"Holiness, a Fruit of Love"
1 John 4:7-8
Today’s sermon is the last of the series of the sermons “A Journey of Love.” I preached regarding ‘grace’ in the first sermon, which is the source and root of love. In the second sermon, I said the ‘relationship’ is the field where we learn and train about love; where we have a commitment to constantly strive to practice love. Today I’d like to preach about ‘holiness’, which can be regarded as the terminus in the journey of love or fruits.
God’s grace conceives a seed of love in the soul of each human, the seed spreads roots to the ground and stems grow to become a tree, the tree grows even after experiencing broken branches due to thunderstorms of life or withstanding scorching hot sunlight or frigid winter blizzard. The tree experiencing the hardship bears its fruits at last. I’d like to call the fruit as holiness. The journey of love must move forward to holiness. Love is an ultimate advancement to holiness.
Holiness reminds us of a state of being religiously special, or ethically perfect. The word corresponds when we refer to pious monks, or persons at a high level of spirituality. However, Kadesh, a Hebrew word meaning holiness, originally means ‘differentiation, separation or taking it apart,’ and it points to the nature of God. The Bible applies holiness to the humans, which was only applicable to the nature of God by quoting ‘Lord, who makes you holy’ in the Book of Leviticus, or ‘Lord who makes us holy and spotless’ in the Book of Ephesians. Holiness is the nature of God, but it is what God wants us to have.
If love is an ultimate advancement toward holiness, and holiness is the nature God wants us to have, our journey of love is a journey toward the holiness God wants. I would like to explore how we can continue to move forward to holiness, the destination of love, without giving up the journey in the last series of the sermon.
2.Difficulty of Love
In the last sermon, I said that we should learn and practice love from the relationship and to love with volition, but loving is not as easy as it sounds. I have heard that one of the cell groups gathered to share last week’s sermon and fiercely discussed the difficulty of loving in reality. Yes. It is very difficult to love in reality. It would be difficult to accept that love is not only to be filled with grace but also to empty. Not everyone can love those who are dear to us but also others who we feel uncomfortable with.
Because of such truth, what I have said so far through the “A Journey of Love” may sound idealistic or unrealistic. However, we have a habit of labeling things that ought to be but cannot be as “ideal” and separate it from the reality. But just because we are not in love now and we are failing in love, there is no basis for calling this as unrealistic. “Loving truth” is an obvious reality to us who began our life with love, raised in love, and seeking love.
So, the truth is this, “it is difficult to love but we cannot give up love.” If so, how can we continue the journey of love until the end without giving up? How can we achieve the nature of holiness that God commands from us? To tell you the conclusion first, the answer is to be in a close relationship with God. Let’s look at today’s well known scripture.
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)
Until now, we examined love in the theme of “grace and relationship.” However, we are still faced with the dilemma of love---difficult but cannot give up, cannot give up but need to solve the love problems. But we discovered a very important key in today’s reading. Today’s scripture declared God is love. In other word, the dilemma of love is to be in a close relationship with God. Therefore, the last focus of today’s journey of love is how to become closer to God so that we can finish the journey of love toward the holiness. I am introducing two paths to be in a close relationship with God. The first is cultivating the soul and the second is following Jesus. Let’s us review these in order.
3.Cultivating the Soul
Although the word “soul” came from a Greek philosophical concept early on, the Bible kept very appropriate and beautiful image of the soul. According to Genesis, when God created man, he created them in his image. The soul is the Image of God engraved in the center of the human existence. The soul is like God’s DNA engraved in the center of our existence. Consequently, we can recognize and communicate with God.
But the soul can be ignored and set aside in a heartbeat. If we live a flesh-centered lives, or according to the demands of the shallow mind, the garden-like soul will be filled with weeds and soon disappear from the eyes of the consciousness. Many take care of their bodies and tame their minds, but a few pay attentions to recognize the soul located at the core of existence. The soul wasn’t cultivated, due to the habit of caving into the demands of the flesh and the shallow mind.
We can and should cultivate the soul as much as possible. We must pay attention to and examine the soul, and constantly water that garden. Hence, the garden of the soul can survive and blossom. Having a clear soul helps us to be sensitive to God, communicate with God, and build a deep loving relationship. When the soul is fertile, the power of love grows also. I would like to introduce a few ways to cultivate the soul.
1) Taming the Emotion
The emotion has great influence on the garden of the soul. Emotion acts as a catalyst for love, but if not well controlled, its sensitivity will make a mess of the garden of the soul. Evidently, we own our emotions, but if we don’t control our emotions and let loose, the emotions will try to rule over us. Then we become slaves to the emotions. On the other hand, if the emotions are overly suppressed and treated harshly, initially it may pretend to be obedient but will secretly dream of a rebellion. And one day we may rise and set the house on fire. The emotions will explode. If emotions are not well controlled, the spiritual garden will be ruined. We must learn to rule the servant called emotion wisely and properly. Encountering the touching experiences will tame the emotion like docile lamb. That’s why it’s beneficial to encounter many touching experiences.
2) Facing Pain
Depending on how suffering is treated, it can be poisonous or medicinal to the soul. When faced with hardships of life, we think something is wrong. But objectively speaking, it’s not unusual for hardships in life to take place. It’s never welcomed, but nor can it be avoided. Yet still, people try to avoid the pain countless number of ways. Addition or false love is a means of escape, while perfection or sloth is psychological means of escape. Nevertheless instead of running away we must face the pain.
From the medical point of view, the pain is a body’s mechanism of maintaining health. Through pain we realize where we hurt and immediately take action. It’s like an emergency warning system. If pain cannot be felt, one may not realize illness worsening and eventually face irreversible effects. Hansen virus, known as the etiologic agent of leprosy, initially shows affinity to neurons and later destroys nerve fibers which allow us to feel pain. Therefore, a leper cannot feel pain even when parts of their body decay, because the nerves that sense pain are dead in that area. Feeling pain means one is healthy. One must face the pain rather than run from it. Paying close attention to that warning message is very beneficial to the physical and the spiritual health.
3) Living Slowly, Quietly, and Simply
The characteristics of contemporary culture can be summarized as fast, loud, and complex. In all areas of life people seek speed, and that speed translates into performance and ability. In the time of self promotion the words and loud voices are a must. Holding it in and abiding time is only for the foolish. Furthermore, we can no longer afford to conduct one task at a time. Society is rapidly becoming complex such that multitasking is natural. In the midst of this life, the soul is swamped and confused. The soul almost closes its eyes.
When I take a walk alone, I am aware of these three things: slowly, quietly, simply! I take slow steps, calm the mind, and clear the thoughts in the head. Walking in this way seems to awaken the sleeping soul. The soul is cleared, and feels closer to God. I invite you to try it sometime. When Ms. Kyung Sook Shin visited last year I went for a walk with her. While walking, she asked what I was thinking and I told her I take walks to not think. She thought that was interesting. Am I not like the snail? Slowly, quietly, simply! In real life this attitude may be exasperating and inefficient, but it clears the soul, makes deep happiness ascend and enables us to recognize God who is near.
4) Having a Heart of Poet
The soul does not understand exact description, mechanical explanation, scientific discourse, or objective reports very well. The language the soul understands is image, metaphor, and symbol. The Biblical themes, such as God’s love, forgiveness, grace and inspiration, faith and salvation are not well explained by objective reports or scientific discourses. Because Bible was written in the language of the soul, Bible can be read properly when read with the heart of a poet.
Having a heart of poet does not mean one must learn about poem and become a poet. Having a heart of poet means to understand the language of the soul. It’s an attitude of capturing a meaning contained; not missing a big meaning behind small things; accepting, meditating, and retaining rather than criticizing, analyzing and arguing; grasping the precious among the trivial; and ability to discover the extraordinary in the ordinary life.
The worship, prayer, and meditation with a heart of poet are much more deep, rich, and beautiful. Let us try with the heart of the poet. This way the soul can be better cultivated, the spiritual garden will become more fertile, the spiritual life will be enriched, and communion with God can deepen.
4. Following Jesus
Let's think of following Jesus as the second way to commune with Jesus. Following Jesus is the very direct way to have a relationship of love with God. It is because Jesus is the very example that lived in the relationship of deep love with God. Therefore, by following Jesus, we will follow the trail of the life that makes relationship with God deeply in love.
I'd like to meditate Jesus, not as God, but as a human being who has the same conditions that we have. I see Jesus as a human being who really loved and relied on God, rather than considering rightfully as the son of almighty God. When you see Jesus as a human being, you would actually feel, as if Jesus, who is in distance from us because he was sitting at the throne in heaven, comes to us on his feet, through the middle of a market on this humble earth. Note he has a deep relationship with God because he is the son of God, but he appeals to us as a human being on the earth as the one who loved God deeply having the same limits we have.
Also, he performed many healings and miracles. We consider such healings and miracles were possible, not because he was the son of God, but through the foundation of the deep love relationship and trust for God. We would not think that the sufferings, the crucifixion on the Cross, and resurrection he experienced at the last moments of his life are reasonable because he was Messiah. We have come to pay attention to the beautiful human being who endured the stages of severe sufferings with undeniable trust and love toward God.
If you don't like this kind of meditation, it is alright not to follow it. However, the benefits from this meditation of Jesus are to believe that I can love God as he does, and I can make a history of amazing love in my life. I feel that I can also heal and create miracles as Jesus did within the relationship with God, and that I can also endure the sufferings and the death on the Cross to the end. We try to make the journey of love with our will, so we become frustrated and give up the journey of love. But, by doing such meditation, we realize that we can do as Jesus did if we proceed with the love and trust toward God. Then, we can realize that the path Jesus went through is the path we can go also. And we come to think more deeply in the meaning of believing Jesus.
Jesus called God "Abba." It was very special. Nobody called God that before, until that time. Not only that. When Jesus taught the disciples how to pray, Jesus had them call God, " Our father who art in heaven." He taught us that we have to have a close relationship between the loving father and the son, believing God vaguely is an existence that is far away. This is the character of relationship with God that Jesus shows us. It was a relationship of love that is very close with undeniable trust.
The ability to love Jesus starts from the love relationship with God. Thus, the core of the life, in following Jesus’ life, is to love God, as Jesus did. That means to have a relationship of love with God, like Jesus had, very close with undeniable trust. Then, we can live, loving God, like Jesus did. Hence, we cannot be trapped within the limit of shallow love, and we can live beyond our ability, practicing the ability of love that began from God.
Today, we tried to find solutions about how to continue our journey of love as we think about those who try to stop the journey of love due to its practical difficulties. Let us take a good care of our souls, where our God resides. Let us form a loving relationship with God in this garden and be empowered by the power of love. Also, let us follow the footsteps of Jesus and live like Jesus. Let us put every base of our lives in the love and trust of God, not to give up in front of any stumbling blocks and continue our journey of love till the end. Then the love which was started on this earth will be connected to heaven, and the love which was started from the root will bear fruit. As the journey of love continues, it will finally produce a beautiful fruit of holiness in the end.
When we first started the series of sermons “A Journey of Love”, a member of our church presented to me a very significant remark: Is there an end to the journey of love? That is correct. The journey of love will never end. We may have to take the journey of love endlessly. Our lives are all about being in the middle of the journey of love, and even moving on from this life may be a part of the journey of love. The important point is that we should not stop. We should continue to bear love, continue to learn love and be trained, and continue to love and proceed toward the holiness.
Thank you for accompanying this series of sermons “A Journey of Love”. I hope you bear the seed of God’s love through the fulfilling and purging grace. I hope your love grows maturely through close relationships and uncomfortable relationships. Even though you may continue to experience the failure of love and temptation to give up, I hope you would continue to cultivate your soul and follow the footsteps of Jesus to proceed into the holy path which you love God. Finally, let us wrap up this great journey of love by reading 1 John, chapter 4, verses 7 and 8 together:
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)
God of love,
Thank you for guiding the journey of love.
As we continue our lives, we will proceed as we continue to love.
We will bear love regardless of whether you fill us or empty us.
We will practice love regardless of whether the other is a close person or an uncomfortable one.
We will continue to cultivate our soul
And follow the life of our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Lord, use us as bearers of amazing love
In this cold land where love is vanishing.
We pray in the name of Jesus Christ.