On Sunday 12 June 2022, District Elder David Gracey conducted the central AVT divine service at Dinwiddie congregation. The divine service was conducted in English and interpreted in South African Sign Language (SASL) at the altar by Natasha Parkins-Maliko.
The District Elder was accompanied by Shepherd Lance Smith, a music ensemble and the NACTV crew. This divine service was made available on NACTV, Cape Town TV on DSTV channel 263. For members who were unable to watch the divine service, please find a detailed summary of the sermon:
Opening Hymn: My Jesus is my dearest Friend (EH:202)
Bible word: ‘And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.’ (1 John 4:16)
District Elder Gracey:
Thank you very much, dear choir, dear orchestra. Such a beautiful rendition and it fills our hearts with great joy and peace that we know that we have a God that we can turn to and that we can confide in Him in every need. I think sometimes we need to be reminded that in every need we are able to turn to God, and He is there and will provide the necessary guidance and strength that we require as His children. And how do we know that? Why do we know that? Because we know that God loves us. This great love that God has for us that knows no boundary. This wonderful, infinite affection that He has for His children, that He desires to see, the end result is our reconciliation with Him after millennia of His salvation plan unfolding. We know that He loves us, and we are encouraged to love like that in return. But we struggle a little bit. And I think part of our struggle has to do with our understanding of love.
This morning, I want to borrow a little bit. You may find it a bit confusing initially, but I want to borrow a little bit from Springbok rugby to try and focus our minds and our attention. When the Springboks won the most recent World Cup, they had a motto. They had a theme that accompanied them. Let the main thing be the main thing. Of course, they borrowed that from Stephen Covey who penned a similar kind of phrase. And all that means is that we must focus on the important thing. In a world where we are bombarded with so much influence and so much media and so many different opinions and so many different things that draw our attention, it's hard to focus on that which is critical and important. Our minds are distracted, and we are drawn every day from pillar to post, trying to deal with and to pay attention to that which occupies our minds and our lives. But John tells us what the main thing is.
If you will allow me, I'd like to read a little bit from John 4, just a few selected verses just to help us to understand how important this main thing is. It is the main thing, it's the only thing. John says, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, …and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God.” “You are of God, little children… They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this, we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” He goes on to say, “If someone says, ‘I love God’, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” So in various ways, John points to this main thing, this wonderful power at our disposal, love. As I said, I think we struggle to comprehend just how powerful and how infinite the love of God is. Because when we talk about love or we sing about love or we try to understand love, we try to understand it in human terms, the way that you and I comprehend love. In the English language we have ‘like’, and then we have ‘like a lot’, and then we have ‘like very much’. And it goes on and on until we get to love and then you have different understandings of love.
The Greeks were a lot better at defining and understanding the different forms of love. I'll use three this morning to try and differentiate how in the Scripture, this great power, this great privilege, this great force in our life was understood by the ancient Greeks. They had about 16 different definitions or terminologies of love, the way to describe the different definitions of love that exist. I will focus on three this morning, just to try and differentiate between all of these kinds of definitions. In Greek, they spoke, or they understood this kind of love that they defined as Eros. It was the attraction between human beings, a physical kind of love. They understood that well. And the ancient Greeks wrote, we know love as a universal force has attracted artists from ancient times, all the way through to modern times and every love song ever written, that you and I have sung along too, to try to understand love in all its forms. Love is all you need. Love lifts us up. All of these wonderful descriptions of love. But the Greeks defined it slightly differently. They understood this physical attraction as Eros. They also understood another kind of love and they termed it Philias, being brotherly love, friendship, kindness, and affection toward one another. And so, they had about 16 of these different definitions. But the one that stands out for us this morning and I want to focus our attention on because it's different from all the other kinds of love that they defined. It was the Godly love that they defined as Agape. The way that they defined it was an unconditional other-regarding love. In other words, it wasn't dependent on anything. It was a force that existed, unconditionally, it didn't have to be reciprocated. There was nothing that was done to reward one's love. It was unconditional in that sense, and it was other-regarding. So, it was always outward-looking to the other. That's how they defined this wonderful force in their life, and they defined God's love in this manner. It was infinite. It was unconditional, and it was outward externally looking. I guess in our modern English language, the way that we can define it, it is self-sacrificial activity on behalf of others, with no thought for reciprocity. No thought for anything in return. Looking externally to the other, and one's very being of existence was for the other, for the next person. Nothing done for reward, nothing done to attract attention, but only out of serving and of giving and out of kindness. Quite interesting that if one goes to look in Galatians and sees there what the fruits of the Spirit are, many of them fall in line with this form of love. An outward serving, non-reciprocal love that existed, primarily initially from God to us. We read about, for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. This outward-looking love, this non-self-serving love, this love, this desire to give and to be kind and to serve others with no desire for any compensation whatsoever. Agape, remember that word because it's the love that gives essentially. Remember, as we borrow from the Springboks, the main thing must remain the main thing. We struggle with our comprehension of love because our understanding of love is more in kind of romantic terms. And romantic love starts out a little bit like that where it is a kind, giving love that wants to demonstrate my affection to the other. But then we start talking about partnerships and friendships and what do I get out and what's in it for me. And so that love then moves into a different sphere. The main thing is to keep the main thing and that is the love of God, the love of God that knows no boundary. And so much does He love us that He gave His only Son to die for us. We will discover more about it when we participate in Holy Communion. But so much does God love us and ask for nothing in return that He gave His only begotten Son. And not only did we receive that grace and that benefit and that blessing, but we also have the gift of the Holy Spirit that accompanies us every step of every journey that we take. So, we have Christ by our side, and we have the gift of the Spirit that accompanies us and guides us in all truth.
And now we make this journey of life. And God, through the activity of the Spirit and through the presence of Jesus Christ desires fellowship with us. And when we receive all of this freely, then we are given the choice. And Christ comes and He teaches us, and He says remember to keep the main thing the main thing. The main thing is to love God above all and to love your neighbour as yourself. Not in any self-serving manner but in this Greek description of non-reciprocal devotion and kindness and serving to others. The main thing is to serve others, to love God above all and your neighbour as you love yourself. If you understand or if you analyse the term love your neighbour as you love yourself, it fits in very neatly with the other commandment, the golden commandment from Christ: do unto others as you would have done unto yourself. That which you are prepared to do for yourself in kindness and in genuine self-sacrificial activity, do it for others. That's what we are motivated to do. That's the standard of love and the main thing that we are motivated to achieve.
Now of course, that's easy with some people that we are in relationship with; with family or friends, our children. I mean which parent in their life hasn't said I would die for my child. And they mean it. Instantly, when that child is born, that love is so powerful that the parent knows at that moment, if called upon, they'd literally give their life for their child. If they could save their child through giving up their own life, they would do that gladly. That's the kind of approach to the love that God has for us. But when it comes to other interactions and other forms of friendships, and other partnerships, our love becomes quite selective. We narrow it down. In your mind's eye, if you imagine a beam of light, it's quite easy for us to shine that light to select the people in our communities or in our circles, or even in our congregation. And when we shine it and we get to a certain place, then we skip over and remove it and so on and so forth. Because some people are really difficult to love. There are some people in our circles, in our communities, who we just struggle with. But John is not talking about that kind of love. John is talking here about the infinite, Godly love that we receive, and we receive freely through grace. And so, ours is not to choose who to send our love out to. Love God above all and your neighbour as yourself. And Christ demonstrated who our neighbours are through many parables, but predominantly the parable of the Good Samaritan. Anybody who's in need is our neighbour. They deserve our love. And if God chooses to love His creation, the crown of his creation, us, who are we to be selective?
So, the challenge is how do we overcome this problem? How do we learn to love equally and to love with self-sacrificial activity looking for nothing in return? The main thing is to love. How do we learn to do that? The answer to that question like everything in the work of God is with practise. We've got to take the time to remember the main thing. I think what we do, we allow the influences of our time to cloud our judgment. And when we are looking around us and we say well, that one I can love, they are easy to love, they are always nice to me. But that brother, I remember he said some nasty things about me. I'm not going to send my love out. But we have to practise doing that. The main thing is to focus on that which is love and not to forget it. And so, I actually have to strive to love that one whom I'm battling to get along with even more. And then some of the ways that we can achieve that is to try to understand why that person is the way they are. There is a beautiful story in Scripture about a young man in Jericho, small of stature. Christ was moving through Jericho. And we know this story well from our Sunday School days. Zacchaeus, small of stature, wealthy tax collector, and pariah of the community. But he wanted to see Jesus. The main thing for him was to have fellowship with Jesus. And so, he went out of his way into the crowd of people, in the multitudes, he tried to find a way and he recognized that Christ would be walking down the road, and so he went up and climbed into the tree. And so strong was his desire to have fellowship with Jesus that Christ felt his presence. And so, when Jesus got to the tree, He looked up and there was Zacchaeus and eventually, He went into the man's home and had fellowship with him. The main thing for Zacchaeus wasn't the judgment of the people around him, but the grace that he could receive from Jesus Christ. And he went out of his way to ensure that he could have this fellowship with Christ. If we want to utilize and experience the grace and the mercy and the love of Christ, the love of God, and the guidance of the Spirit, we should go out of our way and not allow anything that is earthly, that is temporal, that is a distraction for us to move our attention away from that which God wants us to do: love God above all and your neighbour as yourself. All of the tools have been given to us. Our focus needs to be resolute. That's why I'm emphasizing this thing about the main thing because it needs our attention and our practice. And we need to strive to overcome those things that separate us from one another. So, try to understand why that difficult person is the way that they are. Why is that one at work giving me a hard time whenever I'm there. What is it about their lives that are making them behave the way that they are towards me? And then Christ finally gave the ultimate answer when He said judge not lest you be judged. We have no idea what people go through and how those experiences are impacting their lives and their relationship with others. Ours is simply to practise the commandment that Christ gave us: love your neighbour as yourself. Because love unites, love brings together. And as John said here in his letter, you cannot claim to love God, so powerful is the message, you cannot claim to love God if there's anything that separates you from your neighbour. Do your utmost to make sure that the love that has been given to us, that infinite love, that outward reaching love, the main thing that we have received from God, and from Jesus is given to us so that we can reciprocate and show it unto others. Because we love God above all, we want to love our neighbour. Amen.
Thoughts from District Elder David Gracey