Sermon October 25, 2020
Our Scripture today invites us to reflect on what love really means. There have been times when I have spoken about four different kinds of love identified by the Greeks. They are Eros, Philia, Storge, and Agape. But today I want to try something different. I occasionally like to listen to country music. The lyrics from country music songs tell a story, often giving so many different views of love.
Sometimes those songs describe love in funny ways. There is an old tune sung by Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty that reminds me of love being strong despite what happens. They must have used the portion of the wedding vow where each says, for better or for worse. Part of the Lyrics go like this.
An' you're the reason our kids are ugly, little darling
Ah, but looks ain't everything
And money ain't everything
But, I love you just the same
Love is often strong in challenging times.
Brad Paisley sang a song about the choices we make related to love and how we can hurt another.
Well I love her
And I love to fish
I spend all day out on this lake
And hell is all I catch
Today she met me at the door
Said I would have to choose
If I hit that fishin' hole today
She'd be packin' all her things
And she'd be gone by noon
Well I'm gonna miss her
It can be easy to hurt another person by the choices we make.
I happen to like George Strait and he sang many songs about love. Some were about lost love but many described a deep and everlasting love. In one of George Strait’s songs he told a story about two people who’d been in love since elementary school. Their love was first kindled by a note sent by one to the other in class. I love you and I want to know if you love me. Send back this note and check yes or no. Their love lasted forever.
George Strait also described love that was inspirational, about how love takes us to a special place.
Every man has a dream
And you made mine come true.
How it happened
I don't know or care.
I'm just happy I found you.
Wrapped in the arms of love
Is where I'll be
For all the world to see
You're something special to me.
One I especially like tells about a man seeing God in everything after the birth of his baby girl.
God’s fingerprints are everywhere
I just look down and stop and stare
Open my eyes and then I swear
I saw God today
She's got my nose
She's got her mama's eyes
My brand new baby girl
She's a miracle
I saw God today
Today, Jesus told us about the Greatest Commandment. We all know the words by heart. “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” I have chosen to think more about the second of the great commandments, the one about loving your neighbor. If we aren’t careful, we might skip over the love of God which should be first in our lives.
Our former bishop, Kirk Smith, referred to these two commandments as so simple and yet so complex. He wrote, “Does it mean simply showing up in church on Sundays, saying grace before meals, and tossing a few bucks into the Salvation Army bucket at Christmas? Clearly it means a whole lot more. We are happy to spend time in prayer, worship, or reading our Bibles”. On the one hand this activity fits the message about putting our time and treasure where we want our heart to be. But I still wonder if it is enough. Certainly spending time with God means our minds are with God. But how about our heart and our soul?
I think when we love God we will have trust. Because we are human we do not understand exactly everything about God and why certain things happen. But when we love God we try not to make the statement, “If I were God, I would never let this happen.” I think when we love God, we hear those words about “for better or for worse. We don’t blame God if bad things happen. We don’t think that God is unfair. We trust that God is helping us always. It is as Thomas Aquinas once wrote. “To love God is greater than to know God.”
I think loving God means not just trying to put God first in our lives but putting God in the middle of everything we do. We find that in Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
You can find the great commandment mentioned by Jesus in the gospels of Mark and Luke as well. In Mark it is told two times. Once when a young man comes up to Jesus and asks what must I do to go to heaven. After Jesus answered, the man said but I do all these things. And Jesus answered then give up all your possessions and follow me. So, loving God with our heart means not letting earthly desires and earthly things get in the way of our relationship with God.
I think loving God with our soul means that we are inspired by God, that God means something special to us. I sometimes have that feeling when I feel God in an experience. It happens when I find beauty in the earth, beauty in a child, and it happens when I celebrate the Eucharist. Not always but sometimes.
I come back to another song by George Strait. This song was meant for one person to another but I hear it as a message from God.
When you see a shooting star in the night
When you hear the warm wind whisper through the pines
I want you to know
It'll be me and my infinite love for you “
I believe that when we feel God’s love for us, we are open to loving God with all of ourselves.
This past spring, Our presiding bishop, Michael Curry offered this suggestion, “And so I decided last week that I was going to make sure every day I did three things very simply, or at least thought about them. How can I love God today? Very simply, nothing complex. How can I love my neighbor, others? How can I love myself? And it occurred to me that just sometimes asking the question, you may or may not have an answer, but you may figure out an answer for that day. That sometimes just asking the question can help in times of uncertainty, in days of pandemic, and in times when the days are just going to keep going on and on and on.” Our pandemic continues so I say his encouragement fits today just as it did six months ago. And yes, I believe that we love God when we love our neighbor.
There are two families that live next door to each other in Pittsburgh and they may teach us a little about love during this election season. The Mitchell family have been lifelong Democrats and the Gates family have been lifelong Republicans. Each family has a sign in their yard supporting their party’s candidate. But each also has a sign saying we love them (actually it is a heart symbol) and an arrow pointing to their neighbor. Perhaps we can all learn from the relationship of the Mitchell and Gates families.
The Wall Street Journal reported that “millions of Americans are harmed at the bitter split in this country, with 9 out of 10 Americans saying incivility is a problem.
The Bible says that it is better to give than to receive. Certainly we show our love of neighbor when we give to others in need. I also like the words of Saint Francis who said in part that it is in giving that we receive. I think that when we give we receive God’s love in a way that helps us express our love of God.
As Bishop Smith wrote, the great commandments are both easy and complex, simple and hard at the same time. Loving God and loving our neighbor may take time and practice. I think all of us are trying and most of us have made great strides. I just hope that loving God is something that we are always trying to express in our lives and loving our neighbor is something that comes easily even when we disagree.
Saint Augustine once wrote, “To fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek him the greatest adventure; to find him, the greatest human achievement.” May God’s love come to you in such a way that you are able to return that love. May you never give up seeking God’s love and may love of neighbor be a gift that you can give always. Amen.
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