Sunday, 26 January 2014

Living the Love of God

I’m writing this half way through January, and in a few days time, we will be welcoming all of the couples marrying over 2014 to an initial planning meeting. It’s a great opportunity for them to meet many others who will be playing a key part in their big day. It reminds me that I love doing weddings and why it is such a privilege to see loving couples make life-long commitments to each other in love.

We really stretch our English word ‘love’ to breaking point. I love my wife, Alex, but also love curry or the music of Marillion or Haken. The languages of the Bible express ‘love’ more fully as in Hebrew and Greek there are 3 words respectively for our tired English word ‘love.’

The Hebrew words are: RAYA - Friendship: the love for a friend or companion; AHAVA: Commitment: It is about a ferocious love. unconditional love. Marriage - love of a spouse. Ahava anchors you down to the one you love; and DOD: Intimacy: When Raya and Ahava are present. Dod is a source of comfort, connection, and pleasure. In Greek the words are AGAPE: this is unconditional, self-giving love; EROS: this is physical or passionate love with desire and longing; and PHILIOS: this is to do with friendship. It’s the sort of love that has give and take. It is the loving loyalty between friends and family.

As we head into February, card shops, supermarkets and pubs/restaurants would have us believe that love is in the very air we breath as head to Valentines Day. And love is to be celebrated and nurtured in our relationships and our marriages, and for them to flourish - all sorts of love need to be present.

On 16th February at 3.00pm at St Peter’s Mill End, we will hold our annual service of Thanksgiving for Marriage. It’s an opportunity to thank God the source of all true love, for the love that binds us together with those who we love, to renew marriage vows and to pray for one another. This service is open to you whether you have been married for a year or fifty years and will be followed by refreshments in the Parish Hall.

Expressions of love for us as Christians should not stop at those who are special to us or with whom we share our lives. Jesus lived a love that reached out beyond those boundaries to those on the edge, on the outside of society or or the religious life, and welcomed them in. Our natural desire should be about going out of our way to care for, to support, to walk alongside, to seek justice for others out of love for them. We have opportunities to do this obviously volunteering at the food banks locally, but also making coffee at Play and Praise and being a listening ear for those who come.

In Mark 12, one of the teachers of the law comes to ask Jesus a question, 

“Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
Jesus reminds us to love our neighbour as ourselves, but also to love God with all that we are - all our mind and strength. As people of faith that is our primary call - to love God.  As with spouse or friends - love is shown by spending time with them; by sharing our gifts and skills and talents with them; but love can also be shown by sometimes surprising them with a gift - yes even the use of our money can demonstrate the depth of our love.  All of this is true for Christians - how much we love God can be demonstrated in just the same ways.  In Sundays sermons in Lent, we will be exploring this more, coupled with a letter from me to each of you and some other resources, which will help you reflect on your own situation more thoroughly.

We stretch our word love to breaking point.  In these Sundays of Ordinary time, leading up to the start of Lent, if we want to understand the extraordinary love of God, we don’t need to read the Hebrew or Greek.  We need only look to Jesus and listen to Him and to learn to love from Him.

As we reflect on the nature of our love, join with me in praying for each other...

Sunday, 5 January 2014

New Year in the Dark

Like Archbishop Justin, I don’t like making New Year’s resolutions as I know that I almost certainly wont have the strength of character or simple will to keep them. Yet many like to I aspire try to enter the new year with new motives - a desire to be somehow a better person.

If you’ve even had a cursory glance at the newspaper in recent days, as we are in the season it seems of slow news, you will have noticed the press point us forward to some of the things we might expect in the coming year in terms of technology, fashion, music, politics etc.

As the early days of 2014 unfurl, the optimists amongst us look forward with expectancy at what may lie ahead of us.  This of course chimes with the hopeful notes of Spring, of new growth and of lighter days.

New Year, new hopes, new dreams, new regimes, new wardrobe because of the weight I’ll have lost, new peace in Syria, a new politics and economics that supports those caught in the cycle of poverty in the queue at the food bank….

The Wise Ones had glimpsed that light of New Hope dawning on the horizon of history as they gazed at their astrological charts. They were so struck by the newness and promise that they read in the stars, that they had to set out in search of it’s source bearing gifts.
We roll this gift-giving into the Christmas story that we think we know, and we read it as the the spiritual reason for lavishing gifts in excess on our loved ones.

There is another story being told here.  In our Old Testament reading this morning we hear of the glorious light light of God blazing out in darkness, drawing peoples into its presence in joy.  But there is darkness.

As the light streams from the manger, it is all too easy to miss the darkness. The darkness of the fear of Herod - the fear that his own precarious position of power will be toppled; that same fear gripped Jerusalem because if Herod was toppled the Romans would reclaim the power the delegated to him.

For many the New Year does not promise hope but is laden with fear - for the security or promise of a job, for the well being of themselves and their family, even for their very lives.

Fear disfigures. It dehumanises. It was fear that ultimately wrought an unholy alliance of religious and political leaders that would ultimately crucify this baby grown to be a man.  But what of us? Fear changes us - it renews our burglar or car alarm, it makes us withdraw from others because they are strangers, it reduces what we give of ourselves and our time and our money to others and we focus on me and my future alone…

Yet into the darkness of a fearful world of devastating super-storms and school massacres, a world where innocents die everyday to preventable illness and hunger. comes the light of the glory of God, shining out and shining on us revealing who we really are when we hoard or covet or cheat or betray – yet Emmanuel still bears the promise that God has truly seen who and what we are and loves us still. Forever. No matter what.

And that is the gift at the heart of the story - the unmerited love of God who sees who we are and what we are capable of, and loves us still.  The gold and frankincense and myhrr are given in response to this greater gift and notice what these gifts cost - time - the ones who bore them travelled an enormous distance to give them; money - none of the items given were cheap but took financial resources to obtain; talent - these Wise Men, Magi, astrologers of sorts used their God-given skill to discern and interpret the new thing that the God of Israel was doing in the birth of this child.

And what of us? How do we respond to the grace and love of God in this child? Are we, like the Wise Men, overwhelmed with joy at the new thing God is doing amongst us, and therefore willing to generously give of our time to diligently seek Christ ourselves and serve Him in others? Are we willing to generously give our money or see our talents used to enable us not just to rebuild the physical structure of our church buildings but to enable us to see God’s church rebuilt here. All in response to the unmerited love of  a generous God.

Herod and the Wise Men sought to pay homage to the Christ Child. Homage is about worship it is about us showing special respect or reverence in this instance to the Christ child, but if that stops at what we sing or say in a building such as this on a Sunday, then we miss something. Homage rises out of a relationship between a lord and a subject and was a ceremony where the subject became his ‘Lord’s man.’  Knowing that God loves us despite the darkness that surrounds us and that can fill our actions and lives, as we gaze into the crib let us also pay homage in response to the generosity of God in Christ, through who’s life, death and resurrection as the Wise Men’s gift’s remind us, we are also invited to become our Lord’s man or woman, boy or girl. But let us also live and give generously so that this New Year may be one of not fear but one of lives and churches and communities filled with the light, glory and hope of God.