the values of this world that they get in the way of our faithfulness to Christ.

There is a glorious future promised to us through Jesus. May we follow him in preparation for the day when we shall see him as he really is, and when we shall know him in a wondrous new way as our beloved Saviour and King.  Amen.

Paul Weaver