10 February 2018

God is Love

Passage: 1 John 4:7-21

Sermon for Stewart & Lypisse's weddding at St Saviour’s Church in Southbourne at 13:00 on 10 February 2018

Mr and Mrs Lake: congratulations on your marriage!  We wish you a long and happy life together.

Your marriage is not just something that happened today - on 10 February 2018 in Southbourne – it’s a life-long journey that has only just begun.  And like any journey that’s worth making, there will be times of breath-taking delight - and we hope there will be an abundance of those for you both - but there will also be times when it is so tough that Jesus admits “Marriage isn't for everyone” (Matt 19:11, MSG).  So at the outset, here are three navigation points to keep your marriage on track.

Firstly, your marriage is about God’s love

The Bible begins and ends with a marriage.  In the second chapter of Genesis, we are told that the Lord God brought Eve to Adam and “that is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.”

In Ephesians 5, the Apostle Paul says about this verse: “This is a profound mystery - but I am talking about Christ and the church.”  It turns out that marriage is not actually about Adam and Eve, or Kim and Kanye, or even Stewart and Lypisse - its about Christ and the church.

That is why in the closing chapters of the Bible, we are called to “rejoice and be glad and give [God] glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.” (Rev 19)

Do you notice that in this wedding God is referred to as the Lamb?  There is a huge diversity of stories about what God is really like.  The Bible tells us “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in the closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. The Son is the image of the invisible God. [He] is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being. Anyone who has seen [him] has seen the Father.”  God is like Jesus.  And in this marriage between God and his people, Jesus is the Lamb who gave himself up for his bride.

“God is love.  This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  This is the Good News – ‘the Gospel’ in Old English.  And marriage is the best metaphor the Bible has for it.

Secondly, your marriage is about your love for each other

Tim Keller puts it like this: “Marriage only works to the degree that it approximates the pattern of God’s self-giving love in Christ … so the Gospel is the power and the pattern of marriage … the Gospel and marriage explain one another.”

That’s why in Ephesians 5 we are told: “as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands” and “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Eph 5:24-25)  Stewart and Lypisse, you are called to respond to Christ’s love for you by following his example and giving yourselves up in love for each other the way he did.  Jesus says: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.”

What does it mean to love each other as Jesus loves us?  It means being patient and kind; not being proud or self-seeking; not dishonouring the other person; not being easily angered or keeping a record of wrongs; not delighting in evil but rejoicing with the truth. It means always protecting, always trusting, always hoping, always persevering.  

You need to know, that because you will fail repeatedly! But the call of marriage is never to give up, for “love never fails,” but instead it continually holds on to the example of love that Christ has set before you. 

There will be ups and downs, disagreements over small things and large, differences of opinion, hormones and emotions, tensions and frustrations.  The intimacy of marriage will lay bare the painful truth that you are both, as Tim Keller puts it, "more flawed than you ever dared believe."  But the Gospel truth is that you are also "more loved than you ever dared hope."  This is the truth that in your marriage you are called to continually affirm for each other in what you say and do.

Thirdly, your marriage is about your love for the world around you

The part of the world where God has placed you has suffered unspeakable injustice and has been riven with hatred, and you yourselves have experienced both at first hand - indeed, it was in the midst of such an experience that your relationship was forged.  Is there any hope for that land?  Revelation 22 tells us the “healing of the nations” (Rev 22:2) comes from the leaves of the tree of life: that's where Christ’s followers, the branches of the vine, touch the nations with the same self-sacrificial, boundary-crossing love that Christ himself poured out on the tree of life, which is the cross.

Jesus says: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back that you may be children of your Father in heaven, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

Jesus calls us to be like God so that we, the bride, and he, the groom are united and become one flesh.  Then when the world sees us, it sees him.  We are called to show the world who God is and how he loves them.  “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

The Bible tells us in Genesis: “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)  That means we see God reflected not just in individual human beings, but particularly in marriage - in the most intimate relationship between a man and a woman.  In other words, your marriage is a picture of God for the rest of the world.

At the end of the Bible, in Revelation, “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Rev 21:9) is depicted as a city that “the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into” and that “The glory and honour of the nations will be brought into.” (Revelation 21:23-26) The full beauty of the bride who is the image of God, and therefore the fullest picture of God himself, comes when the riches of different cultures are brought together in Christ.  And that makes your marriage an especially rich picture of God for the world around you.

We are so excited!  What a joy and a privilege that God has brought you both together in marriage. The love of God is an exquisite work of art that being sculpted in your souls over a life-time, in the studio of your marriage.

Whenever you are knocked it is whatever you have filled your cup with that will spill out.  So let your cup be filled continually with God’s love for you, and fill each other’s cup with Christ-like love, so that when the world knocks you it is God’s love that spills over them.  And as you seek to do that, “if music be the food of love” then “play on.” (Shakespeare)

We also gave Stewart & Lypisse this 'Liturgy of Love' to be a daily reminder