Sunday, 29 April 2012

All you need is love...

Reading: 1 John 3 v 16-24

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister* in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.
 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

(Intro: all you need is love – The Beatles)

Looking at the text for today, I found myself inwardly groaning – Oh no – not love again.
What else is there to say on love?
Then I found these words of St Jerome, an early church historian:

"When the venerable John could no longer walk to the meetings of the Church but was borne thither by his disciples, he always uttered the same address to the Church; he reminded them of that one commandment which he had received from Christ Himself, as comprising all the rest, and forming the distinction of the new covenant, "My little children, love one another." When the brethren present, wearied of hearing the same thing so often, asked why he always repeated the same thing, he replied, "Because it is the commandment of the Lord, and if this one thing be attained, it is enough" [JEROME]."

IT is the commandment of the Lord – to love one another.

Elizabeth Barret Browning’s poem says:
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, --- I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! --- and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Timeless words that speak of love.

Those other words that we often use to speak of love, the words of St Paul from 1 Corinthians:
Love is patient and kind, love envies no one, is not boastful, conceited or rude etc.
Those words are almost too clinical to describe something that is much more instinctive than we can imagine.
Love is not for speaking – it is for living.
Love, is not something that can be commanded, not something that comes on tap.
Love springs up from a spirit that can do no other.
Love bubbles and froths.
Love twists and turns.
Love wells up even out of hurt, love survives even beyond relationship.
We cannot properly speak of love.
But we can live love.
John exhorts us:

Love one another just as he has commanded us.

In this past-Easter season in the church, the message of Jesus giving his life for us is held up as a prime example of love.
What do we know about Jesus love?
From the gospels we don’t glean much about the sentiment of Jesus’ love.
We don’t hear much about Jesus’ feelings of love.
But we do get a clear sense of action.
Jesus’ love led him to die on a cross.
Love, not in the abstract, but love as a reality – a reality that we too are called to live into.
In those early days of the church, those words about laying down our lives for one another, may have referred to martyrdom – many of the early Christians were being persecuted for their faith.
That doesn’t make these words irrelevant to us today –
John goes on to say:
Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.
Those words are every bit as challenging to us today as they were when they were written.
Those words demand that we move beyond the sentiment of love to actually doing something about it.
Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action
Perhaps not too much of a challenge in some areas of our lives – with our loved ones, our families, even, perhaps our church family – we can imagine ourselves loving in truth and in action, can even go beyond our imagination into practice.
We can also act out that love for those whom we will probably never meet – sending money to Romania or tossing in our Pennies for Peru as we do.
All of those are love in action.
There’s no doubt about that.
But what about love in action for those not in our immediate circle or not far enough away to pose no threat to us?
What about those we encounter in our everyday, - friends, colleagues, acquaintances, neighbours?
Those we have almost become immune to because they are simply part of our everyday life?
To love these people as Jesus loved requires effort. Requires that we stop and think about our interactions.
That we be ACTIVE in our loving.
That we go out of our way to show love, even when it is not requested or expected.
Now THAT IS a challenge!
And, if we think its difficult to do with those we kind of like, just imagine how much more difficult it is with those we disagree with, those whose values are not our values, those who are just not like us.
I love that Old Scots toast:
Here’s tae us
Wha’s like us
Gey few and they’re a’ deid!

Our daily lives are filled with encounters with folk who are not like us!
And the challenge is to love them too!

So, what else is there to say on love?
Not a lot.
But plenty to put into action!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Bridging the Gap (Epiphany 3A)

1 Corinthians 1:10-18

Divisions in the Church

Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul’, or ‘I belong to Apollos’, or ‘I belong to Cephas’, or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius,so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.
Christ the Power and Wisdom of God
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Driving through rural Scotland, bridges often appear seemingly out of nowhere and sometimes with very little obvious purpose. Perhaps to link farmland that has become separated through urbanisation. Or to allow the passage of livestock across a busy road that has materialised in a formerly rural landscape. It often seems like a lot of effort and expense has been incurred for correspondingly little benefit. Except history would decree a different story and place in context the need for a gap to be bridged and a new pathway to be created. And the many, creative, picturesque styles of bridges do make the scenery even more beautiful and varied.
Divisions in the church are nothing new - as old as time itself. We become quite tolerant and even, at times, indulgent of these divisions. But St Paul places in context the need for bridges to be built - or dispensed with The divisions and our pandering to them, distract us from the mission to which we are called - preaching the gospel.
This makes me uncomfortable. I would rather chip away at finding similarities in our differences, common ground over which we can agree than work at a real solution that would bring about unity. I am more content with living with the differences than with dismantling a system that excludes. I cling on to the arguments, rationalising that they lend some spice to life, even, on occasion, beauty. And all the while, the gospel remains unpreached, far less lived out.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Lalalalala (Easter 5A)

Acts 7:55-60

But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died.

When my adult child, in a rare moment of sharing (he is still a teenager) describes to me some of the exploits that are a part of his performing in a punk band, involving mosh pits and crowd surfing, I sometimes have to put my hands over my ears and sing loudly in order to block out the worrying pictures that he describes so vividly. While I appreciate his confidences, sometimes there are things I would rather not know! A clear case of too much information.
Stephen, one of seven men recruited to "wait on tables" so that the disciples would not be deflected from preaching the word, was guilty of sharing too much information.
Finding his preaching voice, he speaks too clearly to the religious institutions of the day, indicting their practice, inflaming their anger, to the point where they want him dead.
In order to stone Stephen, these good, religious people had to cover their ears to his preaching. They had to immunise themselves from his sharing of the vision he was receiving in the grip of the Holy Spirit. It would not have satisfied their appetite to quell his prophetic preaching if they took on board the justification he experienced in martyrdom. They needed to taste blood.
As people of faith today, living in the light of the Resurrection, we too can find ourselves covering our ears - blocking out those things we simply don't want to hear about, those things that indict our way of life. We, too, by closing our ears to the things we do not want to hear can find ourselves surrounded by the ugliness of rocks poised to attack, especially when those things we want to blot out call into question our dearly held traditions of faith.
Surely, as resurrection people, our mission is to seek new ways to listen and to respond and to discern the prompting of the Spirit of the risen Christ in all of life.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Words from the cross

Tonight (Good Friday) we reflected on the last sayings of Jesus on the cross using these meditations:

“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
(Luke 23:34)
Forgiveness, forgiveness
hoisted aloft
in agony
near death
and from his lips
come words of forgiveness
Of all the things he could have said
the litany of woes and sorrows he could have recited
the folk he might have railed at
the folk he might have cursed
But instead, he implores forgiveness
Hallelujah! What a Saviour!
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”
Those words are for you – and for me
Do you know it?
Dare you believe it?
We are forgiven
By the one who hung on a cross and died
so that we might be forgiven.
THAT is forgiveness.
“Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing”

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
(Luke 23:43)
After forgiveness comes redemption
the one who proclaims forgiveness
also proclaims redemption
the one who know us
knows all that we are
forgives us
and embraces us
all the way to paradise
promising that we are not only forgiven
but loved and carried
all the way to eternal life
“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

 “Woman, here is your son.”
(John 19:26)
Carried in love
in the womb of his mother
cradled in arms that were gentle
nurtured and loved
then released to life
set free to teach and to heal
And now, in the throes of death
filled with compassion
feeling the pain
of the woman who gave him life
the woman who trusted enough
to say Yes! to God’s plan
to say Yes! to a life
of worry and turmoil
the woman who bore
the son of God
and who now shared
the awful pain
of his death
Forgetting his own agony
and reaching out
to ease the pain
of the one
who carried him in love.
“Woman, here is your son”

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
(Mark 15:34)
Darkness, despair, desolation
a loneliness that could not be pierced.
Can we even begin to imagine the depths
that Jesus plumbed in death?
The man surrounded by others all through life
so hopelessly abandoned in death.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

‘I am thirsty.’ (John 19:28)
Human in birth
human in death
needing love and nurture
and sustenance
Fully human
Fully divine.
“I am thirsty”

“It is finished.” (John 19:30)
A task completed
a battle won
a love confounded
all said and done
a promise fulfilled
new hope for the world
God’s plan – the gift of God’s  own son
“It is finished”

‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ (Luke 23:46)
For God so loved the world
a love not human but divine
a depth not fathomed
love that reaches beyond
the restraints of nature
to grasp the outstretched arms
that embrace the world
Arms outstretched even in death
showing a love
beyond our grasp
and a hope we cannot measure
love stronger than life
stronger than death
“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit