Increase and Abound in Love

I Thess. 3:9-13 - 12/3/06 - 1st - Advent

The title of today's sermon is: "Increase and Abound in Love." Abound. Abound. When's the last time you used that word? Say it with me: Abound. The more I say it the stranger it seems. I know what it means, but I wanted to see what the dictionary said about it. Webster's defines it as: to be plentiful; to be rich in; to teem with. Okay, let's look up 'teem': to be prolific, abound, swarm. I then looked up 'prolific': producing many young or much fruit.

So, if I'm going to get a picture in my mind what it means to abound in love for each other and all people, it seems like it's a never ending stream of good and positive things. When I think of the rain 'teeming' down, it's like being deluged with something. So when we abound in love for one another and all people, we abandon any thoughts of negativity, and focus on what is good and true and plentiful and never-ending: abounding, plentiful, teeming, and producing much fruit.

And that last one is wonderful. That means if we abound in love, then through that, we produce much fruit for the Lord. That is, we will help each other in our service to others in Christ's name, and also that we will also produce fruit for the Lord in that many people will be brought to the love of the Lord through our loving; and that's because the Lord first loved us and continues to pour out love through us.

Paul says, "...and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all...." It's interesting to note that Paul doesn't say, "May you continue to increase and abound in love." Note that he is asking that the Lord MAKE us increase and abound in love for each other. It seems it's not something that just comes naturally or easily to us. We have to be MADE to do it.

When I, or any other preacher, says "we must love one another," or even if it's read out of Scripture in the words of Jesus, it's still not something that excites folks to action. In fact, it most often produces an inward yawn.

Love, love, love. We toss that word around so much we don't really know what it means: we love ice cream, we love holidays, we love vacations, we love scenery, we love this song or that one, we love this food or that one, and on and on. There are tons of songs about love. Loads of poems about love. The shelves of paperbacks teem with novels and novellas about love. Hollywood has turned out hundreds and hundreds of love story movies. Do we even know what love IS anymore? And especially around this season the word is thrown around like it was water-love is this, love is that, love is giving, love is sharing, love is, love is, love is.....

How can we be made to INCREASE in love and ABOUND in love if we don't even really know what love is? At least the love that Paul is referring to or the love that Jesus speaks of.

We DO know what that love is. We are brought to tears by individual acts of love that we witness or hear of. We were all humbled in these past months as we witnessed what it means to love and forgive in the response from the Amish community in the aftermath of the murder of their sons and daughters in the schoolhouse. We should hold their example in our hearts. It's a true witness to the power of Christ in a person's life to love and forgive-to the power of Christ in our world.

But it seems for us today that, just as Paul prayed then for those new Christians; it is something Paul would have to pray to the Lord to MAKE us love like that, even though we are not new to Christ's message of love and forgiveness. We struggle to even love one another. We play games; we let ourselves get caught up in power struggles. We hurt one another. Some folks in their games and power plays even do things to hurt Christ's church. We let our hearts be led by the world-a world that does NOT teach us to forgive; does NOT teach us to love.

Not only are we bombarded by the negativity of the world in TV and radio news and all forms of the media, but we hear the responses of people to the negativity-the hate and the revenge in their words. We, as Christians, should, at every opportunity, stand up to that and not join in with that. Loving and forgiving others and following Christ's teachings, not the world's, means being a fool for Christ. When you love that way you are vulnerable. But loving means taking a risk. Love means that even when the world says you are a fool for forgiving and loving, for risking love, you do it anyway. Yet, over and over, we DON'T bear the fruit that Christ asks us to bear. We DON'T love; we don't forgive. We who know we are loved and forgiven by God and are told by Christ to do the same to others are a poor example to others who don't know the love of Christ.

How can we increase and abound in love? How can there be peace in our world when we don't have peace in our hearts? We don't have peace in our relationships with each other. Not even in families between family members. Yet we pray for peace in our world.

We say we don't understand the hate and conflict that seems to engulf the Middle East. Really? Well, we are ALL CONNECTED in this world. Whether we choose to believe it or not, we are, as a part of the human race, connected to every other person on this earth. It's biblical.

The hate or revenge or lack of peace any of us hold in our heart only feeds the negativity of this world. We just add to the conflict in the Middle East. We say we believe that our prayers have an affect on someone or some situation even at a distance, or even in another part of the world. How can we not also believe that the lack of peace in our own heart and the thoughts of revenge or avenging, the thoughts of hate, the thoughts of ill will we harbor against people right in this community or this country also have an affect? Have an affect on the world outside of our personal sphere of influence. Thoughts are real energy. Our thoughts are energy and our negativity not only adds to that of the world but it affects the well being of our own body, and the well being of our relationships with those we say we love.

It's time for us to stop making excuses and work as hard as we can to weed out the negativity in our thoughts-weed out any lack of peace. Jesus can help us do that. The loving, healing power of Jesus works through us when we focus on what is true and noble and beautiful and honest and giving, and admirable; if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-and we focus our hearts and minds on those things, the Lord will bring peace to our hearts and our lives, and we will affect the world in a positive way.

But we have to be willing to let go. Over and over in my ministry I have found that so many people don't WANT to let go. They want to hang on to their grudges and their hurts and let it feed their thoughts of negativity. They don't really want to have peace, and if they are not going to have it, they don't want others to, so they stir things up to produce conflict. Some people live for drama in their lives. Some people live for conflict. Some people live to complain. Some people who sit in the pew week after week, listen to the Word of God, listen to a sermon, and are perhaps moved by the Scripture or sermon, but it doesn't change their life or their thoughts one iota when they leave the building. They go on living the same way. They don't want to change. They are comfortable with complaining. They don't want to expend the necessary energy to change. There doesn't seem to be a connection.

In every moment we have the opportunity to increase and abound, ABOUND in love for one another. Christ has buckets and buckets full of love waiting for us to put to use. But some of us are even reluctant to shake hands with someone to pass the peace.

To close I'm going to ask you to do something that is biblical. St. Paul, over and over, ends his letters by saying, and he's saying this to folks who say they are committed to the love of Christ, "greet each other with a holy hug or a holy kiss." We don't see it much in this country, but in other countries it is, and I know you've seen this on TV or in movies---you've seen it SOMEWHERE, where people while they are hugging, kiss each other on one cheek, then the other. Well, all I'm going to ask you to do is to hug a person. We can't talk about the love of Christ if we aren't even willing to hug another believer sitting next to us?

It will be risky if you aren't surrounded by family because you might have to hug a stranger. I am asking you to hug the person on your left and right. That's it. It doesn't matter if it's a man or woman or child. Just do it in the love of Christ. Pass the love of Christ flowing through you to another.

We have to start realizing that sometimes we put barriers between each other on a Sunday as we sit in a pew next to someone who is not related to us; those barriers have to come down. We have to recognize that there ARE barriers there---the world teaches us those barriers. Those barriers have to come down before we can truthfully say we are reaching out in this world with the love of Christ.

Some of you are already balking at this inside and already saying, "Our family is not a huggy, kissy family; we never were"; or "he can't make me do that," or whatever else. You're right, of course; I can't make you. But those kinds of thoughts are exactly what I'm talking about. They are NOT loving, not peaceful, and no matter what you think you have as a good excuse or reason, it's just not valid. Love is love. Love is peace. Love is forgiving. Love is healing. So, to close, I say to you as Paul says at the end of his first letter to the Thessalonians that we read in part today, and on which I have based this sermon about increasing and abounding in love, turn the to person on your left and then to the person on your right and "greet each other with a holy hug."


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