The First to Love

The First to Love

The First to Love                 5th Sunday of Easter

1 John 4:7-21   May 2, 2021    John 15:1-8

The story I want to share with you today is my favorite from Leo Tolstoy.  His title is Where Love Is, God Is but you might know it as “Martin the Cobbler.”  It’s about an older man whose home and shop were in the basement, and he had one window looking out on the sidewalk.  He was able to recognize his handi-work passing by as he labored at his bench right under the window!  Sadly, his wife had died years before, and his son had passed soon after—just when he was getting old enough to help his father.  Martin’s life was a drudgery, and he confessed to a friend, “I no longer even wish to live.  I am without hope.”  His friend told him that he was hopeless because he lived only for himself.  “Who else should I live for?”  “For GOD, Martin, for God! When you have learned to live for Him, you will grieve no more.”  “How do I do this?”  “Buy a copy of the Gospels and read; there you will see how God would have you live.”

He bought himself a New Testament in large print, and started reading occasionally.  He found himself drawn into the Gospels, and his heart grew lighter and lighter.  Martin’s whole life changed.  One night, he read the story of the rich Pharisee who invited Jesus to his house, but failed to show him the appropriate signs of welcome.  Martin thought about himself, how he had been living his life caring only for himself—and he wondered: If The Lord were to visit him, would he behave like that Pharisee?!

Then Martin had a vision, and heard a voice that said, “Martin!  Martin!  Look out into the street tomorrow, for I shall come.”

The next morning, he remembered the words and kept looking out his window as he worked.  He saw old Stepanich, shivering in the cold as he cleared the snow off the sidewalk.  He called him in for some hot tea and warm conversation, and Stepanich noticed that he kept looking out the window.  “Are you expecting anyone?” he asked.  Martin explained what had been happening to him, and that he had the idea that the Lord was coming to visit him that day.  They talked some more about the life Christ led.  Stepanich then said, “Thank you, Martin Avdeich.  You have given me food and comfort both for soul and body.”

After he left, Martin went back to work, glancing frequently out onto the street.  Before long, he saw a young mother—poorly-dressed, with a baby in her arms.  He could hear the baby crying as the mother tried to wrap him more warmly.  He rushed up the steps, invited her inside to warm up and wrap her baby.  He brought her down to his table, and said, “Sit down and eat, my dear, and I’ll mind the baby.  I’ve had children of my own!”  While she ate, she explained how she had come to be in such difficult straits.  He took his wife’s old cloak from a peg on the wall, and wrapped it around her.  She burst into tears, and said, “The Lord bless you, friend.  Surely Christ must have sent you to your window today, else the child would have frozen!”

“Yes,” he said, “it was no mere chance made me look out.”

Later in the afternoon, he saw an old apple woman stop and put down her basket of apples to shift a load of firewood on her back.  A young boy grabbed an apple and tried to get away, but she was too quick for him!  She grabbed his hair and started scolding and beating him.  Martin rushed out and took hold of the boy, asking the Granny to forgive him for the sake of Christ.  And to the boy he said, “Ask the Granny’s forgiveness, and don’t do it another time.  I saw you take the apple!”  They worked things out.  The boy shouldered her load of firewood, and they went down the street together.

That evening, while Martin was reading another Gospel, he heard some rustling in a dark corner, and a voice whispered in his ear, “Martin, Martin, don’t you know me?”

“Who is it?” he asked.

“It is I,” said the voice.  And out of the dark corner stepped Stepanich, who smiled, vanishing like a cloud.

“It is I,” said the voice again.  And out of the darkness stepped the woman with the baby in her arms.  The woman smiled and the baby laughed, and they, too, vanished.

“It is I,” said the voice once more.  And the old woman and the boy with the apple stepped out and both smiled, and then they, too, vanished.

Martin looked at the Gospel just where the book had opened, and read, “I was hungry, and you gave me food; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in.”  And Martin understood that his dream had come true; and that the Savior had really come to him that day, and he had welcomed Him!

A Branch on the Vine (John 15)

In our reading from John’s Gospel, Jesus develops a beautiful imagery of himself as the vine while we are the branches.  As we bear fruit, we are pruned in order to bear even more fruit.  But if we are not connected to the vine, we can bear NO fruit.  We can all imagine sap flowing through a vine, providing nutrients to the branches and causing fruit to form.  The “sap” that flows through us is God’s love, and God bears fruit through us!  Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia describes the fruit as “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control, faithfulness and gentleness,” but that’s just the beginning of all the fruit God wants to bear through us.  Jesus said, “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

God First Loved Us (1John 4)

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”  Just as a branch would not be expected to grow fruit without the life-giving sap running through it, John affirms that we love because God first loved us!  Love has to be experienced before we can understand it, before we are able to give it.  God loved us first, and God wants to pour that love into others through us!  As branches on the vine, we are conduits of God’s love!

God’s Love Is Different

The danger of using a word like “love” is that is has been overused in our society—and it usually denotes romantic love.  But the word love in the New Testament is almost always referring to Godly love—agape.  Godly love is different.

  • God’s love for us is NOT dependent on our love for God.  God will love us no matter what!
  • When God’s love flows through us, we find ourselves wanting God’s best for others—regardless of their behaviors, regardless of their feelings toward us, regardless of our feelings toward them.
  • God’s love is often revealed by an attitude of sacrifice.  As we get ready to celebrate Mothers’ Day next week, we will remember that, if there was a burnt cookie among all the rest, our mothers would eat that cookie so that we could have the nice ones.  Sacrifice.  I have fond memories of my Uncle Ozzie, whom I loved and admired.  I will never forget the time when a large group of us wanted to take a summer ride in a chair lift that would carry us down a long hill in a beautiful mountain setting.  But someone had to meet us at the bottom of the hill in order to take the drivers of our group back up to the top to pick up their cars.  Ozzie volunteered to be that person, allowing the rest of us to have the joy of the ride down on the chairlift.  Sacrifice.

John says that God’s love lives in us.  It casts out fear (because there is no fear in love).  And he says that we cannot love (with a Godly love) on our own, but we love because God first loved us.

Best of all, God’s love has power.  I love the way Paul puts it in 2Timothy 1:7.  God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline.

To finish this morning, I want to take you back to Martin the Cobbler.  He learned that thinking only of himself led to hopelessness, and that caring for others—choosing to love—set God’s love to flowing through him!  The fruit of love is a joy both to the receiver and to the giver! 

Friends, let’s welcome God’s love by welcoming others into our lives.