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Sun, Jun 06, 2021

"Check Your Engine: Love"

Duration:20 mins 47 secs

Sermon Series:  “Summer Tune Up”

Sermon #1: “Check Your Engine:  Love”

1 John 4: 7 – 12

(Galatians 5: 22 – 23)

June 6, 2021

 

            Now that it is safe to travel again, people are hitting the road in record numbers.  After months of not traveling, our vehicles are due for a summer tune up!  We need to have the brakes checked, the oil replaced, the tires rotated, to make sure that everything is in good working order. 

            Even if we’re not going on a long trip, we need an annual check up to make sure that everything is functioning as it should be.  Sometimes problems develop gradually, so gradually we’re not even aware of them.  That shimmy in the steering wheel that worsens over time, or the pull to the left or right when tires are not properly balanced. Because it happens over time, we adjust to it and get used to it and then, all of the sudden when a problem comes, bam!  We can be caught off guard by something that is now a major issue.

            Just as we periodically evaluate our vehicles, we also should evaluate our faith to see how we are doing and what needs to be fixed, repaired, maintained, brought up to standard.  After weathering the pandemic and preparing for a “new normal,” which includes interacting with family, friends, and co-workers we have not been with in awhile, our lives may need a spiritual tune up. We need to check to make sure that everything is functioning as it should be!  Just like with our vehicles, something that starts out small—a bad habit, or a lapse in behavior—can grow without our realizing it, until it leads to a break down.

            So why not have a spiritual summer tune up, a time to give our lives a good going over to make sure we are on the right track.  A good guide for our maintenance program is the passage from Galatians about the fruit of the spirit.  These are essential components in being spiritually healthy and well-functioning.  Just as in order for a car to fulfill its purpose as a vehicle, it has to have a good working engine, tires, brakes, headlights; for us to fulfill our purpose as disciples, we need to have these things:  love, joy, peace and patience, goodness and kindness, gentleness and self-control.

            So this summer, we’re going to have a Summer Tune Up Sermon Series that looks at these things.

We start with

                        Check Your Engine:  Love

Then

                        Charge Your Battery:  Joy

                        Maintain Your Cooling System:  Peace & Patience

                        Headlights Work?  Kindness & Goodness

                        Check Your Tires:  Faithfulness

                        Inspect Your Brakes:  Gentleness & Self Control

            I hope this will be a fun and helpful way for us to make sure that all is running smoothly, so we can go and be the people God wants us to be.

            Today we are going to talk about love.  Love is the engine that makes the whole thing go.  A car can limp along if the tire pressure’s low, or the cooling system’s not quite right, or if the headlights are out, but a car can’t go anywhere without an engine.  Love is the first spiritual fruit mentioned for a reason:  it is the key, the centerpiece to everything we do as Christian people.

            Love, after all, is at the heart of what Jesus said are the greatest commandments, and love is also the very nature of who God is.  The passage from 1 John is an ideal passage to help us think about love.  It’s a beautiful passage, isn’t it?  One commentator said, this “passage is well crafted, for each verse acts as a step to the next verse.  The theme keeps being restated, and each time the meaning is extended.”1 

            Even the introductory title, “Beloved,” says something important.  We are beloved; God loves us, loves you and me.  We have our identity in this:  we are God’s beloved.  Because we are beloved, the thing that is the very nature of God—love—lives within us.  It resides within our hearts. 

            And so, if that love lives within us, we can’t help but love one another.  Someone who has no love for others can’t have God’s love living within them, John says. 

            John points out that no one has seen God.  So how do others know who God is?  By looking at us.  Since God loves us, and since God’s love lives within us, when we love one another, others see God’s perfect love in us.

            With love at the center of our identity, love functions like the engine that makes everything else go.  If we are loving right, all of those other things fall into line.  But if something is wrong with our love, we are not going to go very far.

            In our vehicles, we have a little indicator that let’s us know all is not as it should be:  the check engine light.  If something is going on with our engine, that little symbol lights up to let us know.  Now be honest.  How many of you have had that engine light come on and you think, Oh, surely not.  You tap the dash board.  It’s probably just one of those things.  I’ll just ignore it, and maybe it’ll go away. 

            I heard about one fellow who had a “check engine” light that would not go away, and it was troubling him, so what did he do?  He took a little piece of black electrical tape and covered it up!

            According to an article I read on the Edmunds Automobile website, many of us are in denial about our engine lights.  The article is titled, “What Your Check Engine Light is Telling You:  Don’t Just Turn It Off, Fix the Problem!”  The article stressed that if you ignore an engine problem, what happens?  It gets worse!2 

            Instead, the article said, you should address the issue right away, and better yet, you should always make sure to have routine maintenance checks.  Because that regular tune up can catch a minor problem before it becomes major.

            So in our summer tune up, we should check the engine and ask ourselves how our love is today. Are our hearts running right?  Or are we having trouble loving as we should? 

            Today the word “love” is bandied about so casually we may not take it as seriously as we should.  “I love ice cream,” or “I sure do love country music,” or “I love going to the beach.” 

            We tend to use the word to describe anything we are fond of, and because it is a word that rolls easily off our lips, we may think of it as something that should be easy.   Of course we love our family, our friends, our fellow church members.  That’s natural, right?  Of course we love!

            Yet the frequency with which love is stressed in the New Testament, both in the letters and in the teachings of Jesus, tells us something.  Love may be a whole lot harder than we think it is.  In fact, in both of the letters we are focusing on today, the passage from Galatians and this passage from 1 John, there were problems.  The Galatian Christians were struggling with factions and divisions, and some people in the church John was writing to had such a major falling out it was referred to as a “mutiny”!3 

            If we’re not continually fine-tuning our hearts, making sure that we are loving as we should, we can suffer a major break down.

            There’s a story—and it is supposed to be a true story—of something that happened in North Carolina shortly after the Civil War.  There was a man way out in the mountains of Western North Carolina, who had to go into the capital city of Raleigh for business.  While he was there, he saw something he had never seen before:  an ice-making machine.  Ice-making machines were a new invention, and the man was awed by this wonderful new technology!  Imagine, being able to have ice not just in the winter, but all year long!  They could have ice in the summer to keep things cool!

            So as soon as he got back home to his small town in the mountains, he told everyone in his church (which happened to be Baptist, but it could have been any denomination), about the marvelous new invention. Within a month, the church had split into ice-Baptists and no-ice-Baptists.  They were divided over the theology of whether it was a violation of the natural order of God to make ice out of season, with the no-ice Baptists arguing that if God had wanted us to have ice in the summer,” God would have given it to us.4  

            They had a break down in their engine!  If they were truly loving one another, they would not let ice—something that really was a minor issue—divide them.

            The pandemic has been a trying time.  Although we have missed being with loved ones, family, friends, co-workers, I have also heard some folks saying that they have kind of gotten used to being alone.  Now we are resuming normal activities---traveling to spend time with family, businesses are recalling workers to the office who had been working at home, the VRE is reinstating full commuter train service.  We are going to be around a lot of people!  And when we are chatting at the office coffee pot or while commuting or at a family gathering and those hot-button issues that have plagued us over the past year arise in conversations, how will we handle it?

            How do we make sure we are loving one another?  Here’s a simple diagnostic check.  If we find ourselves feeling resentment toward someone, or animosity, or anger; if we find ourselves feeling superior or condescending, our hearts may need a tune up.  Those kinds of feelings are like the “check engine light” in our cars. 

            If we are in denial and ignore the warning indicators, the feelings may progress to words or actions.  If we find ourselves doing things that are not loving—like the “ice- or no-ice-Baptists”—wanting to prove our point and make sure everyone knows that we are right, we may need some major engine work. 

            A new minister was getting to know his congregation, and he was visiting with one man who was the oldest member of the church.  “I am 98 years old, pastor, and I don’t have an enemy in the world!” the man said.

            “How absolutely wonderful!” said the minister approvingly.

            “Yes sir,” the man went on, “I’m thankful to say I’ve outlived ‘em all.”5

            A funny story, but the truth is, it is all too easy to have enemies in the world we live in today.  Our society has become so polarized, that people with different opinions are barely civil to one another. As Christians, we are called to live differently.  We are called—yes, we are commanded—to love one another—even to love our enemies.

Tony Campolo, the well-known minister and speaker, said that when couples come to him for marriage counseling, he has some standard advice.  After listening to their complaints and concerns about all the things their spouse does wrong and all the problems in their marriage, he tells them “’If you do what I tell you to do for an entire month, I can promise you that by the end of the month, you will be in love with your mate.  Are you willing to give it a try?’ When couples accept my challenge,” he said, “the results are invariably successful. My prescription for creating love is simple: do ten things each day that you would do if you really [loved him or her]. I know that if people do loving things, it will not be long before they experience the feelings that are often identified as love. Love is not those feelings. Love is what one wills to do [for the sake of the other person].”6 

            Let me quote that again.  “Love is what one wills to do [for the sake of the other person].” Maybe that’s the kind of engine work we need.  This applies not only to spouses, but also to friends, family members, co-workers, neighbors.  When we are not loving as we should, what if we choose to BE loving.  What if we decide to DO what is loving, to SAY what is loving, to behave only in ways that are loving, even when we don’t feel like it. 

            That is what makes God’s love visible: our love for one another. That is what transforms hearts and lives and ultimately, what keeps our lives as disciples running:  the love of God in Christ our Lord.  Like an engine is what makes a vehicle fulfill its purpose, love is the essential element that helps us achieve our purpose as Christian people.

            “Beloved,” John says, “since God loves us so much, we also ought to love one another.” So let’s tune up our hearts, so that God’s love will be perfected in us.  Amen and amen.

         

Notes

  1. “Twisted Truth,” Homiletics, May 21, 2000.
  2. Edmunds.com, web.
  3. “Twisted Truth,” ibid.
  4. Marcus Borg, “What’s Christianity All About?” February 6, 2011, www.day1.org.
  5. Source unknown.
  6. Anthony Campolo, Homemade, June 1988.

Rev. Dawn M. Mayes

Manassas Presbyterian Church

Manassas, Virginia

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