Love by mifei


                                           R. Larry Snow
                                         December 21, 2008

Romans 16:25-27

          I am a little nervous about telling you this. I suppose that everyone has some secrets that
they would rather not reveal – but this one is important, and I’ve kept it so secret, that I’m a little
nervous talking about it in a sermon.
          Perhaps some of the effect is lessened by the fact that I was in high school at the time.
And perhaps some of the effect is lessened by the fact that it happened as a part of the youth
program at what was then First Christian Church – but is now University Christian Church
(Disciples of Christ) in Boise.
          Oh well, I might as well just go ahead and tell you about it. During my senior year in
high school our youth group invited a high school teacher to come in and teach us “The Five
Spiritual Laws” that had just been introduced by Campus Crusade for Christ. You probably
know about “The Five Spiritual Laws.” They are the gospel in a nutshell, compacted into a little
tract that you can use to lead someone to faith in Jesus. The hope was that we would carry that
tract wherever we went – so that we would be ready at a moment’s notice to explain Christianity
at the drop of a hat.
          In an age when that kind of evangelistic fervor is about as popular as a contagious disease
– you understand why I’ve been so reluctant to talk about it. In an age when that kind of
theological simplicity is laughed at, you understand why I no longer carry that tract in my wallet.
But let me assure you of something – you may take the tract out my wallet, but you can’t take it
out of my mind. I’ll never be able to forget what I learned that fall – it’s stuck in my mind –
especially the first of the five “spiritual laws.” That first law reads, “God loves you and has a
wonderful plan for your life.”
          For a lot of my life I believed that and sincerely hoped that it was true. That whole
belief came back to me with a rush when I opened up The Purpose Driven Life, that global best-
seller written by preacher and national celebrity Rick Warren. In that book, the forward tells the
reader that God had planned before the creation of the world for you to read the book. I have to
admit that just to be contrary; at that point, I put the book down.
          Maybe I need to tell you about a very popular strand of contemporary Christian theology
which holds that God controls the smallest and even the most intimate details of our lives. I
know people who believe that God prevents or allows car crashes, cancer, the coming and going
of ministers, the election of presidents, the weather, and even the rulings of the Supreme Court. I
know people who literally believe that God has a plan for the world which we are living out –
whether we want to or not.
          I know people who believe that God controls their choice of careers, their choice of
spouses, their choice of cars, and even their choice of what to wear. These people believe that
God has a plan for their life – a very detailed plan.
          And like I told you, I’ve been there. I used to believe those things – but I don’t anymore.
I stopped believing in the “will of God,” at least in those terms, for two important reasons. The
first is that if God is micromanaging the world then God is making a hell of a mess. The world
is filled with injustice, war, starvation, immorality and natural disasters. If everything that

happens in the world, or even most of the things that happen in the world are a part of God’s plan
then God deserves our disgust, not our love.
         I recently read a book about the man who broke into the Amish school at Nickel Mines,
Pennsylvania and shot five girls – for no reason. The writers reported that the Amish
community understood that what had happened was indeed a part of the plan of God – and their
task was to accept that. I could not accept that. I could not accept that God wills the death of
children, or war between nations, or the starvation of thousands each day. What I have decided
is that either God is a monster or this theology about the plan of God is incorrect. I have
decided to let God off the hook.
         The second reason why I have to reject the theology about the micromanaging God is
because of my belief in my own freedom. You understand if God has my life all planned out –
then there is nothing left for me to plan – and you and I must be nothing more than robots who
only live in the illusion of freedom. If God has planned everything out then my life can not have
any real meaning – I’m just a robot doing what God planned.
         Yes, I had to reject what I believed for a long time about the will of God, about the plan
of God. Yep, I had to throw away my little tract.

       But in that light I want you to consider this morning’s scripture. This passage is the last
paragraph of Paul’s letter to the Romans. It’s in this paragraph that Paul deals with the plan that
God has for world – has always had for the world – and has now been more fully revealed in
       In Paul’s defense, Paul was dealing with a subject we Christians still haven’t figured out.
The problem for Paul was the relationship of the covenant made with the Jews through Moses
which involved strict rule keeping – and the life of Jesus which was based on love and
forgiveness. What Paul decided was that while it doesn’t always seem that way, God has
always had a plan for human history.

         That of course puts me in an interesting position. While I might easily throw out a
Campus Crusade for Christ tract, I find it harder to throw out the last paragraph of Romans.
While I might laugh at the theology of Rick Warren, I think that laughing at the theology of the
Apostle Paul would be a little presumptuous.
         Which leaves me trying to balance what I believe about God and what I read in scripture,
what other Christians believe and what I believe. This leaves me trying to balance what Paul
said about the plan of God, and what I believe about the absence of that kind of plan.
         To do that I must reiterate what I believe about human freedom. One of the center-points
of the Bible, and Christianity is that we are not robots, but are indeed free beings who have the
ability to do good and bad, to do right and wrong, to do what has instructed or to reject those
instructions. We are not robots. We are free. We have more freedom that we probably ought to
have. At no point do I see God forcing humankind to do anything.
         But that isn’t to say God isn’t involved in human history. Certainly God is always
present. Certainly God is always available to us as wisdom and courage and forgiveness and
love – but I don’t believe God has a plan for our lives. No plan other than this. I believe that
God’s plan is for us to love and be loved. You see, that’s what I’m doing preaching this sermon
on the 4th Sunday of Advent, otherwise known as “Love” Sunday.

         As I’ve told you before I am not sure which is harder to accept love for yourself – or give
love to others. It is my observation that neither one is easy – or everyone would do it. – Or the
world would be much different from the way it is.
         It is my observation that accepting love for ourselves is made difficult because most of us
can come up with 100 reasons why we shouldn’t be loved – by anyone. And I suppose that we
could come up with at least that number of reasons why we shouldn’t bother to love a ny certain
         I remember hearing Garrison Keillor once quip that when a preacher says that he “is only
human” that the congregation begins to wonder who he’s been “human” with and how often.
The fact is that being human is generally an excuse for bad behavior not a motivation for good.
That’s just what it means, most of the time, to be human – to do what is unloving.
         So, it shouldn’t be any surprise that I have too many conversations with people who want
to know how God can love them. So, it shouldn’t be any surprise that I have had too many
conversations at the bedside of dying saints who wonder if they have been good enough to get
into heaven. So, it shouldn’t be any surprise that as a species we find it easy to hurt one another,
to get try and get even, why we prefer to live in isolation from each other rather than trying to
build bridges. So, it shouldn’t be any surprise why the people who seem to think they know God
the best find it so easy to condemn the members of other religions.
         Of course that’s not what it means to be human. To be human, fully human, means, first
of all, means to accept an identity as a child of God – created by God to live and love in freedom.
Second, to be human means that we follow a higher calling to increase the amount of love in the
         While it may seem to you that it’s easy for me to say that God’s plan is for us to love and
to be loved – I’m probably telling you something very difficult. There is probably nothing
harder to do with your life. There is probably nothing harder to figure out. How do we love the
people who hate us? How do we love the people who want to do us harm? Who have done us
harm? How practical is it for our government to love? What does it mean to love the people
standing at the end of the freeway on-ramps? No, love isn’t a clear path – but it is a direction.
         Maybe that’s the purpose of life – that we spend our lives figuring our live. That I
believe is God’s plan for us.

         It must also be the plan of God. It must be what God is trying to tell us. After all, this is
Christmas. This is the time of year when we celebrate the birth of someone who made real for us
the love of God. This is the time of year when we celebrate the birth of the one who told us that
the hallmarks of God’s world were going to be love for God and love for others.
         In recent weeks I’ve been doing lots of reading about what the birth of Jesus was really
like. You know what the books said. The books said that it didn’t really happen in Bethlehem,
that the shepherds didn’t really see angels and that the wise men didn’t show up for another two
years. I don’t know what to say about those books. I suppose they could be right. I wasn’t
there and no one took pictures. But I have decided that those scholarly books sometimes miss
the point. Regardless of the details God chose to work through a man who began life as a very
small and helpless baby. God did not choose to work through a powerful ruler who would
descent from the heavens on a white elephant. God chose to work through someone who began
life as a helpless baby.

         That speaks to me of freedom. That speaks to me of God’s commitment to our freedom.
Christmas doesn’t tell us that God has a detailed, day-by-day plan for our lives. Christmas is not
a call to commitment; it is a call to love.

        Which allows me to ask you these two questions. First, what would it take for you to
believe that you are loved by God, fully loved, completely loved, always loved? In my
experience most of us are carrying around some burdens or mistakes that we need to let go of,
that we need help believing that God doesn’t want to punish us for. What about you? What do
you need to let go of? What would it take for you to fully and freely accept God’s love?

         And, what be the next step for you to live a life of love? Who are the people that you
can’t love? What is the offense that you can’t forgive? What would be the next step for you to
more fully live a life of love? What attitude do you need to change? What person do you need
to start caring about? What would be the next step?

       It’s Christmas, and Christmas is about our hearing God’s call to love. It’s Christmas
which is about our remembering that love is God’s plan for our lives. Love is God’s plan.


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