Monday, May 20, 2019

Love is a Verb and a Noun Too!

Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you.  Love one another as I have loved you.”

Years ago I pondered this text and from my meditations a brilliant sermon emerged.  I gave it the title “Love is a Verb.”  In 2012, more than a decade later, the Grammy Award winning artist John Mayer released a song with the same name (so, apparently, my sermons reverberate far, wide, and across the sands of time!):

Love is a verb
It ain’t a thing
It’s not something you own
It’s not something you scream

When you show me love
I don’t need your words
Yeah love ain’t a thing
Love is a verb

Catchy, isn’t it. 

My old sermon made a simple point.  Love is an action.  It is an activity.  It is something you do – like a verb – not something you are – like a noun.  As it says in the First Letter of John, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and truth” (3:18). 

Well, I am here this morning to recant my words of yore.  Oh, yes, love is still a verb.  It still describes what you do.  When you love another as Jesus loves you it involves some kind of action.  But love is also a noun.  It is descriptive of a thing.  The Christian author Jon Bloom makes the point best:

If we reduce love to mere action, we will miss love at its source.  Making love only a verb will likely make us Pharisees.

It is possible for us to do all the right things, but without the proper motivation.  The Pharisees kept all of the commandments, but Jesus finds their actions lacking.  Yes, they do the right thing, but no, they do not love God with all their heart and soul and mind and strength.  Without the inner source, the outer action is in danger of becoming empty, or worse.

When Jesus instructs his followers to love one another as he has loved them, most definitely he is qualifying what this love is to look like.  It should be selfless and giving, free and forgiving, natural and (at times) costly.  He is saying, “Let the verbing of your life reflect how I verbed my life” (or something like that). 

But he is saying something more.  He is reminding them of more than how he loved them.  He is reminding them that he loved them.  His love for them was also a noun. 

Experiencing love as a noun is absolutely essential.  Think about your parents.  Hopefully they set a good example for you.  You learned how to be an adult and how to be parent by emulating they best of what you saw in your mother and father.  But their love was more than an example.  It was something real that you experienced.  As you bathed in their love, you became you.  You received from your parents not just a series of actions to imitate, you received a gift – the gift of love.  And it is this give that fills you and animates all that you say and do.  You are filled with love because your parents loved you.

This is what John meant when he wrote, “We love because God first loved us” (I John 4:19).  This is what Jesus says to his followers, “My love is something for you to replicate, but it is also something for you to experience, to know, and to receive.”  As we receive God’s love we find replicating it is something flowing naturally through us, rather than something we must force in order to be faithful.  Jon Bloom puts it this way: “Love originates as a noun that necessarily produces verbs.”

Church life can degenerate into a mess of feverish activities all designed to produce the fruits of the verbs.  And there is no doubt many of the things we do here shore up our ability to love. My participation in the life of the Church helps me to be a better verber, no question.  But I wonder how much of what we do invites us into the presence of God’s noun-like love for us.  How much of what we do opens us to be filled with a love that becomes us?

I came across an interesting little exercise this past week.  It invites us to think of Jesus’ love through the lens of Paul’s magnificent writing in his letter to the Church in Corinth:

Jesus is patient and kind;

Jesus does not envy or boast;

Jesus is not arrogant or rude.

Jesus does not insist on his own way;

Jesus is not irritable or resentful;

Jesus does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.

Jesus bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Next, the exercise requires you to substitute Paul’s word love with your own name.

Keith is patient and kind;

Keith does not envy or boast;

Keith is not arrogant or rude.

Keith does not insist on his own way;

Keith is not irritable or resentful;

Keith does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.

Keith bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

The point of the exercise, I think, is to make the person doing it feel completely misserable about his or her Christian life.  It is to remind us that our lives as verbs are terribly lacking.  And, well, do we really need to go through Lent all the time?  Of course our lives come up short of the lofty ideals set forth in Scripture and lived out by Jesus.

If you decide to undertake this rigorous project I suggest you do it by contemplating how you have been (and are being) transformed by the experience of knowing Jesus’ love has been a noun in your life:

I am patient and kind because I experience Jesus as patient and kind with me when___________;

I do not envy or boast because I experience Jesus doing neither when___________;

I am not arrogant or rude because Jesus is not arrogant or rude with me when __________;

I do not insist on my own way because Jesus does not insist on his own way when _________;

I am not irritable or resentful because Jesus is neither with me when __________:

I do not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoice with the truth because this is my experience of Jesus when _________;

I bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things because I feel Jesus bearing, believing, hoping, and enduring when _______.

I have said before the Christian faith is first about being.  It is about experiencing yourself as a beloved child of God, unique and special, precious and full of promise, in no ways perfect but always loved dearly just as you are.  As you experience this as your being, the doing (the verb of the faith) happens naturally.  God’s love in us seeks to be expressed as God’s love for others made real through us.  My prayer this morning is for you to experience God’s love as a noun so that you can be God’s love as a verb.