My, what a day! My voice has pretty much gone...! Good 10am service today... well attended and some people becoming regular faces... Roll on half term... tired and need a break! Good to see Pat Kibble there too though...
Here is a version of this morning's sermon, but I have to say that it came out slightly differently to this... often do!
As I write this, I have two songs in conflict in my head. One is “All you need is love’ by the Beatles and the other is ‘WHat’s love gotta do with it?’ Musically, if you know them you will know, they are very different, and their sentiment is also different - one is the hippy era’s all encompassing mantra and the other is about someone who has been hurt by someone they have loved finding love again. If pop songs, films or soap operas are to be believed then love is just a random emotion, something that you can neither create nor control. A bit like the wind, it comes or goes...
When the scriptures speak of love, they don’t do so as a command. The scriptures speak of love either directly or indirectly of the love of God and as an action - something God does and we are called to do. As someone once said, the whole of the Bible is effectively a love story - God loving people over many years, sometimes that love is accepted, sometimes rejected - God passionately loving men and women.
Yet in a way, the Beatles were right. We hear this morning of Jesus being asked which of he 10 Commandments was the greatest, and he replied, all you need is love. Unlike the Beatles, Jesus went on to clarify what he meant. There are over 613 laws that the Jews are to observe, but Jesus chose to sum them up using the Shema - Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. This verse from Deuteronomy lies at the heart of Jewish daily prayer still. To the Shema, Jesus adds ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself.’ Love is not a feeling, but an action towards God and others.
This is easily said. But many of us are not much good at loving God. We are not sure how to go about it. Indeed, we are not entirely clear what the idea of loving God means.
Loving God is not such a simple thing when we consider that to Love God is to love others. It means being a loving person. If we are to fulfill the Law of Christ, we need to become a loving person.
This can only happen when God's loved poured out on us is received, fills us up and poured out on others. How do we know we are becoming loving people?
Learning how to drive in the beginning was difficult. There was so much to remember like looking at mirrors, speed limits, watching out for pedestrians, etc. As he practiced, he started putting it all together. He could focus more on where he was going rather than how to get there. Driving had become second nature to him.
Jesus teaches us to love our neighbor as we love our self. How many of us love ourselves? I don't mean that we look in the mirror and somehow convince our selves that we are lovely. But none of us would normally let ourselves grow hungry. We clothe ourselves. We try to better ourselves through education or other means. We don't think too much about taking care of ourselves. It too is our nature to love ourselves.
And so it should be with love for others. We know we are becoming loving people when we love like we drive or take care of ourselves. We should learn and practice love in a way that it becomes second nature to us.
Have you ever looked at a baby and said, "That is a face only a mother could love?" In a way that is a funny statement. But it also reflects a bit of reality. There are certain people in our lives who are more lovable than others for whatever reason.
A loving person does not put condition on their love. It does not first check out the beloved, the object of love, then determine if one will love him or not. A Godly love does not place conditions on the beloved. We will love whomever. We are called to love.
This is still an impossible task. Perhaps we need the help of those who have fallen in love - and who have stayed in love - with God, to guide us. St Bernard of Clairvaux was one such. Bernard taught that loving God, like everything else we try to do that is difficult, is a step-by-step process. According to Bernard, there are "four steps of love". The first step, he says, is to love ourselves for ourselves. Then we must learn to love God.
We love God - this is the second step - initially for what he gives us. But, if we are true to this path, we shall come to love God for himself, the third step. Finally, we love ourselves for God's sake. For some, that last step is the hardest of all.
These four steps are not rungs of a ladder that I set up inside my head, shutting out the rest of the world. For those who are single-minded in their search for God, other people are not a distraction - far from it. The journey from self-love to the love of God never by-passes my neighbour.
To love God and to love one's neighbour in God is the only way to break free from the hamster-wheel character of the lives so many of us lead. Such lives - however frenetically busy they are - are ultimately futile.
Friends, our loving needs to be not just a thought, but also an action. Jesus demonstrated his love for his disciples in many ways. But before his Crucifixion there was an act of love recorded in John 13 of washing the disciples feet.
God could have told us he loved us, without ever sending his Son. Jesus could have said that He loved us without dying on the Cross. But God did send His Son, and Jesus did die on the Cross for us. What will we do for our brothers and sisters? For our Neighbors and Enemies?
John 13:34-35 - A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. Amen