Crazy Little thing Called Love
a message by the Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens
Arlington Congregational Church, U.C.C.
May 2, 2021
1 John 4:7-21 NRSV
7Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. 13By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
14And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.
17Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19We love because he first loved us. 20Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
In 1979 Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of the rock band Queen wrote a song titled “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” There isn’t any great philosophical thought there, mostly that the singer isn’t quite ready for love. The third verse goes:
I gotta be cool, relax / Get hip and get on my tracks Take a back seat, hitchhike / And take a long ride on my motorbike Until I’m ready / Crazy little thing called love
It might be a wise thought – that being “ready” for love might take time if we take the writer of 1 John seriously. He says,
7Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
I am indebted to a sermon by a fellow preacher, Rev. Stephen Carlsen, [ “A Message So Good as to Border on Folly,” day1.org, May 6, 2012 ] who began his sermon with thoughts from a bit more profound source, perhaps, than Freddie Mercury – the Greek poet Homer. He pointed out that many of us, back in our school days, had to read The Odyssey by Homer. He says as he has gone back over the years and reread it – a striking thing in itself – he has been struck by “how much better, how much nobler, are the human heroes than the gods in this story.”
He goes on to say that Homer’s “gods are vindictive [and ] petty. They are deceitful. They play favorites. They make a sport out of interfering in human lives. The goddess, Calypso keeps poor Odysseus prisoner on her island, far … from his wife and his son, because she wants him as her own. Poseidon, the God of the seas, also keeps Odysseus from making it home, inflicting disaster after disaster on him and his men. And while the goddess Athena is Odysseus’ champion, on Olympus, the gods compete with each other, using poor Odysseus as a pawn in their power struggles with one another.
Rev. Carlsen says, “It is no wonder that the Greek philosopher Socrates did not encourage his students to read these stories. He thought that the gods in Greek poetry were immoral and unworthy of respect. Like many, he gave the gods their due, probably observed the public rituals, but after that he left the gods alone.”
He points out that, “this view of the ancient gods was fairly common.” Offer the appropriate sacrifices, don’t “violate sacred places, don’t harm priests, but mostly don’t draw attention to yourself. Don’t let the gods become too involved with you, because any glory won from the gods would be offset by a greater measure of suffering. Getting involved with the gods was dangerous and to be avoided.”
If most of us stopped to think about it we would agree that, “this is a reasonable view of things. Given the fickle nature of glory and of fortune in this life, given our vulnerability to changes in our wellbeing, … health, …financial status, why would anyone think that the hidden forces operative behind all things--the gods--are anything but fickle? Why would we view the gods as anything but capricious and erratic?”
Then Rev. Carlsen goes further and says, “Many still live their lives this way. A lot of people come to [his] church asking for baptisms or for weddings or for funerals. They want to ‘do the right thing,’ to offer the appropriate religious respect, but many of them also keep a careful distance. They do not want to get too involved in faith. For some reason, they think it important to … perhaps [get] the approval of God at crucial moments in their lives or in the lives of their children, but they are wary of greater exposure. They seem to be playing it safe, doing what is expected, following convention--but no more. And in this way, some people today are acting just like the ancient pagans. After all, good, upright pagans were never anti-religious. They accepted the gods as offered by their culture. They paid those gods their due respect--to get a blessing or to ward off harm.”
Much like them, he says, “many today want to have a little religion at important times, but they also resist allowing God any greater claim on their lives. Perhaps they do not see why God deserves any greater commitment. Perhaps they are afraid and wish not to draw attention to themselves by being either too religious or not religious enough. And, perhaps, as is most likely, they just don’t see what God has to do with themselves, with their lives.” I would add the surveys show many people have been turned off by the actions of leaders and followers of many claiming to be Christian.
Our reading this morning proclaims – “God is love.” We Christians are quite familiar with this claim. A very different claim about the deity than those ancient gods. But we are so familiar with it we may have lost touch with what an “astounding idea of God this is. To the ancient pagans, this would have been shocking or just absurd. That is why the Apostle Paul described the Good News of Jesus Christ as folly or as foolishness to the Greeks. The Gospel, after all, does go against the common experience of life.
“Think of how the vast majority of this planet’s inhabitants experience life: poverty, infant mortality, recurring famine, fatal epidemic, natural disasters, deadly war. And even in Europe and North America, as so many struggle with [systemic issues far beyond individual freedoms], to claim that God is love goes against so much of our common, human experience.” We might say Freddie Mercury was right, this “little thing called love” is a crazy idea.
Rev. Carlsen says, “To proclaim that ‘God is love’ is counter-intuitive. To believe that God is love is to commit ourselves to a counter-cultural, even a radical” belief. I would say to live it is even more “counter-cultural.” If we are to live as believers in a God of love, if we believe, as the writer of 1 John says, that Jesus Christ was God’s sign of God’s love and that “if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” This claim is so incredible in so many ways, for so many reasons Rev. Carlsen says that to those who don’t believe in such a God that this is “a message so good as to border on folly.”
As the Apostle Paul said, to believe that God is love and to live that way can seem like folly to someone who has not found that love. Why would someone give to others freely, expecting nothing in return? What folly is it to claim that God’s son Jesus Christ freely chose to enter into the “human experience, not to trick us, not to make sport of us, not even to judge us or condemn us, but to join us, to live fully our common human experience, to be born, to live, to suffer, to die, all out of love--and to rise again to show that nothing, not even death, can extinguish this love.” To the logical mind it is folly to claim resurrection, or to say that Christ is present in the Sacrament we are about to celebrate even now.
Perhaps Freddie Mercury in his caution to get involved with love understood what most of us long – time Christians forget: “To get involved with God makes us vulnerable to God, not because God is vindictive, but because we must open ourselves up to love and be loved. Our epistle reads, ‘Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.’ Our [life] as Christians is to lift up love, as the hidden key to life, now revealed in Jesus Christ--to see all love as an echo of the love of God, to name all love as God’s, and to be drawn to this love and to” live it daily so that the world can see what God’s love is like, and hopefully be drawn to it.
Rev. Carlsen adds, “to say ‘God is love’ is not sentimental, not easy, not frivolous. It is a bold confession, even bordering on folly. And it demands a bold commitment and faith. How will anyone believe this faith unless they see it among us? How will anyone be convinced that beneath the pain and suffering of common experience flows divine love--how will anyone know unless we live that way?”
I would agree with Rev. Carlsen’s conclusion about this: “Having been loved by God, we likewise must love, and not just those closest to us or those who are easiest to love; our love must extend to places and to people where love is foreign, where love is absent, where faith in love has faded or died. To be loved by God is to be given a mission: to take this bold faith to those who just cannot accept it, to the destitute, the broken, to those who have lost hope, and not to tell them this unprobable truth, but to show them it is true, through our lives and actions. No one will believe it unless they see it in us.”
And I would offer to you that this Sacrament we are about to enter into is a way to strengthen our commitment. We are about to share in the table Jesus gave his followers as a sign of his ongoing presence with us. Without getting caught up in too much theology, Communion, as we call it, places in Christ’s presence and we believe places Christ in our presence. However you imagine or conceive of that, the point of that isn’t privilege. It is for a purpose. Christ doesn’t come to us in this moment for our privilege of being saved. Christ comes to give us our commission – to love others as he has loved us.
In a sense this is spiritual sustenance the way steak and potatoes are physical sustenance. Communion is a simple reminder that we carry Christ in us. If the bread and cup are symbols of Christ’s body and blood, then what we do is the spiritual equivalent of a physical bone marrow transplant. It fills our souls with a new DNA, a new reality, a new life. It heals our broken hearts, our broken lives, our broken thinking. But again, Christ does not do this for us so that we can sit back and judge others. He did it and he does it so we can go out and love others with everything we have. And we do that because we know God loves us.
It may sound crazy, it may seem like folly, but those who do it, and those of us who have done it even just a little bit know, there is no other life like it. It is the life God calls us to live. Let us love others as Christ loves us even now. AMEN.