I John 5:1-6
On Monday I was feeling pretty good about my sermon topic – “Ten Tips for Conquering the World”. I figured that all of you would be eager to hear these ten tips. That’s why you all came today, right? You could be mowing the lawn. You could be planting flowers. You could be making brunch for Mom. You could be baking cookies. You could be on your porch doing the Sunday crossword puzzle. But, instead, you’re here, eager to learn how to conquer the world. Ten tips for world conquest? That should be easy. There must be dozens of ways to conquer the world. I’m sure that I can boil it down to just ten of them. Get out your pencils and notepads, you’ll want to remember every one of these ten tips.
The idea for the message came right from today’s scripture reading, where John writes: “for whatever is born of God conquers the world”. I was born of God, you were born of God, so let’s learn about world conquest!
But before you start taking down notes, I have to admit something. As the week went along I found it harder and harder to come up with the ten tips for conquering the world.
You see, most of the tips I was thinking of sharing with you are not very good tips. Let me describe one of them: “Build a big bomb and threaten to destroy any who stand in the way of your plan for world conquest”. It seems so simple. Build a big bomb, then everyone else will bow down to your superior strength and follow your orders. There, you have conquered the world! Now let’s practice our victory laugh: bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!
Will this tip work? It’s been a popular strategy going way back in history: the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, they all tried to conquer the world. It is said that when Alexander the Great reached India he wept because there was nothing left to conquer. But in fact he wasn’t even close to conquering everything.
It turns out that there are multiple problems if you follow this tip. It actually does not work. The first problem is that someone else might decide to build a bomb bigger than yours. Then you’ll have to build an even bigger bomb. And so it goes, as each one tries to build a bigger and bigger bomb.
A second problem is that building bigger and bigger bombs will cost a lot of money, money that can’t be used for good things like schools, doctors, and quality homes. You might conquer the world by having the biggest bombs, but the people you plan to conquer would be left in poverty. No one would be happy.
A third problem is that having the biggest bomb has to generate a lot of fear in order to work. Would you want to conquer the world, only to discover that everyone is now living in fear? If I conquered the world I’d want people to be happy, not afraid.
A fourth problem is that if I had to actually use my big bomb a lot of people would suffer and die. Survivors would be very angry. They might decide to build their own big bomb and use it on me! Would you want to conquer the world if the result was that everyone hated you?
For a lot of reasons my first tip is not a very good one. So on Saturday afternoon I began to negotiate with myself. “I know I advertised ten tips for conquering the world in the Batavia paper, but will the people at church be disappointed if I can only come up with nine tips for conquering the world?” Surely, everyone will be happy if I can only come up with nine, if all nine are excellent tips.
So, on to the next tip. Maybe this one will work for you. If having a big bomb won’t work, then let’s try economics. Put bluntly: control the world’s economy. Buy the whole world. Yes, that’s the idea. Buy everything, own everything, oil, coal, gas, iron, copper, wheat, bananas, everything of value, and make the whole world your colony. No need to build a bomb, just keep buying everything until you own it all.
There are many problems with this tip, too. Aside from the fact that you could never accumulate enough money to buy everything, the countries you own, the people you own, the colonies you own won’t like the fact that you own them one bit. The history of the last two hundred years is filled with nations, peoples and colonies rebelling against slavery, colonialism, dictatorship. So this tip won’t work either. Conquering the world won’t work if everyone wants to be freed from you. OK, we need some better tips.
Feeling a little stuck now, I thought, “If the congregation can be satisfied with nine tips, I bet they’ll be okay with just eight tips, as long as those eight tips are guaranteed to succeed”.
So my next tip is not about bombs or colonial ownership. The next tip will be all about conquering the world through culture. I won’t have to build a single bomb. I won’t have to own anything. I will just overwhelm the whole world with culture, music, fashion and celebrity. To conquer the world I will distribute a new song, a new artist, a new fad. And then the world will be mine, all mine!
Do you think this will work? I might conquer the world, but it will seem kind of empty. It won’t be based on anything but looks, popularity and superficiality. And few things remain popular for long. Remember how disco took over everything, and then in mere moments it was gone? Soon after, something new will come along and my world conquest will be toast. We need a tip for world conquest that will last for a long time.
So let’s see where we stand. My first three tips were destructive, greedy or vacuous. Even if I actually managed to conquer the world, no one would be happy, people would be eager to get rid of me, and I would have produced nothing of lasting value.
After rejecting my first three tips, I figured that seven tips for conquering the world would keep all of you happy. You might not get ten sure-fire tips for conquering the world, only seven, but if even one of them worked, you’d be happy.
OK, I’m watching the clock, I’ll have to skip the next six because there’s not enough time. But the truth is that they’re no better than the first three. So I’ll go right to my conclusion. In the end there is only one tip for conquering the world. None of the others, six, five, four, three or two, will work any better than tips ten, nine and eight. But tip #1 is worth paying close attention to.
Here it is: The only way to conquer the world is with love. John’s letter returns to this theme over and over again. We have the capacity for love because that’s how God created us. That’s how we were designed. That’s how we were built. That’s how we’re wired …for love. “God lives in us”, John writes, “and God’s love is perfected in us”. I love how this is written. If you don’t think the love in you is enough to conquer the world, God is continuing to build up your capacity to live in just that way. “God is love”, John writes, and I understand this to mean that love is the ultimate solution for every problem. In the face of war … love. In the face of injustice … love. In the face of sickness … love. In the face of terror … love. In the face of sadness … love. In the face of prejudice … love. In the face of discrimination … love. In the face of greed … love. In the face of death … love. In the face of anything and everything … love.
Conquering the world with love is not about taking or grabbing or getting. The kind of world conquest John has in mind is very, very different. It’s all about giving, sharing, about approaching others with open hands, open arms and open hearts.
I started out talking about conquering the world, but in the end it’s all about the love you are able to give. The story of Jesus, his birth, his life, his death and his resurrection is all about generous love. For example, families flourish, not because someone takes all the love, but because everyone gives love over and over again. This is the love that creates families and holds them together. Mothers … love. Grandmothers … love. Sisters … love. Daughters … love. And fathers, brothers and sons, too … love.
Some will continue to insist that the only things that work in a difficult world are the first nine tips. And it may look like they are working from time to time, but in the end the only one that will work is love. “Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action”, John writes. God is love, this is how we conquer the world.