'God is love. This is most certainly true. But it just isn’t enough simply to say God is love.'
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
I know that I’ve told this story from this pulpit before, but I’m going to tell it again, because some of you may not have been here, and some of you may forget.
It was when I was in my first year in seminary, and I had to go before the candidacy committee. A candidacy committee is a group of people who make sure, as a candidate for ministry, that y0u are on the right track.
Before my interview, I called the pastor who encouraged me to go to seminary for some advice. I don’t recall anything about our conversation except one thing. He asked me, ‘What is the Gospel?’
I was pretty sure I knew the answer. The Gospel assured me of God’s love. I responded with confidence, ‘The Gospel is God is love.’
I was expecting a response commending my theological acumen and my spiritual sensitivity. So when my pastor said, ‘No!’ I was flabbergasted. Surely, if I knew one thing about God, it was that God is love. I’d learned that from my childhood when I learned to sing, ‘Jesus loves me.’
Moreover, the Bible told me so: ‘God is love’ is straight out of 1st John, from which also we heard today: ‘See what love the Father has, that we should be called children of God.’
‘Um, so what is it?’ I asked him. And he told me: the Gospel is that Christ died for our sins and was raised for our justification.
Now, that doesn’t conflict with ‘God is love.’ But it gives it substance, it gives it content and meaning. ‘God is love’ alone could mean anything, and nothing.
In the face of tragedy, to simply say God is love may not be enough. For example, try telling a person who has lost a child that God is love. You might get a response like this, ‘If God is love, why would he do this?’ Or, ‘I know God is love, so he must be punishing me because I am not loving enough.’ Or, ‘He wants me to learn a lesson from this.’ How awful it would be if God caused the death of a child so that a mother or father could learn a lesson!
But if one can say something like this, ‘Christ died for your child and was raised for your child, and therefore we can have hope,’ that might make a difference. It might not take away pain but it might help us to deal with it and start to heal.
Take another example. A person hearing God is love may think that God’s love is indulgent. God becomes Santa Claus in this scenario. He showers us with gifts and winks at our misdeeds, because no one really gets coal for Christmas, do they? It’s a pretty harsh parent who takes back the Christmas gifts because the child has misbehaved. For no one is perfect, after all.
But to hear ‘Christ died for our sins’ is to know that they are serious and that God takes them seriously. And to hear ‘was raised for our justification’ is to know that despite it all, Christ is victorious over all things, even our sin. Because he is raised from the dead, he both pronounces us right with him and makes us right for him.
God is love. This is most certainly true. But it just isn’t enough simply to say God is love. That is why, when Jesus met the apostles in the Upper Room, he didn’t tell them God is love, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.’
This is what you see Peter doing in the first lesson. He is not reassuring the people that God is love, as if they didn’t already believe that. He is telling the people that Christ died for their sins, indeed, because of their sins, but was raised so that through him, there could be a future for them with God. God didn’t want to destroy them, but wanted them to turn to him so that their sins could be wiped out.
This is Gospel, this is good news, for those who know great tragedy and for those who know no tragedy. It is for the obvious sinners who have committed terrible acts, and it is for those who have relatively good records and yet know themselves to be sinners. It is for you, and it is for me.
We say in the Creed: We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. What does it mean to say we believe in the apostolic church?
Jesus made the apostles witnesses to his resurrection and sent them to proclaim the Gospel: he suffered, died, and was raised so that in his name people might know repentance and forgiveness. The apostles say that this death and resurrection of Jesus was foretold in the Old Testament scripture. This news, this good news, that Jesus called the apostles to tell, is what forms the Church.
But to say the apostolic Church also means that the Church is sent. For the word apostle means one who is sent. The Church is sent, just like the apostles were sent, to tell the world about the witness of the apostles: that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and that through him every person may have life and forgiveness of sins.
That’s the only reason we’re here today: because when Jesus sent them, the apostles went and told what they had witnessed. And that good news has come to you and to me. And because of this, we can’t help but being part of the witness. We may not have deep theological knowledge, but if we can say, Christ is risen, with faith that through him life is restored, then we are part of the witness to Christ’s resurrection. We can say, ‘God is love,’ but even more, we can say how God shows his love: by giving his only Son so that all those who believe in him may not perish but have eternal life.
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!