God is Love: 6th Sunday of Easter
Sermon by Emmanuel Suntheni OSB
Theme: “Deus Caritas Est: GOD IS LOVE”
Point of reflection: Have you ever been loved? What is love? The biblical readings of today points to the reality of LOVE. There is nothing else we need on this planet other than love.
First Reading: Acts 10:25–26, 34–35, 44–48
Psalm: Psalm 98:1–4
Second Reading: 1 John 4:7–10
Gospel: John: 15:9–17
Sermon (Reflection): One of the most abused words in action is love. And today, the central message of our Scriptural readings is God’s gratuitous love for the people, manifested through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Thus, this Sunday brings the entire message of Easter to its climactic conclusion. We are saved because God is love.
The second Scriptural reading of sixth Easter Sunday (Cf. 1 John 4:7–10) is the core and most profound insight about God found in the New Testament – “God is love”. This statement is not merely a theological formula or a figure of speech. Standing at the centre of today’s passage, it provides the “centre of gravity” for the entire Christian life. Its meaning and significance are explained by the surrounding verses. The author precedes this statement with the exhortation to love one another, directed to the members of the community. With exhortation of love, as Christians, we reminded and called upon to truly love one another as Children of God. Love implies care and unity. As a family, are we loving one another? As a community, are we loving one another? As a country, are we loving one another?
Thus, the affirmative assertion “God is love”, provides the reason and motivation for the mutual love expected from the community members. Christian life is to be the life of love, because God loves, and God expects this love to be reciprocated by those who belong to Him. To respond to one another, and to God, through love, means to know God.
The supreme measure of what love is, is the self-sacrifice of God by giving humanity his only son. God’s love is not theory or just mere words as we human beings often abuse the word love. But God truly acted in love. Thus, God’s love expresses itself in the self-giving act of His Son’s self-sacrifice on the cross. The author of John emphasizes that God was not compelled to act in this manner, the people did nothing to merit God’s love. God acted gratuitously, expecting nothing in return and having only salvation in view. God’s love expressed itself through the self-sacrifice of Christ, who acted in accordance with God’s will and purpose (Cf. John 3:16). Jesus offered Himself on the cross, so that, free from sin, believers might receive the gift of salvation, the gift of life. The self-sacrifice of God through Jesus constitutes the supreme expression and measure of what love means.
Today’s Gospel passage (Cf. John: 15:9–17) builds on the teaching of unity between God, Jesus, and believers from the last Sunday, where it was described through the concept of mutual “abiding”. Today’s passage specifies what makes such mutual abiding possible, thus, the force of love. In a memorable phrase, Jesus states, “as the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love”.
Love functions as the force that binds God to people, and heaven to earth, through Jesus as its channel. This is the “the vertical dimension of love”.
The same love has its “horizontal dimension”. The love that links God and people needs to bind the people here on earth. Hence, Jesus speaks of the commandment of love. This single commandment contains, and fulfils, all the other commandments (Cf. Romans 13:8; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8). Jesus further specifies what love means by referring to the same self-sacrificial love that the author of 1 John identified as God’s own way of loving. Jesus sets Himself as an example in the words, “love one another as I have loved you”.
After the resurrection, the disciples knew full well that these words pointed to Jesus’ cross as the example of supreme love, of “laying down one’s life for one’s friends”. However, they would have also thought about Jesus washing their feet during the last supper (Cf. John 15:12-17). As his friends, chosen and loved by him, they were obliged to practice the same sacrificial service. In fact, they were chosen for this very purpose – to bring divine-like love into the world, thus bearing the fruit of the love they themselves experienced. As followers of Jesus Christ we need to bear fruits of love which is peace.
Quite reflective to note in the first Scriptural reading of today is the attention-shift back from Paul to Peter. While praying, Peter had a strange vision, inviting him to consume types of food which a faithful Jew was not even allowed to touch (Cf. Acts 10:9-17). Another man, Cornelius, also had a vison, advising him to invite Peter to his household (Cf. Acts 10:1-6). Cornelius was a Roman dignitary living in the prosperous coastal city of Caesarea. The text describes him as a “devout man who feared God” (Cf. Acts 10:2). As followers of Christ, we need to be devout men and women who fear God. That’s a Christian calling.
Even though not a Jew, Cornelius searched for the one true God, with the sincere intention of serving Him. Neither man understood what these visions meant at the time, but they acted upon them. Cornelius sent for Peter who accepted the invitation. He entered Cornelius’ house, even though, as a pious Jew, he was not supposed to do so (Cf. Acts 10:28). Meeting Cornelius and hearing his story, Peter understood the meaning of his puzzling vision. He realized “that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him”. These words disclose God’s intention, to bring the Gentiles into the family of the Church.
The outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and the baptism of Cornelius’ household by Peter meant that these Gentiles became full members of the community of believers. The biblical reading affirms to us that in this world, we are all children of God no matter which country we were born.
St Peter’s insight, and his actions, represent a rising above the distinctions of “clean and unclean”, and “Jew and Gentile”. This, in turn, reveals God’s decision to make salvation open to all, to make it a universal gift. This gift comes from God’s love, unrestricted by human distinctions, divisions and boundaries. God’s love is the impartial love of the creator who desires salvation for all His creatures. We are all entitled to be saved by love.
Christian Act in Word of God “LOVE”
Some of us we could have been dead by today, but because of God’s love, we are still alive. We need to glorify the Lord all time for His mercy endures forever. Sometimes in life, we focus so much on how people are not loving us enough and in the process we fail to see how immeasurable the love of God is for us. There is a Tunisian proverb which says: “If the full moon loves you, why worry about the stars”. The love of God for each one of us is so big that nothing can be compared to it. Look deep into your own life and you will find many instances when you were immersed in the love of God.
Whilst reflecting on the scriptural readings of sixth Sunday, I remembered my old good days of studying theology where I had to summarise the most profound encyclical of Pope emeritus Benedict “Deus Caritas Est”, three points worthy sharing, First, In his encyclical he said ““Seeing with the eyes of Christ love, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave.”
Second, “If in my life I fail completely to heed others, solely out of a desire to be ‘devout’ and to perform my ‘religious duties’, then my relationship with God will also grow arid. It becomes merely ‘proper’, but loveless”. Third and last, Pope emeritus Benedict said “Love grows through love”. As Christians, we need to grow in love.
Most marriages even relationships end in tears because we lack love, and spelling what love is, it will help us understand what true love is. Can we spell love for ourselves as Christians? LOVE- L stands for Listening, and O- stands for Obedience, and V- stands for Value, and –E stands for Evaluation. In love we need to listen, in love we need to obey, in love we need to value, and in love we need to constantly evaluate ourselves.
Action: I will genuinely love God and my neighbour as God has loved me.
Prayer: Almighty Loving Father, in giving us your Son Jesus Christ, you have proved beyond doubt that your love is deep and eternal. As you immerse us in your ocean of love, teach us how to love in truth, help us to live well in genuine love, help us to love our families, friends and countries in truth, we ask this through the Risen Christ our Lord, who is the true reflection of your love, Amen.
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