Reading: New Testament: 1 John 4:7-12
Grace to you and peace in God, whose name is Love. Amen.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been reading the Letter of First John together.
Today we come to the very heart of the letter: “Beloved, let us love one another. For love is from God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”
Beloved. Why don’t we linger for a bit right there, on that first word? Beloved. Be loved. To be beloved is to be loved. What an amazing thing, to be God’s beloved. What an amazing thing, to be loved.
Our desire to be loved is at the core of our humanity. To be loved is a basic human need. We know that if infants have all of their material needs met – if they are safe, if they are given milk and water if they are changed and given clean and warm clothes – but if they do not have love – especially love communicated through touch – then they will not thrive. We’re no different. We cannot thrive if we are not beloved.
We learn to love by being loved. And we cannot love others unless we know that we are loved, and that we are worthy of love. We can do all sorts of kind and caring and generous things, but if we don’t fundamentally know that we are loved and that we are worthy of love, then we will always be seeking affirmation, or respect, or praise. We can only love the way God calls us to love – selflessly, unconditionally – when we know that we are loved, and that we are worthy of love.
Gary Chapman wrote a famous book called the Five Love Languages. It’s been read by millions of couples. The premise of the book is simple. Each one of us has a love tank. When our love tank is full, we thrive – we are happy, we are creative, we feel safe and secure, we can be our best selves. But when our love tank is empty, we are not our best selves. Gary Chapman saw that so many couples were unhappy. So many couples were living life with their love tanks on empty, and he wondered why. It seemed that these couples deeply loved one another. But it seemed to him that that love wasn’t being communicated. So he developed his theory of the Five Love Languages.
Gary Chapman figured that each of us has one or two love languages that come naturally to us. Perhaps we like to show love and receive love through physical affection – through hugs and kisses and holding hands. Or perhaps through words of affirmation – telling your partner how much you appreciate them. Some of us show love through quality time together – whether that’s going on an adventure together, having a date night, or simply hanging out on the couch. And some of us show love through giving and receiving gifts – flowers, or presents, or something hand-made. Finally, some of us show love through acts of service – like washing the dishes, or folding your partner’s underwear.
Gary Chapman thought that if you could learn your partner’s primary love language, and if your partner could learn yours, then perhaps there would be a lot more people living life with full love tanks, instead of empty ones.
I wonder if we could apply this same idea to our relationship with God. I mean, we are God’s beloved. God loves us with a love that is deeper, wider, stronger, and more abundant than we could ever imagine! God’s love tank is huge, and it never runs out! And yet how many of us are living lives with empty love tanks? Do we feel like God’s love is constantly filling our love tanks? Or do we feel like we’re too often driving around empty?
So I wondered, what languages does God use to express love to us? And can we learn God’s love language?
To be sure, I think that God has many, many love languages, and I think God is always finding new ways to show us love. But I think that God has also given us the gift of a few love languages that are both beautiful, and tried-and-true.
So here are the five love languages that come to mind when I think of the way that God loves us. You may think of others. The ones that come to mind for me are: the Word; the sacraments; community, nature; and prayer.
First of all, the Word. God uses Scripture to communicate love to us. The whole Bible is filled with stories of God’s love – God’s love for the planet, God’s love for the people of Israel, and God’s love shown to the whole world through Jesus Christ. Did you know that the word “love” appears over five hundred times in the Bible? God’s Word reminds us over and over again that we are God’s beloved.
Secondly, God shows love to us through the sacraments. In our baptism, we feel the water on our heads, and we hear God’s promise for us: “You are my child, my beloved. I created you, I love you, and I will never let you go.” And in the Lord’s Supper, we can taste God’s love for us in the bread and the wine, and we remember that Jesus came to earth to show us God’s love for all people.
Thirdly, God shows us love through community, and especially through our faith family. God shows us love through the relationships that we form with others. So when we gather as a community of faith, we want everyone who gathers with us to know that they are welcome, that they belong, and that they are loved.
Fourthly, God shows love to us through nature. On this planet, God has given us everything we need, not just to survive, but to thrive: sunlight, warmth, oxygen, water, plants and animals, and everything we need for food, shelter, and clothing. God daily provides for our needs through this amazing living planet we call Earth. And not only does nature provide for our needs, nature is beautiful! Maybe it’s a starry night, or the first signs of spring, or a calm lake in the Canadian Shield, or the patterns in a snowflake or the wings of a monarch butterfly… in more ways than we could ever count, God is trying to tell us how much God loves us!
Finally, God shows us love in prayer. There are a million different ways to pray, so it doesn’t matter if you like to meditate in silence, or pray the Lord’s prayer, or sing hymns or praise and worship, or pray with your body. When we pray, we can learn to quiet our hearts, and listen to God’s love.
God has given us these wonderful love languages – Word, Sacrament, community, nature, and prayer – to fill up our love tanks! When we learn to listen for God’s love in these ways, perhaps we’ll hear God’s promise for us over and over and over: “You are my beloved. I created you. I love you. I will never let you go.” I believe that God wants to fill up our love tanks with this message of love every day.
Beloved, be loved. Let God fill your love tanks to overflowing. And share this love with everyone you meet. Amen.