Love, and other words.

We are people of the WORD.  Reformed, protestant churches in general, and Presbyterians in particular, are committed to exploring and proclaiming the Word as revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and revealed in the writings that we call Scripture.  Worship, preaching and teaching are key components of our life in the world.  I spend most of my time thinking about words – what to say and when to say it; wondering how will my words affect certain people; considering (only as a last step) whether my words match my actions.

Much of what I worry about, you might laugh at; my tone, my gestures, my body language – all these things help convey the message I carry.  “Don’t worry about it”, you say.  “Speak up”, you say.  and maybe, in the context of weekly worship, you’re right.  But there is more than Sunday at stake here.

Before we can be changed by an idea or energized for a project, we have to be attracted to what we hear.  So language matters; style matters; tone of voice and mannerisms matter.  The wrong tone, or a sweet-voiced announcement of impending disaster causes strange reactions in us.  I listened to an interview with a woman who presented information on the decline of songbirds around the world, and while I was interested in the information, I was distracted by…her voice.  It was sweet, and gentle and far too calm for the disastrous news she was trying to convey.  The words were right, but the weight of them was lost (on me).

That can become a problem in the church too.  We know what we are about – we are people of the Resurrection, disciples of the risen, reigning Son of God.  We understand that this means we should, among other things, “Love God and our neighbours as ourselves…”  We are urged by Jesus in the gospels to “abide in love”. We are assured by the Psalmist that, in time, “all the ends of the earth shall remember, and turn to the Lord…”  and from these sorts of statements come the vision of how to be the church in the world, as we wait patiently for the world that will be.  So how do we convey those words to others?  How do we tell the story?  What do we sound like to those who don’t yet know, or who have not yet heard…?

We might sound like John, the author of at least three letters – all of which lean heavily on the notion that we should love one another.  In this morning’s reading, the word love (or beloved,) appears 29 times…in a mere 320 words!  Do you think our author has a point to make?  but does he make it?

From the very beginning of the Christian community, love was clearly important – but the word is not enough; the language does not convey the attitude.

“Those who say ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers and sisters are lying!”  Pretty strong words from a guy who chirps on and on about love.  John’s tone belies his intention.  He sounds gentle and pacific, but he means business, and we have a hard time with the difficulties involved in living a life of love.

The very word evokes hearts and flowers – sweetness and light – but we have twisted the love of God to our purposes, and though we speak with tongues of angels, we (the corporate church, the historical people of God) are nothing more than clanging gongs and noisy cymbals…

Several of us had a chance to learn the truth about this yesterday, as we gathered for something called the Blanket exercise.

We all thought we know the history of the “discovery of North America” – we have long imagined that an organization such as the Christian Church, following the example of our King and Head, Jesus of Nazareth – Wonderful counsellor, Prince of Peace (etc), MUST be working for the good of those that come into her orbit.  The Church has worked with what seem like good intentions; the truth is that those good intentions often pave a dangerous road.

In the name of the King of love, Europeans exploited land and resources.

In the name of love, Europeans – Our ancestors – declared that they would ‘save the indian from [himself]’ , and civilize them through religion and education.

It was disciples of the Good Shepherd who ran residential schools, where children were starved, isolated from their families and their culture, beaten and sexually abused…

It was James who wrote to warn us of the dangers of faith without action:  “If a sister or brother is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them”go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill”, and yet you do not supply their needs, what is the good of that?”  Faith without works is dead, says James – Words, though we be people of the word and disciples of the Living Word – are not enough.  Attitude matters; style, tone of voice, mannerisms matter.  Our actions must follow our words, and they should match.  We do not show love with a closed fist; we should not speak peace through clenched teeth; and we cannot share the hope for the redemption of all Creation, until we recognize that we are not creations overlords.

John’s letter urges us to share the love that Christ had for us – love that has it’s source in God.  We are urged to share that love with all we meet by Jesus who “showed no partiality” – who loved us in our lovelessness – and my experience yesterday served to emphasize the depths of our lovelessness.  We seem determined to treat those who are different from us – different colour, different culture, different faith, different philosophy – with either contempt or confusion.  In this we have succumbed to our fear, forgetting that the greatest gift of love is that it casts out all fear.

The good news is that love is still working on us – still reaching out to us – God’s great love still defeats our great fear.  In the strangest places; in just the right moments.  When love lets us hear the stories of those we fear because of our differences, that fear is banished.  When love becomes more than just a word to us – when it softens our hearts and opens our minds – then the will of God may be done, and the reign of Christ comes closer to us.

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