(Given at Upavon on the Fifteenth Sunday
after Trinity, 8th. September 2002)
Lessons. Ex.12.1-14 Rom.13.8-14 Matt.18.15-20
St. Paul tells us to love one another, and goes on to remind us to love
our neighbour as ourself. What, then, is this 'love' all about ? It is not
easy to define. For example, I may say: "I'd love a cup of tea", I love my
wife or my husband, I love my children, I love to be beside the seaside, I
love Mahler's eighth symphony. I'd love to get hold of a copy of that book -
and so on. All with different slants on love. Most of the pop music, when we
CAN make out the words, is about 'love'- used as a euphemism for something
else. I could go on.
This confusion is due partly to the English language having only one word
for 'love'. The Greek language in which our New Testament was written has
The is 'eros' for sexual attraction, 'storge' for family
affection, 'philia' for friendship, 'philanthropia' for
humanitarian concern, and most frequently in the New Testament - 'agape'.
That word, 'agape' is used for God's love toward mankind, AND for the
ideal of mankind's love toward God, AND for the spiritual love people ought
to have have for each other.
'Agape' represents that sort of love which has nothing to do with
the satisfaction of biological instincts. It has little to do with the
expression of taste or preference, little even to do with the our obtaining
satisfaction from company, comfort, nourishment or entertainment. Rather is
it the recognition of mutual and communal needs and surrendering to them -
the abandonment of self-seeking.
You will be familiar with St. Paul's attempt to define 'love', or
'charity' as the King James Bible calls it, and which is summarised in our
offertory hymn today. "Love is kind and suffers long, love is meek and
thinks no wrong, love than death itself more strong" - and so on.
We see this 'love' in the life and attitudes of Jesus. One of the great
differences brought into the world by Jesus was his telling his disciples to
love their enemies.
The Old Testament had sanctioned vengeance - an eye for an eye and a
tooth for a tooth.
"O God, to whom vengeance belongeth" begins Psalm 94, and several of the
Psalms refer to God's wrath against the heathen.
Jesus said "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them
that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute
you." He himself prayed for those who brought him to the Cross, and THAT is
strong evidence of his divinity.
We can see much evidence of Old Testament vengeance in the middle east
today. Can we see enough evidence of the advice of Jesus being taken in the
so-called Christian world?
In many of our common uses of the word 'love', there is implied the
receiving of satisfaction.
When I was a teenager, too old to be cuddled by my mother and too young
to have a girl friend, I remember shocking my mother by suggesting that the
only reason to love anyone is so that we can receive affection.
Well, that is one reason. We all need affection. But if that is the ONLY
reason, then our love is self-based and self-seeking. In the end it is
likely to lead to the quarrel, the alienation, the divorce-court or the
"not-on- speaking-terms" syndrome.
For Jesus, love asked for no reward other than the satisfaction that its
action was God-like. "Love your enemies", he said, "and expect nothing in
return. Your reward will be great and you will be sons of the most high."
The Christian life is the working out of the principle of love in all
social attitudes and relationships. It is trying to do the best for all, all
the time, simply because we know that in doing so we are thereby imitating
And Christian love is something that goes on - and on - and on, whatever
the change in the situation may be, however often that love may be rejected.
In the Song of Solomon we read that "Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can the floods drown it."
The Lady Julian of Norwich, of her mystical visions says, "I saw that God
is to us everything that is good and for our comforting. He is our clothing,
which, for love, enwraps us, embraces us, encloses us, and for tender love,
that he may never leave us."
That is how God loves us. It is with that persistent unending love that
we are called by Jesus to develop towards each other.
Last Sunday might I was listening to Radio 2. It's not a programme I
follow closely. Its usual contents are not my thing. But I like listening on
Sunday nights to Alan Keith's selection of popular classical music. Last
Sunday his last offering was that wonderful Hymn, "O Love that wilt not let
me go". It was beautifully sung by the Glasgow Phoenix Choir. We shall be
singing it as our last hymn today.
Then there was an astonishing coincidence.
The programme finished. Before I could stir myself to switch off, it
changed to a programme of dance music and 'Big Bands' such as were popular
in my youth. Henry Hall, Geraldo, Albert Sandler, Victor Sylvester, Glen
Miller and so on. The first item last Sunday was Jack Payne's Orchestra,
with a vocalist singing in foxtrot time. The words went like this:
You can throw a brick through my window,
You can put tacks in my shoe
You can put soot in my porridge
But you can't stop me loving you.
Different words, different music, a different level of expression, but
the same message. Need I say more ?
© The Estate of William John Green, 2004