Bible Reading 1 John 4:16-18, 2 Corinthians 5:14-15
We have come into an intimate experience with God’s love, and we trust in the love he has for us. God is love! Those who are living in love are living in God, and God lives through them. By living in God, love has been brought to its full expression in us so that we may fearlessly face the day of judgment, because all that Jesus now is, so are we in this world. Love never brings fear, for fear is always related to punishment. But love’s perfection drives the fear of punishment far from our hearts. (TPT) [This great love of God in Christ] compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. [meaning that since Christ died for all people, it is all people that are dead in sin. But Jesus took our sin and paid sin’s death penalty for us by dying on the cross for us] … And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves [they die to their sinful way of living] but [they live] for him who died for them and was raised again. (NIV)
Message All Wrapped Up in Love
Revelation 2:4b-5a, From Galatians 1:6, 3:1-5, Psalm 73
Many years ago, Al Capone entangled Chicago in racketeering, bootlegged booze, gambling rings, prostitution and murder. A wealthy lawyer Edgar Joseph, EJ, or Easy Eddie, moved from St. Louis and partnered with Capone as his attorney and business manager, setting up illegal and unethical schemes and used his expertise to keep Capone out of jail. He and his son visited often in Chicago. But with all his wealth and influence, there were two things EJ couldn't give his son. He couldn't pass down a good name or a good example.
We can’t read hearts and minds, especially of historical figures; so views are divided on why EJ did what he eventually did. Some say he had a change of heart and wanted to do the right thing as a loving example for his son, others say he saw the writing on the wall and knew he could no longer protect Capone (or himself) from jail. Whatever the reason, he decided to work with the authorities, perhaps negotiating his son’s enlistment in Annapolis Naval Academy while providing tax fraud information that led to Capone’s imprisonment and eventual failed health and retirement in Florida.
It is not proved, but evidence suggests Capone ordered his death and on Nov 8, 1939, EJ crashed his Mercury Zephyr at a Chicago intersection, the car riddled with bullets from a drive-by shooting, at least one or two that found their mark. As one version of the story puts it, the police found on him an unfired .32 semi-automatic pistol, a rosary, a crucifix, a religious medallion and a poem ripped from a magazine that read:
The clock of life is wound but once,
And no man has the power
To tell just when the hands will stop
At late or early hour.
Now is the only time you own.
Live, love, toil with a will.
Place no faith in time,
For the clock may soon be still.
Over the past weeks, I've talked about the compass points of the Christian life -- moving upward into a deeper relationship with God, reaching out to others by godly example, by acts of mercy, and by works for justice; and an inward invitation for others to join us on our spiritual journey. Now we conclude by getting to the heart of these matters. We don’t move these compass point directions to fill an empty form, a duty, a habit, or to earn our salvation. There are many motivators to do what we do: fear, guilt, anger, pride, power, fame, money, duty, security, to name a few. All of these may be helpful in their proper place, or maybe harmful depending upon the context of the circumstances. But our bible reading implies that ultimately, the only sustaining motivation for following compass points is the discipline of active love that is grounded in God’s patient, compassionate, love for us in Christ -- a love which his Spirit kindles and fills in the depths of our being.
Every compass point is wrapped up in love for God and others. Knowing that, the danger is that we codify and legalize it and it ceases to be love, but detours into -- to name a few -- fear, guilt, power, popularity, wealth, or works to deserve God rather than in response to God’s grace. John writes to one church that they are doing many things well, have not worn out and endured hardships, but warns them,
… you have abandoned the passionate love you had for me at the beginning. Think about how far you have fallen! Repent and do the works of love you did at first. (Revelation 2:4b-5a).
Paul was also aggressive writing to the church in Galatia:
I am shocked over how quickly you have strayed away from the Anointed One who called you to himself by his loving mercy. I’m frankly astounded that you now embrace a distorted gospel! … Didn’t God open your eyes to see the meaning of Jesus’ crucifixion? … Did the Holy Spirit come to you as a reward for keeping all the Jewish laws?
No, you received him as a gift because you believed in the Messiah. Your new life in the Anointed One began with the Holy Spirit giving you a new birth. Why then would you so foolishly turn from living in the Spirit by trying to finish by your own works? (From Galatians 1:6, 3:1-3 (TPT))
They had it right in their heads, they didn't fall to false teachings (well, the Galatians did, but not the church in Revelation), yet they persisted in the right motions and actions, but now that’s all they were -- motions and words and actions -- they had lost the love of what they were doing. We’ve all been there at points in our life. Things that used to thrill us become burdensome tasks. Even Psalmist expressed it. (See Psalm 73) Envious of the arrogant and the seemingly prosperous, carefree life of the self-centered wicked (people like Capone and Easy Eddie who gained power and wealth by exploiting others and yet seemed to suffer no short- term consequences for their own actions). The Psalmist wondered why he was even bothering to strive after God. But then he added that if he had proclaimed such frustrations to the people as a principle of life, he would have betrayed God’s children. He stuck with it until he entered God’s presence and understood our final destiny -- remembering that nothing on earth compared to being near to God’s powerful love. He re-discovered his passion, his purpose, his motivation of why we do what we do.
Hear Methodism's founder, John Wesley, in updated language: When pure passionate love faded, some began to mistake the means for the end. Those external activities that were designed to help experience God's gracious love were now used as a poor substitute for that love. They settled for outward forms and works and disciplines as their religion, forgetting that the entire purpose of every command, every ritual, every discipline is for a heart renewed after the image of God, enabling us to love God and our neighbor as ourselves.
If we separate religious activity from the goal of love for God and others -- then even the prophets and Psalmist (paraphrased and wrapped together) say, "What is the point of all the sacrifices you offer me? I will not accept them. I refuse to pay attention to your vain and pointless sacred meetings. Take away the noise of your songs and speeches about goodness, they hurt my ears, they are a stench in my nose. What I desire is a humble spirit and contrite heart -- [an integrity that connects faith and a life lived in love]. (See Amos 5:21-24, Psalm 51:16-17, Isaiah 1:11ff, 1 Samuel 15:22)
What God really wanted and wants, Easy Eddie could not give to the world, much less to his son. His skills at unethically accumulating things and protecting criminals by immorally participating in their acts is not the kind of legacy most of us with a conscience would want to leave our children.
We don’t know if it is true, but it is nice to imagine as some speculated (based on the clues alleged to have been taken off his body), that out of his love (guilt, peer pressure, other motivators would have fallen flat) but out of his love for and desire to leave a better legacy for his son -- he had a change of heart and moved his life toward a new compass point.
True or not for him, it is love that nailed Christ to the cross, in the hope that people would see and be transformed by that love. And it was the power of God's love that brought Him out of that tomb. And it is that same love that drives us to be more than we are. Love beckons us to climb the highest mountain, swim the deepest sea, to get off the couch and make a difference in the world. Love drives us to the ends of the earth to accomplish victory in response to experiencing God and his love for us and for others.
Butch was a fighter pilot assigned to the aircraft carrier Lexington in the South Pacific. Each account seems to be a bit different, but the bottom line is that one day while most of the American fighter planes were out on a mission, Japanese squadrons were on their way to attack the Lexington. Butch was one still on ship (some say an crew error had left him low on gas and so he had to return from the mission) and another story says there was another pilot, but his guns jammed). Laying aside all thoughts of personal safety, Butch flew to intercept the formation. He dove into the formation of Japanese planes firing his wing-mounted guns until his ammunition was exhausted, then continued to attack them by trying to clip their wings. This 6 minute air-fight brought them so close to the ship that Butch may have even gotten hit by friendly fire from the Lexington. When it was over, he had taken down 3, possibly 5 enemy planes, and another 2 were critically damaged and finished off by others.
The Lexington was critical for operations in the South Pacific. It escaped without a single bomb strike and avoided the predicted severe damage if not complete destruction had it not been for Butch’s heroic efforts. He was the Navy's first Ace of WW II, and the first Naval aviator to win the Medal of Honor, which he accepted with great humility, saying any other flyer would have done the same thing. Later battles earned him a Distinguished Flying Cross and a gold star. He was named Commander Air Group aboard the USS Enterprise. He continued to fly and fight and about a year after the battle I just described, on a mission to intercept enemy bombers, he went down in the Pacific at the age of 29 -- no one knows the cause for sure.
St. Louis was his hometown, but it was the city where he often visited his father that wanted to keep the memory of this hero alive. So, in Chicago’s O’Hare international airport, you will find a display of this man, his medal of honor, and a restored plane of one of the types he flew. Oh, and they also named the airport after Edward Henry “Butch” O’Hare, who happens to be the son of Edgar Joseph, EJ, “Easy Eddie” O’Hare.
We can’t say with certainty how much God was involved in the transformation of Easy Eddie (or if there even was one), or the radically different and victorious life of his son Butch O’Hare - in spite of the early influences of his father. But it does paint a picture of what God has done again and again in the lives of people all over his world -- transforming people who are entrenched in a different way of life -- or of helping people overcome seemingly impossible backgrounds or circumstances. The apostle Paul himself being one of the first and best examples -- aggressive persecutor of Christ-followers, approving their arrest and murder -- turned into a leading missionary, expanding God’s reconciling work in Christ to the non-Jews. It is the story God wants to create in each of us -- motivated by His love for us, we adjust our compass points, our life’s direction, to move up to God, out to others, and inviting them to join us in God’s family as we, by God’s grace, journey together toward spiritual maturity. May we all be blessed to find within us the joy of transforming and overcoming love in our life and may God’s love for us and others encompass everything we do.
Closing Prayer and Closing Blessing
Let’s stand for the closing prayer and blessing… Lord, it was your servant Paul who reminded us that as your children, our battle is not against flesh and blood, against people, but against spiritual powers of evil who are in rebellion against you and spreading their hate-filled attacks throughout your creation. The battle continues in each of us each day. Merciful God, renew this weary world, heal the hurts of all your children, and bring your wholeness and peace through Christ Jesus, the living Lord of life.
As we continue the process of dying out to our sins and living for the one who died for us and was raised again; help us to reach out with your love -- that people who are entangled in our world’s forces can be reborn by your faithful, strong, and enduring love. We thank you for the beauty of your creation. And the wonder of your new creation in Christ found in all your gifts of healing forgiveness. And now, for the love of God, move “true north” to Jesus in whom we find grace to carry on. Amen.