Monday, 15 November 2010

on Love

Remembrance Sunday 2010

We speak a great deal in this service on love. I would like to invite you to reflect with me on love.

What is love?

Where there is love there is life

[God is love. At the very heart of the Christian understanding of God is an eternal relationship, of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Father eternally loves the Son as Son and so is Father. The Son eternally loves the Father as Father and so is Son. The Spirit eternally loves the Son as Son and the Father as Father and so is Spirit. Their love and their being as Father, Son and Holy Spirit cannot be separated.]

God is love. God is also Life. He is the giver of life and love. He has given life to each one of us. And he loves each one of us.

Each person is beloved of God; and each person has been made in the image of God with the capacity to respond to that love, to love God and to love others.

So love and life are absolutely bound together.

We will only live, fully live, when we fully respond to the love that God has for us, and when we fully love.

It is built into our spiritual DNA.
The more we love, the more we will live.
The more we become self-obsessed, the more we die

And we meet people, maybe we are those people, who have been battered and smashed by life – and we’ve gone into ourselves. We’re like a hedgehog that has curled up into a tiny ball of prickles. We have become bitter and hard and resentful and critical. And although we are physically alive we are dead.

But there are people who are very different. I often speak of a man called Fr Kyrill who we met in the theological college in St Petersburg, when my wife and I were living there for two years. He was the spiritual father of the seminary. He had been battered and smashed by life. He had been sentenced to 10 years of hard labour (on three different occasions) in Soviet labour camps, simply for responding to the love of God in a society which said that God did not exist. He could have become so hard and bitter. But he wasn’t. Despite the suffering, he had begun to love, to forgive and to give, and his face was literally radiant.

There was a great line in Spooks a couple of weeks ago. One of the characters said, ‘We have to love something that is bigger than us – God, country. That is what makes us human’.

But I would add a caution to that, because it is not just about loving anything which is bigger than us.

We become like the person or the object which we love.
If we love money above all things, we become like money: cold and calculating
If we love power above all things, we become like power: impersonal and brutal
If we love love, sexual desire, eros, then we end up like eros, indulgent and self-obsessed
If we love self above all things, we become more twisted in on ourselves

St Augustine wrote, “When we ask whether someone is a good man, we are not asking what he believes or hopes, but what he loves”.

If we love one who is love, we will become love
If we love one who is eternal, we will become eternal.

Love and life are bound together.


Love takes us out of ourselves

The gift of love, of love of God and love of others takes us out of ourselves.

Jesus Christ has, of course, set us the example of love. He loved us so much that he gave himself for us, totally and completely, to be crucified for us.

He said: ‘My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15:12-13)

Love and giving cannot be separated.
If I love something or someone, I will give myself totally for it or them.  
We live for what we love.

And that of course can be many different things.
It could be the terrorist blowing up themselves and other people because they are living for their cause.
It could the person living for excitement and adventure or glory and honour or respect and status.
It could be the parent living for their child: getting up in the middle of the night for the third time to clear up after their daughter has been sick again.
It could be the old man, dressing up two or three times a week, as if he is going on a date, to go and spend an afternoon with his wife in the residential home, even though she has alzheimers and hasn’t recognised him for at least 3 years.
Or it could be the soldier throwing himself on a hand grenade to take into himself the full force of the blast: Why? Because at that moment he is living for his comrades or the people he came to protect.

In the reading from Romans 13, we heard that the love which the bible commends is certainly not love of a ‘cause’ which means you destroy others. ‘Love’, we are told very plainly, ‘does no harm to its neighbour’.

The love that the bible commends is love of God and love of neighbour. It is a love which takes us out of ourselves: so that I focus not on Me, but on Him and on You.

And it is significant that the bible talks of ‘love of neighbour’. ‘Love of friends’ could be a kind of self-love, because we choose our friends.
Love of neighbour can never be a kind of self-love, because we do not choose our neighbours. They are given to us. We may not actually like them, but we are still called to love them.

Today, in our global society, our neighbours include not only the people who live in our street, town or country, but also
the people in the village community in Afghanistan crushed by oppressors, the men and women suffering from a cholera epidemic in Port-au-Prince, and the Somalian refugee in southern Sudan.

The world is very different to 1918, when Cecil Spring-Rice adapted his poem into the hymn we are about to sing, I vow to thee my country. Our neighbour includes so much more now than our fellow countryman or woman.

We cannot, if we claim to love God, turn on the television, or go online, and see – for example - pictures of people starving in East Africa, and walk away untouched. They have become, whether we like it or not, our neighbours.

Of course we cannot do something for everyone; of course ‘charity does begin at home’, but we cannot use that as an excuse for doing nothing.

Real love takes us out of ourselves; it takes us beyond those who are like us or who we like; it takes us across oceans; it takes us into the depths and into the heavens.


Real love begins with right vision

If I am to love another person, then I need to see them.

The Good Samaritan saw the man who had been beaten up. He chose to become a neighbour to that man. He could have chosen to walk by on the other side, and not see him.

Love sees. It sees the kid hanging around the street corner, the mum struggling on her own with three children, the lonely housebound man, the person silently grieving for their lost daughter or husband

Love also sees potential.
Yes, the kid hanging around on the street corner is a threat, but they are also someone who has incredible potential – if only some adult would give them time, show them respect and help them find direction and meaning
Love sees the housebound person not just as someone who needs to be looked after, but as a person in their own right, who has a wealth of experience from which we can learn, if only we would take the time to listen to them

Can I warn us in these days of economic austerity – at public and at private level - to guard against the temptation to choose to become blind. We may not be able to afford to give them money, but we can give them something much much more precious: ourselves.

And real love sees people as God sees them.

We need to pray for that vision to see who they are, and what they need, what they really need.
What many people need is comfort or reassurance or protection or medical care or food or housing.

But we need to look deeper. People also need to grow and become adults (even if they don’t want to be), to be given the resources so that they can make independent decisions, to be equipped and empowered so that they, in turn, are set free to love.

And to see people as God sees us, we need to look even deeper.  Our problem is that by nature we are blinded by our self-obsession. Our greatest need is for love. It is for a full and intimate relationship with God. It is that each of us might turn to God, to receive his love, be filled with the vision of God, and know the love of God, so that we might begin to love like God, and live like Jesus.  

Jesus saw us as God sees us.
That is why he did not raise an army and repel the oppressive Roman occupying force; it is why he did not turn stones into bread; it is why he did not heal everyone.
That is why he did die for us on the cross - so that we might know the love of God, receive forgiveness and begin to be filled with that life giving love.


Love lasts for eternity

Love hopes.

It hopes for people in this world. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13, ‘Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things’.

Love goes on hoping in this world beyond all reasonable limits

It is the wife who stays with her abusive husband, probably long after she should, hoping against hope that this time he really will change
It is the peace-maker who goes back and back and back, determined to bring a resolution, determined to believe the best of the other.
It is the teacher who refuses to give up on the pupil

Sometimes that love pays off. Sometimes miracles happen.

But we’re not na├»ve: we know that in this world love and hope disappoint. There comes the time when, for our own safety or sanity, we have to give up.  

But that does not mean that love ultimately fails. In fact, and I said this at the funeral of Senior Aircraftsman Luke Southgate, nothing that is done in love is ever lost.

For those who have received the love of God in this world, we can look beyond this world to another world: in the words of Cecil Spring-Rice’s hymn, to ‘another country’.

It is a world that we glimpse very occasionally here and now. It is a world of gentleness and peace, of mercy and justice, of fulfilment and joy. Now we hear rumours of that world; Now we glimpse it as through frosted glass; then – for all who turn to Jesus and receive his love – we will see it and know it.

There we will share in the full divine vision. We will see as God sees. There we will give ourselves totally, without question, without calculation, in love for others and we will discover that in the total giving of ourselves for others, we find ourselves.

This is not pie in the sky.

Please do not tell me on remembrance Sunday that love is not real. And if love is real, God is real and this is real.

And if the one who loves us, and the one who we love, is eternal, this love really will last for eternity.  

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