Soul Prints #3
It might be cliché to say it but God doesn’t make junk. There are no throw away people. That’s not God’s plan for us. No matter what anyone else might say about you; no matter what you might think about yourself; you’re not worthless, you’re not junk. You are created in the image of God and God says you are “very good.” God says you measure up. God says you belong to Him. God says you are loved by God. You may fall away and make mistakes but God still loves you. God will always love you.
There’s nothing you can do to make God stopping loving you. God loves you. Over and over again the Scripture speaks of God’s love for us. And when Jesus came, that love became flesh and blood, just like us, one of us. Throughout His ministry Jesus challenged us to love each other and to love others in the same unconditional, grace filled manner in which we have been loved.
And when we do, we leave lasting Soul Prints behind, Soul Prints which continue to impact the people whose lives have been touched by the love of Christ lived out through us.
Today we’re going to look at the second word from John Wesley’s signet ring and the second aspect of Discipleship. If you remember, Jesus said He was “the Way, the Truth and the Life.” Each of those corresponds to both one of those three words on Wesley’s ring as well as how we live out our Discipleship through our Head, Hearts and Hands.
We live our Discipleship through our Head, Hearts and Hands. The Way = Love which comes from the Heart. The Truth = Believe which come from the Head and the Life = Obey which we do with our Hands. All of these add up to the ingredients of what it takes to be a faithful Disciple. Today We look at Love.
I. WHICH KIND OF LOVE?:
A. The word “Love” in the English language is such a nebulous word. We use it for everything. I love my country. I love my wife. I love my brother. I love my computer. I love gadgets. I love peanut butter and bologna. I love my grandkids. I love movies. I try to love my neighbor as Jesus taught, I love the church. I love God. I love seafood. You get the idea.
Our single word love covers a whole range of feelings, emotions and beliefs. So, when we talk about “Christian Love,” the kind that leaves positive Soul Prints behind, what are we talking about? That’s been the treatise of any number of theological books and articles down through the ages. However, New Testament Greek can help us. You see, Greek has four words for love, storge, eros, philia & agape.
The first is storge. This is the love we have, the affection we have for inanimate objects, pets, food and the like. It is centered strictly in the love that satisfies us.
Then there’s eros. The is the love between a man and woman, especially the love between husband and wife. This is love that moves beyond itself. It’s what we refer to as romantic love, love which is shared with another individual.
Then there is philia. This is the love we have for and share with brothers and sisters, family and friends, members or our church and civic groups. It moves beyond the self and beyond our love for our spouse and includes a wider range of people.
And then there is agape. This is unselfish, unconditional love. When we talk about Christian Love or Christ-like love this is the love we are talking about, unconditional love. Love that looks beyond all the worldly accoutrements, foibles and failings and looks at the other person through the eyes of Christ.
It’s only through the loving eyes of Christ that we can look at someone like Flint in that opening clip, someone filled with shattered dreams, failures and self-loathing and tell them that despite all of that they are still loved. And they are lovable.
It’s only through Christ-like agape love.
II. WHAT IS LOVE?:
A. That leads us to ask, what is love? I think one of the most beautiful passages of Scripture describing love is found in1 Corinthians 13. Let’s look at.
1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (NRSV)
 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant
 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.
 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part;
 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.
 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.
 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
That is my favorite Biblical description of Christian love. It’s my favorite description of love period. I read a portion of this passage at every wedding I perform. But the ironic thing is, Paul wrote beautiful description of what it means to be filled with Christ-like unconditional love to a church in the midst of bitter conflict over nearly every aspect of the church from leadership to beliefs to what kind of meat to eat and where to buy it. They argued over the gifts of the spirit and which were better. They even argued over who had more authority because of who it was who baptized them.
I think Paul sounds a little like my Uncle Ace when all of us cousins got together and started rough housing or getting to loud. He’d holler, “All right you knuckleheads, knock it off.” And then in the letter he reminds them who they serve.
B. It’s not a coincidence that early Christian’s called themselves people of “The Way.” Jesus said He was “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” We’re called to live out our faith as disciples through our head, heart and hands. We ARE still the people of The Way, and that way is the way of love; unconditional Christ-like love.
So, Paul writes to remind this group of people who love Jesus how to get along with each other when they didn’t think alike or act alike or look alike or worship alike. It was written to a church of diversity. It’s easy when everyone in the room or group looks just like you, thinks just like you, dresses just like you, loves the same music or is the same generation as you.
But that’s an “out there” kind of thing. That’s a worldly attitude. In here we embrace diversity or we should. In here we don’t see color or race or social/economic status or political party or age or gender. In here, in the community of faith none of that out stuff matters. We gather as abnormal people who have given our hearts and our lives to Christ and agreed to live like Christ. All of that judgment stuff, all of that I’m better than you are stuff, that’s worldly stuff. We’re about something bigger and more compelling, we’re about Kingdom Stuff.
And in the Kingdom of God, when we live the Way of Love, there are no throw away people; there are no less than people, all there are is forgiven people; forgiven people trying to live like Christ; forgiven people trying to love like Christ; forgiven people trying to live up to the glorious gift of grace which God has given us in Christ Jesus.
III. WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE?:
A. That brings us to the big question, “What does this kind of love look like?” I really think you know it when you see it.
Paul says, “Love is patient and kind.” I witnessed one of the most incredible acts of patience and coupled with a subtle reminder to everyone else that I’ve ever seen. I was in one of the big box office supply places. For whatever reason at 2:30 on a Thursday afternoon everybody decided to stop and buy something. And then we all got to the checkout lane at the same time.
The problem was the checkout girl. She didn’t look to be more than about 16 or 17. This may have been her first job. It was definitely only her first or second day on the job. She was trying to ring something up and deduct the special price and nothing was working right. She was frustrated and so was the manager. The first customer was rude and obnoxious to both the girl and the manager and left mouthing something about incompetence and hiring intelligent people. The next person didn’t say anything but you could tell by their reaction that they were thinking the same thing.
The manager went over to the next counter to get a second checkout line going while the third customer came up to the girl. The look on the girls face was one of terror. She didn’t want to mess anything else up. The woman who was checking out glanced at the young girl’s nametag then looked her the eye and said, “Debbie? This has been a tough day hasn’t it? I’ll bet everybody here remembers how hard their first day on a new job was. I certainly do. I didn’t think I’d make it. I didn’t think I’d ever learn how to do anything. I just knew they were going to fire me. But they didn’t. Hang in there. It’ll get better and so will you.”
You know, you could visibly see the tension drain out of everybody in hearing distance as they all went back to their first day at a new job. And they all just sort of relaxed. I don’t know who she was but that woman’s love and patience touched my life. I still feel her Soul Prints on my heart because of the Way she expressed her love.
B. Maybe the best example I’ve ever heard came from a preacher friend of mine. She tells an old old story about two brothers. They were likable young men but they had a little bit of a wild streak. It got so wild that they began earning their money by stealing sheep from the local farmers. As eventually happens to all thieves, one day they were caught.
Rather than kill them, the villagers decided to brand the two brothers on the forehead with the letters S. T. for “Sheep Thief.”
The action so embarrassed the one young man that he ran off, never to be heard from again. The other brother was so filled with remorse and repentance that he chose to stay and try to reconcile himself to the villagers whom he had wronged. He tried to make amends.
At first the villagers were skeptical. Most of them wouldn’t have anything to do with him. But he was determined to make reparation for his offenses.
Whenever there was sickness, the sheep thief was there to help care for the sick person. Whenever there was work that needed to be done, the sheep thief showed up to help. It made no difference whether the person was rich or poor, the sheep thief was there to lend a helping hand.
Pretty soon he was an integral part of the community, never accepting pay for anything he did. His life was totally lived for others. As a consequence, he became a friend to everyone. He was well known, well-loved and very well respected.
Years later, a traveler came through the town. As the traveller sat at the sidewalk cafe’ eating his lunch, he noticed the well-respected old man with the strange brand on his forehead, sitting at a table nearby. It seemed that everybody in town stopped to pay their respects or share a kind word.
Even the children stopped to play or give and receive an affectionate hug. The stranger’s curiosity got the better of him and he asked the cafe’ owner about the old man. “What does the strange brand on his forehead stand for?”
The cafe’ owner, a contemporary of the old man, thought for a moment then said, “Well, you know, it happened so long ago that I don’t rightly remember. But I think it stands for ‘Saint’.”
It’s not what we’ve done in the past that defines us, it’s what we do today and tomorrow. It’s what we allow Christ to do in us and through us when we put our lives into his hands. That’s what makes the difference. The lives of both of those young men left Soul Prints behind. All the first young man’s life left was memories of pain and shame.
But the second young man, through his repentance, became the living embodiment of Christ-like love. That love permeated everything he did. As a consequence his discordant life was made into a symphony of faith. The memories of his past were replaced with the Soul Prints of his selfless love and service. All anyone saw in him anymore was Christ.
But what about you? Do people see Christ in you? Do others see Christ-like love through your actions? Is your love patient and kind? Is your love not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude? Does your love rejoice in the truth? Does it bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endures all things? Does what you Believe move from your Head to your Heart? Do others see Christ-like love in you. As the old song says do people know you are a Christian by your love?
Every day you and I have the incredible opportunity to make a difference in the world through the simple act of love. I’ll be the first to admit how difficult it is to act out of love all the time. Yes, it is difficult but it’s a choice because of who we serve. Because of what Christ has done for us.
There are too many people who feel like someone has thrown them away or who have given up on life and thrown themselves away. I believe a little Christ-like love can and will change all that.
This morning as we take time for reflection and prayer I want you to open yourself to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Let the Spirit help you move what you Believe to your Heart. Let the love of Christ mold you and shape you and fill you so that others see the presence of Christ in all you do.
If there is something keeping you from fully living a Christ-like life, then admit that to Him. Offer it up in prayer, leave it at the altar. Trust Him, Believe Him. And then Love like Him.
And during these moments, if your heart has been touched by God’s presence, if you have felt the Holy spirit move and would like to spend time in prayer at the altar or make a public profession of your faith in Christ and join the fellowship of our church, then come forward as we sing our Hymn of Invitation.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.