20 October 2013

What is Love asking of me?

1 Corinthians 13

22nd Sunday after Pentecost/ 20th October 2013

The Thursday Morning Bible Study resumed several weeks ago.  We’re walking our way through the book of Isaiah.  In addition to the actual text itself we’re using Walter Brueggemann’s commentary as our guide.[1] Brueggemann is fond of using the proper name Yahweh when referring to the God of Abraham and Sarah. Why does he do this? Because, in part, the use of the word “God” really isn’t all that helpful and tells us very little about the nature and purpose of this One we address as God.  “God” has become such a generic word, meaning whatever we want to project upon it. 

            And so we took some time in the class exploring the meaning of the word.  What do we mean, biblically-, theologically-speaking, when we use the word God?

            We get our cues from a burning bush that spoke to Moses. We find the story in Exodus, chapter three.  You’ll recall that after murdering an Egyptian who was caught beating a Hebrew slave, Moses fled to the wilderness of Midian.  He became a shepherd, minding his own business, trying to life as inconspicuously as possible.  One day he took his flock up to Mount Horeb.  It was there that a bush was set alight, without being consumed by the flames.  When Moses noticed the bush he “turned aside.” And when God saw that Moses turned, God spoke to him out from the bush, “Moses!  Moses!”  Moses was summoned, called and he responded.  God told him that the Hebrew people in slavery are suffering greatly.  They need someone to go and save them.  They need someone like you, Moses.  So, I’m sending you back to Egypt, back to Pharaoh.  You’re to go to Pharaoh and tell him that he needs to release all his Hebrew slaves.  Then Moses asks, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors have sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Ex. 3: 3:13).

            Then God responds to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.”  God said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”  And here we’re given God’s true name:  I AM.  “This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations” (Ex. 3:15).  I AM. That’s the name of God.  Eyeh asher eyeh.  I AM WHO I AM.   Or, simply, I AM.  In Hebrew four letters are used, Y-H-W-H (there are no vowels in ancient Hebrew).  Just four letters:  YHWH.  The vowels came later.  YAHWEH.  

            What does it mean?  It’s not easy to translate but it means something like this:  the one who causes to be, the one who creates.  Or simply, he creates.  It means, “I was who I was and will be who I will be.”  What’s significant here is that this name is not a noun.  It’s a causative verb form.  God’s name is not a noun, but a verb.  Yahweh is the One Who causes all things to be, the one who causes one to exist, to be.   Yahweh is the one who gives life.  It can mean “the one who causes to breathe,” meaning to breathe is to live.  What’s fascinating about this word is that the image of God we’re given here is not a static noun, but a dynamic verb.  Yahweh acts, moves, causes to be—not only once at the beginning of time, at creation, but continually acting, moving, causing to be.  The name is unpronounceable (to this day for Jews) and not read in temple. Every time you read the word LORD, capitalized in the Old Testament, behind it, in Hebrew is YHWH. The name is Holy.

            Yahweh is a verb.  Yahweh creates, restores, heals, saves, judges, redeems, energizes, authorizes, empowers, calls, sends, transforms.  Yahweh acts.  In fact, theologians have said that we don’t know anything about God beyond God’s actions because the only thing we know about God is what we know when God acts.  And from a Christian perspective, there is no stronger demonstration of the God who acts than that moment when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth (John 1: 1-5).  From the Christian experience, the fullest revelation of God’s actions toward humanity is in and through the life, death, and resurrection—the acts—of Jesus Christ, who taught us and showed us that Yahweh’s being is summed up with this understanding: that Yahweh is love and loves you and me. 

            For it’s Love—with a capital “L,” meaning God’s Love, or just simply God—it’s Love that creates and restores and heals and saves and judges and redeems and energizes and authorizes and empowers and calls and sends and transform. 

            Love in scripture is not exclusively a feeling.  It’s a verb.  It’s a choice.  It’s action.  We hear in 1 John 3: 18, “Little children, let us love not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” Love does something. 

            We can hear it here in 1 Corinthians 13:  Love is…with echoes of “I AM,” enacted through the verb “to be.”  Listen to the various ways love is enacted:  Love is patient.  Love is kind.  Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  Love doesn’t insist on its own way; it’s not irritable or resentful; Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  Love bears all things.  Love believes all things.  Love hopes all things.  Love endures all things. Can you hear, can you feel the dynamism, the movement at work here?  Love enacted.  Love embodied.  Love acting and moving and calling and trying to realize something, achieve something, cause something to exist or come into being. Love working toward something, with a goal in mind. 

             Because we know in Christ that God is love, then love and God become synonymous.  God bears all things.  God hopes all things.  God endures all things.  We know through Christ that God desires to become enfleshed in our lives.  Love is God enacted.  God is love enacted.  God embodied.  God acting and moving and calling and trying to realize something, achieve something, cause something to exist or come into being in us and through us, through this congregation (!), for us and for the world. Through us, God is working toward something, with a goal in mind, and we have been called, summoned, chosen to be God’s co-workers building the Kingdom.  God’s presence, power, will, drive, hopes, dreams are at work in and through us.

            I believe there is a power at work within us.  By virtue of our baptisms, the power is there. In fact, this extraordinary power—that does not belong to us—is alive within us and working through us and allowing us to do far more than we could ever possibly imagine, allowing us to love more deeply than we could ever possibly imagine, enabling us to do more, give more, risk more, accomplish more, forgive more, serve more, endure more than we could ever think possible.

            That’s what Love is doing. And as I suggested several weeks ago in a sermon, regarding this Love at work in the world…yes, it’s within us, but it’s also asking something of us.  This Love is looking to us, counting on us, dreaming through us.  This Love that created and sustains us is also requiring something of us.  There’s considerable expectation built into our relationship with Yahweh.  There’s a burden of responsibility. For Love waits for your response, waits for you to “turn aside” and move toward the burning bush, waits for your reply, waits for you to act; Love waits for you to say, “Here I am, send me.”  Or, “Here I am, use me, Lord.”   Or, “Here I am, Lord, with gratitude I give…
                        I will serve… 
                        I will forgive… 
                        I will heal… 
                        I will restore… 
                        I will build, rebuild… 
                        I will act….

            What is Love asking of me?  That’s the question we’re being asked to ponder.  As we approach Commitment Sunday on November 17, as we consider our financial pledge to God’s work among us, the Stewardship Committee is asking us to prayerfully reflect upon this question.  Love, with a capital “L,” is another way of saying God or Yahweh. What is Love asking of me? We intentionally framed it this way to make it personal.  We invite you to pose that question to yourself, prayerfully, address the question to Love, and then listen to your heart for the response.  We’re not suggesting that you to ask, what’s the church asking of me…   Not what “I” want to give…  It’s bigger than the church, bigger than you and me.  But what is Love asking of me, requiring of me? 

[1]Isaiah 40-66, (Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 1998).

No comments: