Love is a transitive verb
John 3:16; 1 John 4:16

I would like to share with you today something a little bit different in that I would like to share a cut-down version of some material I used to work through with 16 year olds in my teaching at Luther; maybe as much a lesson as a sermon.
Before I start, a bit of background:  16 year olds have an internal conversation going on pretty well non-stop on the topic, “Who am I?  Why am I?  How do I fit in?”  They are fundamental questions about identity, purpose and relationships.  [Actually, adults pretty much have this same internal conversation going on most of the time, too.]
One of the really great things about young people this age is that they will often let me, a pastor, join that internal conversation!  But you have to think carefully about how you get invited.
It’s important, for that reason – getting into the conversation – to think about something that is characteristic of Lutherans.  The Lutheran Church developed out of a period in church history in which the key concepts were repeated in the Reformation slogans:  Scripture alone!  Grace alone!  Faith alone!  Christ alone!  Behind these lies that very Scriptural-grace-faith-Christ truth:  we are saved from sin and death not through good works or pious living on our part, but through God’s free gift of forgiveness, made real for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, given to us through Word and promise through the Sacraments, which we receive in simple faith, in trust.
This is a great message!  But it has an inherent danger as a conversation starter because these great themes and slogans begin at this point:  You are a condemned sinner, and you need saving.  This is true! But it’s not often a great conversation starter with a 15 or 16 year old, “You are a sinner, and you need help.”  And it’s not a great entry point into that internal conversation, “Who am I?  Why am I?  How do I fit in?” because “you are a sinner” – even with the grace attached – is such an uncomfortable starting point!
But, you see, while this was a critical theme for the Reformation, it is hardly the whole of the Scriptures, nor the only way of beginning a look at God’s relationship with us.
Have a look at this well-known verse from today’s Gospel:  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
For the sake of understanding something very important about God, try just focussing on the first few words:  “For God so loved...”  We are quick to associate God’s love with ‘saving’.  But “love” to God is a much fuller, richer concept.  In fact, God’s saving love is not, in a sense, God’s first love.
In 1 John 4 – same writer, John – John is very big on God & “love” – in 1 John 4 John even makes this statement:  “God is love”.
In English grammar (and it happens to be the same in the Greek for this example) the verb “to love” is a transitive verb.  That means that it ‘takes an object’ – the action of the verb has to be directed towards something.  The verb “to sleep” is intransitive; it doesn’t need an object.  “I sleep.”  “The dog sleeps.” But you don’t really just “love” – love is transitive; it needs to be directed towards the object:  “I love my wife.  I love chocolate.  I love reading.”
If you add this fact about the nature of love to John’s statement about the nature of God, what happens?  God is love.  Love is a transitive verb.  Therefore, God is a transitive verb.  That is a silly statement ... or maybe not.  God is a transitive verb indicates something very important about God as he has revealed himself to us – God by nature is directed towards an object; the very nature of God is that he is directed towards something else.  Perhaps it’s a little more palatable to say “God’s love is a transitive verb” – same thing:  the love of God must be directed towards an object; God does not simply “love” but God loves that thing -- that person, that plan, that whatever -- that God loves.  God’s love is directed.
And almost as if this thought was directly in mind when all the writings of the Scriptures – God’s own revelation of himself to us – when all the writings are put together the very first story, the very first revelation, is the account of God creating the heavens and the earth.  This story is, by the way, a story not just about the nature of the creation, but very much about the nature of God, including the fact that God’s love must be directed towards an object, something and someone to love.  God is love.  Therefore God must love something.  Therefore God creates something to love.  God creates the object of his love.  Creation is an act of love in order to love.
Just to change directions briefly, I’d like you to think about a concept related to “love”, namely, the concept of “loveable”.
First of all I’d like you to jot down quietly, with invisible pencil on invisible paper, some of those characteristics that make you “loveable”.  Now I know that this can raise a bit of nervous agitation in a class of 15 & 16 year olds – “I should say why I’m loveable?!” – very awkward, possibly even threatening – we don’t go around saying “I’m loveable”....  That’s why we use invisible pencil and paper for now.  And you don’t have to share this with anyone.  And don’t peek at what the person alongside you is writing.    What makes you “loveable”?
When I have had the occasion where people have been bold enough to share what they have written about themselves – characteristics of being “loveable” – the usual dominant pattern of responses goes something like this:  I guess I’m loveable because “people seem to like me”; or “I’m good at this and that and the other”; or “I always try to do ....”; or “I have lots of really cool stuff in my house, and we have a pool, and people like that”.  What makes me loveable?  There is a tendency to start identifying criteria, a check list, examining comments and behaviours of those all around us; and there is a tendency to focus on ‘what I do’ or ‘what I have achieved’ and ‘how others assess me’.
The sad thing about this is, of course – as you all readily recognize – the sad thing is that at those points in our lives when we are not “popular”, when we don’t seem to be good at or accomplishing anything of particular value to anybody; when we feel isolated or alone; when we don’t have cool stuff, and maybe actually just seem to have a deficit of stuff and great big accumulating debt– the sad thing is that the same approach, the same criteria, the same checklist, the same looking to the world around us for validation can lead us to thinking or even saying, “Actually, I’m not loveable at all – not by anyone’s standards, not even in my own assessment of myself.”
Here is something in relation to “lovability” that is so wonderful in God’s Gospel – the God who ‘so loved’, as we heard in the Gospel!  Before anything else, the “I am” of me is defined by God’s love!  By “God definition” I am loveable because I am the object of God’s love!  I am loveable because I am made as a loving act by the God who is love, so that I might be loved by him.  I am made in love, by love, for love’s sake.  I am loved, by love, for love’s sake.  (That is a ‘love speak’ way of confessing God made me.)
And when you start to fathom what that actually means about your very being, it can also be rather neat when you look at the person sitting to your left or right, in front or behind, and recognize and realize that the same principle is also true for that person:  my neighbour is loveable because he/she was made as a loving act of God who is love, to be loved by him.  [By the way, this perception, this way of seeing your neighbour’s lovability is an important aspect of being able to understand what God is on about when he says “love your neighbour as you love yourself”.]
You are, because you are loved … by God.  In fact, the Bible tells us that before we were brought into being, we were loved – we were brought into being because we were part of God’s plan to love, to do what God does, to be what God is -- love.  “Before the world was created,” Paul tells us, “God had Christ choose us to live with him and to be his holy and innocent and loving people.  God was loving and decided that Christ would choose us to be God's own adopted children.”
That is a very powerful thing to be able to say in conversation with a 16 year old who is trying to figure out “Who am I?  Why am I?  How do I fit in?” – it is a very powerful privilege to be able to say “You are the loved creation of God; you exist because God wants to love you.”
Actually, I haven’t come across too many little kids who don’t like to hear that; nor adults; nor the ‘seniors’, many of whom may have heard it all their long lives – they don’t seem to tire of being told.  It’s not a bad introduction to our baby brother Benjamin this morning:  “You are the loved creation of God; you are because God wants to love you.”

 

And it is the kind of conversation starter that actually builds some trust and sense of safety to explore some of the hard questions of life where God’s love needs to be extended and expounded into the very real realities of sin, of failure, of hurt, of struggle.  If you start with the security of God’s act of creating love, it actually adds some strength and credibility to the act of saving love, redeeming love, forgiving love, resurrecting love, and re-creating love.  God so loved the world (which he made as an act of love – that means you) that he gave his only Son (to keep loving it after all!) to save, rescue, resurrect (love will do that for you – love that wants to create you from nothing so that you can be loved for ever will apply that strength, that determination, that power, to keep you loved eternally) – that’s God’s point, that’s God’s plan – even more, that’s God’s very nature!  God is love!
God is love.  Love is a transitive verb.  God is love directed – you