Last week I shared my most favourite quote of Pope Francis the living for others being a rule of nature and it being our kind of happy when others are happy because of us.
This week I heard my now favourite quote of the Pope with his words Homosexual people have the right to be in a family. They are children of God.
I mention this - in case you didn’t hear this radical, welcomed, and long awaited statement from someone / anyone publicly and openly in the leadership of today’s major church denominations - and because today’s sermon revolves and evolves around this word love.
From Matthew’s Gospel this week, the Pharisees ask Jesus yet another question Which commandment in the law is the greatest? Jesus answers without a moment’s hesitation Love God. Love your neighbour. Love yourself. On these commandments hang everything that matters in this world. In this life.
At this point of the Gospel Jesus’s crucifixion is just days away. There is little opportunity left to communicate the heart of his message. And when he is asked what matters most in a life of faith, Jesus does not say, believe the right things. He doesn’t say, maintain personal and doctrinal purity. He doesn’t say, worship like this or attend a church like that. He doesn’t even say, read your Bible, or pray every day, or preach the Gospel in every situation.
He says, Love. All of Christianity distilled down to its essence Love. So how are we to love? This is where, I fear, our overuse, misuse, and even abuse of the word love gets us into trouble. We claim to love many things. We love our books, movies, music, a particular flower, and television shows. We love going on vacation, - my word I do, I mean, we do, - or reading a well-crafted novel, or watching our favourite football team play. Hope your team won yesterday. We love chocolate, or coffee, or sushi, or desert. We tend to think of love as a feeling.
A spontaneous and free-flowing feeling that arises out of our own enjoyment. We don’t think of it as discipline, as practice, as exercise, as effort. We fall in love. As if it‘s an accident. We trip into it, upon it. We say that love is blind, that it happens at first sight, that it breaks our hearts, and that its course never runs smooth. We talk and think about love as if we have little power or agency in its presence. This is not how the Bible describes love. Jesus doesn’t say, I hope love happens to you. He says, Love is the greatest and first commandment.
Meaning, it’s not a matter of personal affinity, feeling, or preference. It’s not a matter of lucky accident. Or a random blessing. It’s a matter of obedience to the one we call Lord. What would it cost us to take Jesus’s version of love seriously? To practice and cultivate a depth of compassion within us? To train ourselves into a hunger for justice so urgent we rearrange our lives in order to pursue it?
To pray for the kind of empathy that causes our hearts to break? This is the call. Which means that we have a God who first and foremost wants our love - not our fear, penitence, or piety. And we have a God who wants every one of God’s children to feel loved. Not shamed. Not punished. Not chastised. Not judged. Loved. I don’t think it’s a coincidence or a mistake that Jesus inextricably links love of God with love of neighbour. Each reinforces, reinterprets, and revives the other. As heirs of the Incarnation, we cannot love God while we refuse to love what God loves. We cannot love God in a disinfected, disembodied way that doesn’t touch the dirt and depth of this world. Our love is meant to be robust and muscular, hands-on and intimate. Reaching into skin and bone and blood and tears.
In his beautiful commentary on this Gospel, Lutheran minister Clayton Schmit writes To love God with all our heart, mind, and soul seems nearly impossible when we think of love as an emotion. How does one conjure up feelings for something as remote, mysterious, and disembodied as the concept of God?
We cannot look into God's eyes, wrap our arms around the Spirit, or even see the face of Jesus. Likewise, loving our neighbor is difficult. If love is merely our passive response to the person next to us, we are likely to be more often repulsed than moved to love. … But biblical love is not passive. It is not something that occurs to us without our control or will. Biblical love is something we do. So what is it that we are commanded to do?
The call is to weep with those who weep. To laugh with those who laugh. To touch, to feed, to welcome, to release, to forgive, to confront, to comfort, to wash each other’s feet, to hold each other close, and to tell each other the truth. The call is to guide each other home.