Sunday, June 22, 2014


For the next two weeks Ken Sipley will be on vacation.  You are invited to review older posts during the interim.
Love Is From God
1 John 4:7-12

            When it comes to talking about love, the Greek language is far superior to English.  We have only one word for “love,” and we use it to indicate love for a spouse, for parents and siblings, for children and for friends—even for foods, cars, and other objects.  We have to figure out from the context just what kind of love someone means.
            The Greeks have three words for love.  Each word allows the reader/listener to know what kind of love the writer/speaker is referring to.
Eros is romantic love, the kind of love we share with very few people during our lives.  No matter how many times we fall in love, these affairs still only involve a handful of people. 
Filios is love for family members and very close friends—friends who are like members of the family.  While I have no blood brothers or sisters, there are a select few people who I consider family.  For them I feel filial love even though we are not directly related.  
Agape is the kind of self-giving love that Jesus modeled when he was here on earth. When John talks about love in his letters he uses the word agape.  When he says, “Dear friends, let us love one another,” he certainly doesn’t mean eros.  We couldn’t possibly share romantic love with everyone.  It would be very time-consuming and get us into a lot of trouble.  Neither does he mean filios.  We are not expected to love everyone we meet as if they were our parents or brothers and sisters.  No one has a family that large.
 We are expected to love as Jesus did—loving everyone we have anything to do with, and loving them with a love that involves giving of ourselves even to the point of self-sacrifice.
We know how difficult this can be.  Some of us even say (of someone we don’t like very much) “I’ll try to love him for Jesus’ sake.”  Can we imagine Jesus saying that?  Jesus loved everyone, even the scribes and Pharisees with whom he disagreed—even those who no one else loved.
We know we can never love like that on our own.    Eros is often fairly easy, especially if we love someone who loves us back.  Filios is a little harder.  We know how difficult it can be to get along with family members—until someone threatens them from outside the family. 
Agape is the most difficult love of all.  It involves loving everyone, not just those close to us, or those who we can relate to easily.  It means loving the person who cuts us off in traffic.  It means loving the salesperson or waiter who is rude to us.  It means loving the next door neighbor who never has a kind word to say about anyone.  It means, above all, loving the unlovable.  Luke tells us that Jesus even commands us to love our enemies.
 This is the kind of love we see demonstrated by people like Mother Teresa.  This is the kind of love shown by missionaries who give up all the comforts of home and family to go to complete strangers and show them Christ.
We need God’s help to even attempt agape.  We must ask God for more and more love to share with more and more people
How do we love this way?  First, we must realize how much God loves us.  How could anyone love us enough to die for us—not just for us, but for the whole world?  How could anyone love us enough to bless us with so many good things—family, friends, and material goods enough to meet our needs?
When we accept how much God loves us we can begin to practice agape—and practice is the correct word.  As behavioral scientists tell us, it is easier to act ourselves into a new way of thinking than to think our way into a new way of acting.
Start small.  Smile at that sour salesclerk and say, “Thank you.”  Greet that negative neighbor with a cheery, “Hello!”  Do him a favor—commit a random act of kindness. 

Don’t be surprised if, over time, it becomes easier to live an agape life.  It can be habit-forming.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Little Old Lady in the Second Row

The Little Old Lady in the Second Row
2 Timothy 2:14-19
Erik Leidzen was a 20th century American composer who wrote much of his music for the church.  While he wrote some vocal music, he is best known for his works for band—a genre which does not occupy a large niche in the overall scope of church music.  Still, Leidzen is, in a somewhat limited circle, respected for his music but even more for his Christian witness. 
Working in an age when church music was becoming more complex, and when other composers were writing music that was difficult both to play and to understand, Leidzen kept his music straightforward enough to be understood by everyone.  Although often difficult to play, it is never difficult to listen to.  He said he wrote for “the little old lady in the second row,” the untrained, unsophisticated listener whose only desire is to receive a blessing from the music she (he) hears in church.  In pursuing that goal, Erik Leidzen was a huge success.
The writer of the epistles to Timothy (just for the sake of simplicity let’s call him Paul) might have had the same issue in mind when he said to his young protégé—speaking of Timothy’s congregation—“charge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers.”  Two verses later he tells the young pastor to “avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene.”
These are tough words, but they highlight a problem that was prevalent in the early church, and remains a serious one today.  Where do solid teaching and discussion about Scripture leave off and useless arguments begin?  How do we study Scripture and grow in knowledge without replacing what the Bible says with our own understanding—that is, create false doctrine?
Both issues plague today’s churches.  When Paul warns Timothy about his congregants quarreling over words, he is foreshadowing the rift between systematic theologians and the people in the pews.  As much as members of our congregation want to hear music they can relate to in worship, they also want to hear a word from the Lord that helps them get through the trials and struggles they will face during the week.  Like philosophers arguing about the meaning of words such as esthetics, theologians can become so wrapped up in arguments with each other over words such as soteriology (the theory of salvation) that they forget about the people who will sit in the pews and listen to sermons on Sunday morning.  Their arguments mean as much to our congregations as a lecture on water safety means to someone who is drowning.
The church also faces the problem of preachers who try to make the Bible say what they want it to say rather than hear what the Bible says.  This happens when people pick and choose selected verses rather than reading whole passages for context.  I once heard a preacher say that you can prove almost anything with Scripture.  He went on to tell about the woman who read the verse “All things are yours,” and found in it an excuse for her shoplifting.  While we shake our heads at the woman’s misinterpretation, we also remember how many times those who occupy our pulpits read into Scripture their own political or social agendas.

What’s the solution?  For the first issue, we must always keep in mind the people to whom we are preaching.  They come, Sunday after Sunday, like beggars looking for bread.  What they need is good, wholesome meals, not rich, rare delicacies.  For the second issue, we must study Scripture diligently and try to come to God’s word with fresh, new eyes, not bringing ourselves to the table, or what we think we know.  We must remember that we too are beggars looking for bread.  We also need to feed on the word.  Like every member of our congregation, we’re more like Leidzen’s little old lady in the second row than we care to admit.