Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Sermon Preached at Wakefield, 16 February 2014

Love is all you need?

Jesus is said to have summed up the entire Christian life in terms of love: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great­est com­mand­ment. The sec­ond is like it: ‘Love your neigh­bour as your­self.’ All the law and the prophets depend on these two com­mand­ments” (Mat 22.37–40).

But Jesus didn't actually say that! Shock! Horror! It was the expert in the Law who says them. Jesus agrees with the answer (Lk. 10.28), but he’s not the one who actu­ally puts forth that trans­la­tion of Deuteronomy 6.5. In Matthew 22.37 Jesus does say “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and in Mark 12.30 he says “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (NIV2011) We have in the Gospels three cita­tions of Deuteronomy 6.5 (two of them spo­ken by Jesus) and each uses dif­fer­ent word­ing.

 But regard­less of whether or not these are accounts of the same event, we don’t nec­es­sar­ily have the exact words that Jesus spoke, or even know if they were orig­i­nally in Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic. The gospel authors record Jesus’ mes­sage in Greek (a dynamic trans­la­tion?) but for the most part we sim­ply don’t know pre­cisely what Jesus said. The mes­sage that the Gospel writ­ers are try­ing to con­vey is that Jesus replied by quot­ing Deuteronomy 6.5:

Deuteronomy 6:5
You must love the LORD your God
with all your heart (leb),
all your soul (nephesh),
and all your strength (me’od).

Luke 10:27
You must love the LORD your God
with all your heart (kar­dia),
all your soul (psy­che),
all your strength (ischus),
and all your mind (dianoia).

These com­mandments cap­ture the essence of who we are.  They are a holistic view of the self and of life and of belief. Before we can love God, before we can love others, we have to love ourselves.

We can’t fully love God, we can't fully love ourselves or others, if we only love emo­tion­ally, we can’t fully love if we only offer intel­lec­tu­al sup­port  — we can only truly and fully love if we do so with every­thing we have. And they are also a way of belief, too: love God – or all that we as individuals consider to be Divine – with all our heart, our soul and, most importantly for us Unitarians, with our mind. Think about what we believe, why we believe it. Not blindly following, unthinkingly, un-critically- judging for ourselves. But, so often in belief and religion it all ends up rather like the scene in Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’ where Brian of Nazareth tells the gathered multitude “You are all individuals… You have got to go away and think things out for yourselves”. “Yes! Yes!” they reply in unison, “we are all individuals, we have got to think things out for ourselves”. Apart from the Unitarian at the end who replies “I’m not.”

But I think sometimes, we Unitarians can place too much emphasis of loving with our mind, on the intellectual side of God, of worship which leaves a rather, some might say, dry experience. It removes all the uncomfortableness and ambiguities. It robs it of life, of mystery. Faith 0 and love – contrary to James Martineaus early writings is not rational, is not logical. All that is Divine is based upon reason, upon logic. And as we heard from John Goodwyn Barmby (paraphrasing the Gospel of Jogn), if God is love, and love is of God then neither are logical. As anyone who has ever been in a relationship knows…

These com­mands aren’t sim­ply feel-good plat­i­tudes, they are a pow­er­ful call to embrace a spe­cific and active love. The real­i­ties of life chal­lenge love at every turn, and love alone, as a dis­em­bod­ied feel­ing adrift on the Platonic ether, can­not save us. But love as a prac­tice, love as a way of life, love as an expe­ri­ence of God, love that encom­passes the total­ity of God— that love can save us and the world. Love requires par­tic­i­pa­tion, it requires main­te­nance, it requires atten­tion: “Above all, main­tain con­stant love for one another, for love cov­ers a mul­ti­tude of sins” (1 Pet. 4.8).

Love doesn’t obvi­ate other aspects of our life, love holds those aspects together. Love is not a soli­tary require­ment, it is the thread that uni­fies and empow­ers all the other aspects. If we don’t have love, noth­ing else works. If we don’t show love, we can’t expect to receive it. If we don’t love God, if – more importantly, we don’t love ourselves - how can we hope to love our neigh­bour? “But love your ene­mies, and do good, and lend, expect­ing noth­ing back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High because he is kind to ungrate­ful and evil peo­ple. Be mer­ci­ful, just as your Father is mer­ci­ful” (Luke 6.27–36).

Love is a means of relationship - not only between human beings, but between humans and the rest of nature. Having been privileged to be at the birth of my kitten and seeing the love, the nurturing between the new mother and her kittens, and between Ginger - my kitten - and myself there is more than just chemical impulses and pheromones. Love is also the means by which the Divine, all that is Holy can be related to.

So yes, to quote John, Paul, George and Ringo (or should that be Pete?):  “All you need is love” To those who accuse we religious liberals of putting an inor­di­nate amount of empha­sis on love, one must remem­ber that it was Jesus him­self who set the prece­dent. Love, prop­erly enacted and expressed, sub­sumes the dis­trac­tions of the­ol­ogy and over­pow­ers our per­sonal ten­den­cies to judge and criticize. If only the House of Bishops during the last week had and seen how the love of two persons of any sex overpowers judgemental and critical attitudes.

All we need, is love.

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