God’s Love, Skin to Skin.
Over a decade ago, my friends Austin and Maris adopted twins from Russia.They were ½ years old when they came from the orphanage to CT. Maris had read that children who have lived in an institution have some special needs: Birth to year three is all about building trust, but often these children have had little nurturing. So Maris employed some of the techniques she had read about to promote parent-child bonding.
She stripped the boys down to their diapers, took off her shirt, and cuddled them, skin to skin. She sang to them and fed them from a bottle for as long as they wanted.
In essence, Maris was giving the boys the experiences they had missed as babies, making up for lost time, filling their emotional buckets and teaching them to love and trust her.
Our lesson from the first letter of John says that God treats us the same way: “We love because God first loved us,” John writes. John was an elder in a community formed by the Gospel of John, which we hear from in our Gospel lesson. John the Elder wrote a generation or two after John the Gospel writer applying the words of Jesus to the lives of his community in a new era. There was concern in the community that people who talked the talk should walk the walk—That if they confessed they loved God, then they also had to love their neighbor. “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,” John writes.
But John also says this ability to love others has an antecedent— in order show to love, we must first be loved. Like Maris’ twins, we are created with a capacity to love being loved activates that ability. Under the protection of Maris’ loving arms, her twins learned first to love her, then others. Under the influence of God’s total and unconditional love, we can take the risk to love others. Both John the Gospel writer and John the Elder who wrote the letter we read today use the word ‘abide’ to describe our need for and our connection to God’s love.
The Greek word translated as ‘abide’ means to remain, or to stay. The disciples upon meeting Jesus for the first time in John chapter 2 ask him, “where are you abiding?”
It is also translated ‘to dwell’—Jesus prepares ‘dwelling places’ for those who love him in John 14 “In my father’s house there are many dwelling places/mansions” We can also understand a component of the meaning when we consider the familiar phrase, “to dwell on”. If you dwell on a subject, you invest emotional energy in it; you are so connected to that idea that you it becomes your mental world. John the Elder says, “God is love, and those who abide in love, abide in God, and God abides in them.”
God wants us to inhabit his love for us—to live in it, move in it, make it our home So that his love becomes part of us and we become part of him.
Abiding in God’s love is like being able to return to the care and protection that a parent gives to a child. It is the skin to skin contact, the nurturing place where all our needs are met and our hurts are healed. It is the connection to the life giving vine.
Under the influence of this transforming love, our defenses come down. Our hearts soften; we live and let live. We learn to love. Maris and Austin’s twins are now juniors in High School, and they are growing into fine young men. One holds down a job at a construction firm in addition to going to school; the other marches in a show band and plays soccer. But there have been some tough times as they differentiate from their parents. Kids don’t always make the best decisions, and parents don’t always know when to relax and when to hold their kid’s feet to the fire. I visited Maris and Austin two summers ago, right after a big row with Ty, one of their twins. One morning a note appeared on the kitchen counter. It was a written letter of apology from Ty to his mom.
He said that he gets angry sometimes and takes it out on her. He said he didn’t know why he did that, but that he was sorry. He signed it, “Love, Ty.” I know Maris had probably already forgiven Ty even before she got the note, but it sure must have felt good to hear the apology.
The truth is we don’t always deserve the love we get. Half the time we are like self centered teens all over again, holding onto our righteous indignation, Refusing to forgive ourselves and others. And yet we can choose where to abide.
We can choose our mental universe, the place where we invest our emotional time and energy. Like Ty, we can let go of our self destructive patterns return again and again to the love that nurtures us, heals us, and helps us to grow. John the Elder wrote, “We love because God first loved us.” Today we have an opportunity to return to one facet of that love of God in healing prayer. Prayer is intentional time with God, designed not as a duty that we perform But rather as a gift that we receive like children in their mother’s arms. I have also listed several devotional resources at the end of your bulletin, As a way of returning that love and living in that love every day.
And now I pray for you:
May the love of God enfold you
May the love Jesus set you free
May the love of the Spirit live within you,
That you may touch others with God’s love.