Love, Love, Love
God’s prevenient, unfailing, unconditional, amazing love for us (and a little bit of Phil & Marion’s love story as well)
Reading: 1 John 4:7-21
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
This Sunday is all about love! It is actual Phil and Marion’s 29th wedding anniversary and Phil is taking the opportunity to share a little of their love story (with some envelopes that have to be seen to be believed) as an analogy to ultimately point to God’s prevenient, unfailing, unconditional, amazing love for us. We also are having a great interactive all-age activity as we explore what we love. It will be a wonderful celebration of love and God’s love for us.
Questions for reflection or small groups
Today I want to talk about love. Ultimately, I will be focusing on God’s love for us, but I was also wondering if it was ok to share a little of the love story of Marion and myself. I know sermons are not supposed to focus to much on the preacher, but hey, it is our 29th wedding anniversary so I thought it might be ok.
Marion and I have known each other since our mid-teens and you know the concept of “love at first sight” … well, that was not us. Our connection was that Marion and I attended the same church on the central coast … just not at the same time. Marion’s family joined about 5 weeks after I moved down to the Riverina. But because we are same age, all of her new friends were my old friends. And because my older sister didn’t move with us but rather continued at the church, I would see Marion most times we came back to visit – but as I said, certainly not love at first sight.
For that part of the story we need to jump 5½ years later – I am now half way through my uni degree at Wagga Wagga, and Marion has just started uni at Macquarie when we crossed paths at … of all places … the NSW statewide meeting of the Uniting Church – Synod. We were both attending as representatives of our churches, I saw her sitting up the front with her minister and as I knew Marion, I invited her to sit with the other young people up the back … and five days later of a somewhat boring meeting … and sparks were flying. At the end of Synod, my Dad and I hitched a ride back to the Central Coast with Marion and her minister, and sitting in the back seat I reached across and held Marion’s hand. And for all you romantics out there, you are going to love this next bit…
When we got back to her place, I was saying goodbye to Marion and I said, “I really like you, … , but I am not really interested in a long distance relationship, let’s be friends”.
Ok – so apparently that wasn’t a great line … but I didn’t quite mean it like that. I really was interested, but I was wanting us to both consider whether we wanted to consider the implication of living 500km apart. Let me be clear, I was interested and my actions showed that even from the moment I drove away that night, I was actively pursuing a relationship with Marion. That night I wrote my first letter to Marion – and me being me, I wrote on the front of the envelope – the lovely and very stunning Marion Stuart. That was the beginning of a 3 month campaign of lots of letters, expensive phonecalls and finally a visit all with the aim of wooing Marion into a relationship with me.
I have a little more of the story to come, but let’s jump over the nature and character of God. In our Bible reading, John says that God not only knows love, but God is love. That the core of who God is, is to love and be loved. And this idea of “courting” is the same as what God does for us. God loves us and wants a relationship with us, and will do anything during that “courting” time to “woo” us into a relationship. In Jeremiah 31:3, God says: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.
That is a great image. God calling us, drawing us, wooing us with his everlasting love. Notice that God doesn’t force us. It is still our choice to have a relationship with God … but God does not give up in his quest. And this quest started way before we might ever have realised.
If you have ever been on an Emmaus Walk you would know about the word prevenient. (It is one of the talks – Prevenient Grace.) Prevenient means “to come before” or “anticipatory”. Verse 19 of our reading reminds us that God loved us from the beginning, that we only love because God first loved us. Before we ever knew it God was showing us his prevenient love. Before we had any idea, God was already using people and circumstances to nudge us closer to him, to help us to see and respond to that love. Why does God do all this? Why does God go to incredible lengths to “woo” us back? Because God loves us and more than anything wants to have a relationship with us.
I might not have started the courting process well with Marion, but during those three months of letters and envelopes and phonecalls, Marion weighed up the advantages and disadvantages of being stuck with me. My charm, or her graciousness, prevailed and when I held out my hand, she took it and we haven’t let go since.
Fast forward another 18 months and I finished uni. I am over this living 500kms apart and desperately try to get a job near Marion but unfortunately it was Paul Keating’s “recession that we had to have” and couldn’t make that happen. I ended up staying on at the Wagga Uni teaching as an associate lecturer. Fast forward another 12 months and Marion is coming up to the end of her undergraduate degree and was applying to continue at Macquarie doing post-grad. All I want to do is get married and live in the same house and the same town – but I also wanted to affirm and empower Marion in her studies and her life goals. So I waited. If she didn’t get accepted into her post-grad studies, I will ask her to marry me.
But was a comment about God’s unconditional love for us that got me thinking. In the early church there was a line of thinking that God love and righteousness was only given to people as a response to them proving themselves worthy of that love. If you are committed, if you are good, if you are striving to live a holy life, then God will make you right and bless you with God’s love.
But the New Testament – from Jesus, to Paul to John – all argue that this is not the case. God love is unconditional. Let me read from 1 John 4 again, verses 9-10.
This is how God showed his love among us: God sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that God loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
God’s love is unconditional, and any love that we show either back to God or to others is not a way of proving ourselves worthy but rather done in response to God’s love for us.
11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
I didn’t want Marion to think that any marriage proposal was only because she didn’t get into post-grad. I wanted her to know that my love and my desire to get married was unconditional – that I wanted to get married whether she was doing further studies or not. That either way, I would be there for her and supporting her whatever she was doing. I needed to ask her right then. Actually I had to wait a few days because I was right in the middle of end of year marking and grading, but then I drove the 500 kms and asked without any conditions whether she would marry me.
I had this amazing proposal speech worked out that talked about unconditional love and Marion jumped in and said yes within the first 3 words. Six months later, which was 29 years ago today, here is us at our wedding!
Thanks for indulging me sharing some of my and Marion’s love story, but it pales in comparison to God’s love story with us. God loves you with a prevenient, unfailing, unconditional, amazing love. God is constantly showering us with love. I guess I wanted to challenge us to think about our response top this love? Are we so used to God’s love that we sort to take it a bit for granted? Or are we like Marion and enthusiastically responding straight away? I would like to ponder this as I share one last analogy.
Last week I shared one of my kids favourite movies when they were younger, Shrek. Another one of their favourite movies is Toy Story 2 … and learning from my copyright issues of last week, I am not going to attempt to show you a very special scene, but rather talk about it.
The idea behind Toy Story 2 is that when people aren’t looking, the toys come to life and play. The main character is Woody, a toy cowboy, who loves it when his owner Andy plays with him. One day, in a garage sale mix-up, he gets stolen by a man who recognises him as a valuable collectors item from an old show called Woody’s Roundup. He get taken to this mans home where he meets the other toys from the show in this man’s collection. They explain that they are all going to be sent to the toy museum in Japan where they will be displayed in glass cases and have lots of people looking at them.
Woody doesn’t know what to do. The idea of being famous and in a museum sounds great … but he really just wants to be home being played with by his owner Andy.
But the scene I love is a really touching scene where Woody and Jessie, the cowgirl doll, talk about how great it is when you are loved by a boy or girl, but how much it hurts when they forget about you. It is at that point where Woody realises that he doesn’t want to be locked up behind glass in a museum … he wants to be loved … and to be played with … and to part of someone’s life.
It seems that some people in this world treat God’s love for us like a toy in a toy museum. We like to know that it is safe in the glass case and that God’s love for us is there when we need it. But God or God’s love is not supposed to be locked up and admitted. God wants to be part of our lives, God wants to be loved, to be connected with us. God is love and want to love and be loved.
So on this day as we have been thinking about love, I encourage us to think about our own relationship with God/Jesus. It is my prayer for all of us here this this morning that God’s love might become for us more than just something we sing about or read about or think about, but something that we can feel and experience today. I pray that God’s love for you will be as real and as special and the love that Marion and I feel for each other. May we all know and feel and bask in today, God’s prevenient, unfailing, unconditional, amazing love for us. Amen.