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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | 1 John 4:17–21

Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. (NRSV)

Here is a section of the baptismal liturgy in the Church of Scotland’s Book of Common Order—a red, hardbound treasure I started using in 2009 after watching my colleague and Head of Staff at the Claremont Presbyterian Church, Karen Sapio, use it in worship. This section is the Declaration made by the minister just before the baptism, either of a child or an adult:

“N . . . ,
for you Jesus Christ came into the world;
for you he lived and showed God’s love;
for you he suffered the darkness of Calvary
and cried at the last, ‘It is accomplished’;
for you he triumphed over death
and rose in newness of life;
for you he ascended to reign at God’s right hand.
All this he did for you, N . . . ,
before you knew anything of it.
And so the word of Scripture is fulfilled:
‘We love because God loved us first.’”

I can’t get through it without something catching in my throat. I’ll be fine at “came into the world” and all the way through “ascended to reign at God’s right hand,” but as soon as it comes to “before you knew anything of it” it’s over.

This is the fundamental insight (drawn from 1 John 4:19) that swept first my mind and then my heart into the Presbyterian branch of the Christian family and away from the pietistic, evangelical subculture that nurtured me as a college student: that we are beloved of God before we can even think a thought about God. So much of my formation in faith was about adopting rigorous practices of prayer and study to demonstrate my love for God and, I hoped, God’s love for me.

These seven words from 1 John changed my life. Piety taught me to view the terrain I crossed to get to Jesus as barren and desolate. But if God hadn’t loved me and been with me all the while, I would never have found my way to Jesus in the first place. I was quite clear about my ignorance of the things of God, but this short sentence made me see that ignorance as a mystery worthy of gratitude rather than as a “past” worthy of shame. That God loved us first before we knew anything of it testifies to the thing in our faith that is more sure and more constant than any regimen of piety we might ever undertake: the faithful love of God.

Open our hearts, O God, to receive your love, which is given to us before we ever know we need it. May our prayer and devotion always be a grateful celebration of the mystery of your love. Through Christ who came into the world, showed your love, suffered, died, triumphed and rose before we knew anything of it. Amen.

Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

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