Reflection: "We're Commanded to Love"
Just like the ancient pagans that we read about in the Old Testament, some people of today still want to have a little religion at critical times, but they resist allowing God any greater claim on their lives.
Perhaps they can’t see why God deserves any greater commitment from them.
Or they’re afraid that they’ll draw attention to themselves by being either too religious, or not religious enough.
More likely though, they just don't see what God has to do with them, with their lives, in this modern world.
I’m a bit in two minds about people like this, who approach the church for religious ceremonies.
For example, just to get their children baptised, to get married, or for a burial.
On the one hand, I feel like saying that if they don't really want God in their lives, why bother with these ceremonies.
But on the other hand, I think that baptisms, weddings and funerals are great occasions for people to discover that the church, and religion, are still of great value and that God isn’t actually distant, or fickle, but can feel near, present and constant in their lives.
Also, that God, in and through his son Jesus Christ, and the ongoing love of the Holy Spirit, cares for our lives and we come to understand that a relationship with him is not arbitrary and vengeful, but gentle, warm and gracious.
The readings this week contain the words "God is love" and Christians over the years have become very familiar with this idea – maybe a bit too familiar - as often they forget what an astounding concept the love of God actually is.
We know that the Apostle Paul did the majority of his work amongst the Greeks in the Mediterranean region.
When speaking to them about the Gospel - the Good News of Jesus Christ – he would probably have expected them to think of it as folly, or foolishness, knowing how it would go against their experience of life and their pagan gods.
But then he showed them how the God of his people, the one true God, was different - how he was a God of love.
Nowadays, the vast majority of this planet's inhabitants experience a life far different to ours in Australia.
There’s much poverty, infant mortality, recurring famines, fatal epidemics, natural disasters and deadly wars.
And even in our western world, so many people struggle with 1st world issues, such as joblessness and foreclosure on their home mortgages.
So, to claim that God is love, goes against so much of our common, human experience.
We can wonder where God’s love really is, noting that it can seem so distant, as we look at the world’s problems.
Nevertheless, as Christians, we must persist, even singing words like:
"God is love and where love is, God is there."
We proclaim that God's love transcends and pervades our common human experiences.
Perhaps we Christians sometimes proclaim this concept too glibly, sentimentalising this love.
Perhaps, when things are going all right for ourselves, we forget that this isn’t the case for everyone.
We forget that God's love isn’t obvious to everybody and, even as Christians, we sometimes wonder why, if God is love, does he let bad things happen and let our fervent prayers for good in the world, go unanswered.
The truth is, that God doesn’t just “let” things happen.
Right back in the Garden of Eden, he gave Adam and Eve choice and free-will.
Unfortunately, we humans are the ones who are stuffing up God’s wonderful world and, even though we aren’t sure why these things happen, we must hang on to our faith, knowing that God’s love will prevail in the end. Is our belief (that God is love) committing us to a path that others would see as counter-cultural, or even radical?
Or could it just be that it’s some sort of sentimentalist claptrap, the opiate of the masses.
Either we’re bearers of a new truth about God and the world, or we’re to be pitied as the greatest of fools.
And, maybe, that’s the way of the Gospel.
We are bearers of the message that God is for us, with us, he cares for us and, most of all, he loves us - all of us.
This message should strike us – as it strikes pagans both ancient and modern - as a message so good that it borders on the incredible.
And, except for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, this Gospel of ours would be unbelievable.
Through Christ, God brought divine love to common human experience.
Not to trick us, judge us, or condemn us - but to join us - to fully live our common human experience.
To be born, to live, to suffer, to die - all out of love - and to rise again to show that nothing, not even death, can extinguish this love.
This is our hope, our calling, and our mission.
To get involved with God’s love makes us vulnerable to criticism from others.
But, ultimately, we must answer to God and not to man.
Our epistle this week reads, "Whoever does not love, does not know God, for God is love."
Our mission as Christians is to lift up that love, as the hidden key to life - now revealed in Jesus Christ - to see all love as an echo of the love of God, to name all love as God's, and to be drawn to this love and to reflect it for the world.
Because saying "God is love" isn’t sentimental, it isn’t easy and it isn’t frivolous.
It’s a bold confession and it demands a bold commitment and faith.
How will anyone believe this faith unless they see it working in and through our lives?
How will anyone be convinced that beneath the pain and suffering of common experience, flows divine love?
How will anyone know of God’s love, unless we show it in the way we live?
Having been loved by God, we must likewise love our neighbours, and not just those closest to us or those who are easiest to love, but our love must extend to places and to people where love is foreign, where love is absent, where faith in love has faded or died and to those whom we find it hardest to forgive.
To be loved by God is to be given a mission: to take this bold faith to those who haven’t yet accepted it.
Whether they’re the destitute, the broken, those who’ve lost hope, or even just those who haven’t heard about God’s love for them, we must tell them of this truth and show them that it’s true, through our lives and actions.
No one will believe it unless they see it in us.
Do you feel like that’s something you can do?
Showing love like that isn’t easy, but it is God’s command to us to:
“Love the Lord your God, with all your heart, soul and mind and love your neighbour as yourself.”
That’s how we should be living our lives – for the benefit of others – and not for ourselves.
“And they’ll know we are Christians, by our love, by our love.
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
From April 16-25, Lane Cove Uniting Church participated in UnitingWorld’s 7 Days of Solidarity and we are having a service of celebration at church this Sunday to wrap up the week of prayer and reflection.
Please join us.
Should you require more information about what happened during this week, or wish to make a donation, you can log on to their web site www.sevendaysofsolidarity.com.au and learn more about their wonderful work with God’s people throughout the world.