Those of you on our Wednesday night Zoom call heard me describe the events of last Sunday—Christopher and Ashley’s wedding—as one of the five best days of my life. All week I feel I’ve been floating along, buoyed by the love and magic of that day. There really is something to the idea that moments of pure love lift us all out of the everyday worries and circumstances of our normal lives. I think everyone who was present last weekend at the beautiful little Zionsville park felt lifted by love and, I hope, we are all still feeling it.
Something wonderful happens to us when we make room for love—and only love—in our lives. For a time, maybe a very brief time, we are able to let go of everything else: our concerns about the problems in our lives, our reactions to the latest upsetting headlines, the ongoing threat of the virus, the hardship and suffering we hear about everywhere. For a brief and shining moment, love is simply center stage, getting all our attention, shining in its rightful place. We feel it and know it and live it, however briefly. God’s promise of goodness and presence shines out of moments like that for all to see and share and remember.
That type of feeling—the real and present, living energy of love—makes everything easy, even the wrinkles in the day. There were a few surprises to navigate last weekend: they discovered after the rehearsal that the company sent the wrong color suits for the groomsmen, so they all had to get refitted on Saturday and pick up their suits with just hours to go before the ceremony. But even the things that could have caused elevated blood pressure just seemed to slide off and resolve easily. Love—when it carries the day—does that. Things unknot. Twists and turns smooth out. Order interrupts the chaos, and all is well.
If only we could carry some of that back to our twisted up, knotted and tangled world right now. The smooth, easy balm of love, coming to cool the spiking tempers and calm the roughness of our words and actions. In God’s realm, where that of God in everyone is clearly seen, the rancor and mean-spiritedness of this time has no place, no reality. It’s got me thinking about the difference between God’s very real realm and our reality; the world of God’s love and promise and the world of our own human making. It’s pretty obvious which reality is the bigger mess, isn’t it? It’s let me wondering whether we have a choice about the world we see and experience each day. Is there a way for us to choose one reality over another?
I think we do and I believe there is.
In our Old Testament reading today, Jeremiah is speaking words of encouragement and hope to the children of Israel, who have been living a hard life of exile during their 40 years in the wilderness. You may remember that for much of this time, God has not been pleased with his children. They are a stiff-necked and stubborn people, doing what they want, worshiping other Gods, repeatedly forgetting God and turning away and throwing away any seeds of trust that had been plants. Yet in our scripture today, Jeremiah speaks to them of God’s love—a love that never fades—as their hope for a better future. He says,
3 The Lord appeared to us in the past,[a] saying:
“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.
In his commentary on this passage, Richard Foster writes, “The wilderness is a place of hunger and depravation, a place where hope is in short supply along with everything else needed for life. And yet Jeremiah claims that it was in the wilderness that Israel found the depths of the love of God. In the wilderness, God remained steadfast to his promises to the covenant people. Though the faith community failed to keep its promises to God in the wilderness, there God demonstrated the persistence and resilience of his gracious care. The implication is that anytime the community of faith finds itself in some “wilderness,” we are to look up, to be attentive and expectant. Even there, especially there, there can be grace.”
No matter what the children of Israel have done, no matter how much of a mess they’ve made of things, God’s love is an everlasting, constant, secure love, not predicated on their good behavior or dependent on their obedience. God has drawn us with unfailing kindness, and “that of God” in us is always visible—to God.
God’s love is a given, no matter what, Jeremiah reminds us, and we don’t have to be perfect in order to earn it. It is not a prize we get for keeping all the commandments or doing everything right. We are loved because it is God’s nature to love, it is the promise and reality God creates and delivers. And I would even offer that—when we have our minds and hearts tuned to it, tuned only to it, as we do at a wedding or another moment where love is the most important thing—God’s loving reality is a constant presence, always available for our choosing and noticing.
Richard Foster continues: “What a testament of faith! When the community lifts itself up from the ashes and the rubble and dares to sing a doxology, this is faith. It takes courage to speak words of judgment to people, and Jeremiah has done that. But it also takes great courage to speak of the goodness of God to people who have been battered about by life and suffered tragedy. Sometimes those who have given up hope don’t appreciate talk of hope. It can be offensive to those who are in the grip of sadness to hear talk of joy. And yet the faith community is renewed by daring to speak hopeful truth, even amid the rubble. To be honest and hopeful at the same time is a great challenge of faith.”
There is something important there about our need and the choice to see the goodness of God in the midst of sadness. That desire draws us close to the reality of love—it makes us yearn for what we’re missing—and it shows us that deep down we have a belief that it is there, and that we can find the way, when we let God lead. Even in times that feel anything but loving, the fact that we feel the absence shows us we know something better. The real reality, the one God waits for us to discover, is that God’s simple love pervades, extends, and embraces all God’s beloveds in this created realm.
This energy of love is the heart of our New Testament reading today from the book of 1 John, one of the epistles written by the Gospel writer and sent to the early church before the end of the first century. He wrote this letter to encourage early believers, who were struggling with differences in belief and practice that threatened to divide their community. John’s letter lifts up key ideas that are central to our faith: That God is light and in God there is no darkness; that Jesus showed us the way to love, and that throughout our lives, as we respond to God’s love, we are transformed, more and more, into the likeness of pure love.
In 1 John 4: 7-13, he pointed his hearers toward the knowable, livable presence of the sacred and simple love of God. He writes,
“Beloved, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God’s love was revealed among us: God sent His one and only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. And love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God remains in us, and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we remain in Him, and He in us; He has given us of His Spirit.”
This is such a beautiful and important thing for us to remember—that the love we show to the world is not our own but rather the shining out of God’s love that is already in our lives. This is the hallmark and birthright of the children of God, that we carry and reflect God’s love in the world, bringing light into the darkness, and putting caring back into a world that seems cold and sometimes cruel.
If we ourselves are part of the coldness or the cruelty, if our hearts are hardened against others, we need to ask why. Why we have lost touch with the reality of God’s love within us? How did our connection to our continual source of Light get severed? What we are believing that puts a boulder in the stream of love that blocks what we are meant to share with the world?
A few weeks ago, I shared a Rumi quote about love that I really like. He wrote, “Your task is not to seek for love but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself you have built against it.”
When we are no longer able to be part of God’s very real flow of love in the world, something is wrong, something has become a barrier to the natural outpouring of that love, because love is God’s nature and it always flows outward. In this time with so many things seemingly wrong and emotionally triggering in our world, we might offer any number of reasons we’re not feeling especially loving. It could be distrust of others, which is encouraged and inflamed by things we see and read and hear. It could be that because of fear we are more focused on ourselves these days—what we could lose, what we need, what we want to protect. That kind of self-focus can blind us to the care and need of others.
Whatever our barriers, they are human barriers, not God’s barriers. When we see them in our lives, we can ask God to remove them—and God will, so God’s love can once again flow on through us.
On this day—October 18—339 years ago, in 1681, William Penn, who had just founded the then-British colony that would become Pennsylvania, wrote a letter to those he addressed as the “Kings of the Indians in Pennsylvania.” He understood that in order for the new colony to be successful, it needed to have good and respectful relationships with all who inhabited the land. Acting from principles of trust and love, fairness and respect so central to his Friends’ faith, Penn wrote,
“…this great God hath written his law in our hearts, by which we are taught and commanded to love and help, and do good to one another, and not to do harm and mischief one to another. …I desire to enjoy [this place] with your Love and Consent, that we may always live together as Neighbours and friends…I have great love and regard towards you, and I desire to win and gain your love and friendship, by a kind, just, and peaceable life, and the people I send are of the same mind…”
And he signed the letter, “I am your loving friend, William Penn.”
A year later, with the relationship well underway, Penn wrote again and provided further details on how the agreement between the two sides would proceed, writing,
“We meet on the broad pathway of good faith and good will; no advantage shall be taken on either side, but all shall be openness and love. Let us try what love will do… Force may subdue but love gains. And he that forgives first, wins the lawrel.”
Let us try what love will do, Penn wrote. What a model this could be for us today, a way to bring the living reality of God’s simple love into all we do as individuals, as churches, as people, as governments and nations. Instead of making more real all the barriers to love in our lives, we can choose to be part of God’s real and everlasting love that flows constantly—recognized or not—into our lives and through us, into the lives of others.
In closing, I’d like to share the words of one of my favorite hymns, “I Would Be True.” The words were written by Howard A. Walker back in 1907, and they show us how God’s simple love looks when we allow it to fill us and lead us and be the example for our lives:
I would be true, for there are those who trust me;
I would be pure, for there are those who care:
I would be strong, for there is much to suffer;
I would be brave, for there is much to dare.
I would be friend of all—the foe, the friendless;
I would be giving, and forget the gift;
I would be humble, for I know my weakness;
I would look up, and laugh and love, and lift.
I would be prayerful through each busy moment;
I would be constantly in touch with God;
I would be tuned to hear His slightest whisper;
I would have faith to keep the path Christ trod.
This week, let’s invite God to show us any barriers we have to sharing love with our world. Because God has drawn us with unfailing kindness, the result will be clear. Any problems, struggles, conflicts, and fears will look different—will be different—when we see them from a place of Love. This week, let us try what Love will do. And watch the magic, the mystery, the magnificence of our God at work.
- OT Jeremiah 31:3
- NT 1 John 4: 7-13