The Allness of Love

This year in honor of Valentine’s Day, which is coming up on Tuesday, I felt inspired to get out the old autograph books I inherited from my great-grandfather Hugo’s early school life. The year was 1888, and Hugo was 12 when his classmates had written—in their best, fancy penmanship—short verses and bits of wisdom in the highly decorated little book. One young man named Randolph wrote,

The purest treasure
Mortal times afford,
Is spotless reputation.

He sounds like an upright fellow, doesn’t he? Another friend named Eugene showed a different side of his personality, with

A young miss smiles and gayly chats,
An old maid scolds as cross as cats.

A classmate by the name of Maryls wrote wisely,

The talent of success is nothing more than doing what you can do well, and doing well whatever you do, without thought of fame.

I don’t think I sounded that wise at 12, did you? And finally, Hugo’s cousin Ida suggested he keep a hopeful outlook, with her verse,

Trip lightly over sorrow
Though all the way be dark
The sun may shine tomorrow
And gayly sing the lark.

These greetings and good wishes were an expression of friendship between these young classmates, and it’s a fair guess to say that young students will do the same this week, although using much different language and trading valentines covered with characters my great-grandfather never foresaw. The way in which we communicate our feeling of connection may be different today, but the need to let people know we care—and to feel cared for ourselves–has been around as long as people have.

St. Valentine’s day, at the start, wasn’t a holiday about love at all. It was a feast day to commemorate Saint Valentine of Rome, who ministered to Christians who were persecuted by the Roman Empire. He was known to perform miracles here and there, reported to bring sight back to a young blind girl once, and one story suggests that while imprisoned, Saint Valentine performed wedding ceremonies for Christian soldiers who were forbidden to marry. So there’s a bit of romance here.

Valentine’s Day became about expressions of love, thanks to the English poet Chaucer in 1382. He wrote an epic poem entitled, Parliament of Fowls, to celebrate the anniversary of the engagement of 15-year-old King Richard II of England and 15-year-old Anne of Bohemia. One of his verses touches on the abundant, riotous joy that results when lovers find each other—so much so that it filled all space:

For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day
When every bird comes there to choose his match
Of every kind that men may think of
And that so huge a noise they began to make
That earth and air and tree and every lake
Was so full, that not easily was there space
For me to stand—so full was all the place.

I wasn’t expecting to find Chaucer a good springboard for our message today, but what’s been inspiring me this week are thoughts about the boundless, endless, limitless nature of the love of God. And Chaucer’s verse here—painting this picture of an environment so full of joyful attraction that there was no space left and the air was literally full of song—truly fits.

Because although our regular modern celebration of Valentine’s Day is about recognizing that “special someone” in our lives, that kind of love is limited in that it focuses on a select number of people who are near and dear to us and leaves everybody else out. As you might expect, people who have lost spouses, who have had a recent breakup, who simply aren’t partnered, or who even who are happily single may not feel much of a connection to Valentine’s Day. It is a sad day for some, an empty day for others, a day not applicable for many. And that’s unfortunate, because real love, God’s love, is no respecter of persons. That kind of love is for everyone always, filling all space and all time. It doesn’t pick out the good from the bad or the near from the far, the known from the unknown. There is no unknown to God. There is no far away in God’s realm. We get up in the morning, we go through our days, and we go to bed at night, and every bit of it happens in God’s perfect, unbounded, and never-ending love.

As Jesus said in Matthew 5:45, “For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” All God’s children—whoever they are, whatever they do—are recipients of God’s love, not because of their behavior or their goodness, but because of God’s goodness and God’s literal inability to be anything but Love to all created life.

Our Old Testament reading today comes from the book of Numbers. God is giving a blessing to Moses that he wants him to pass along to Aaron and his sons as leaders of the community. The blessing is,

May the Lord bless you and keep you;
may the Lord cause His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
may the Lord lift up His countenance toward you
and give you peace.

Isn’t that a lovely blessing? Doesn’t that just about cover it all? How blessed would our lives feel and be if we lived in the sunlight of that blessing each day? And we remember how frustrated Moses was with the children of Israel—over and over again, they broke the commandments and made idols and forgot about God, discounting or not appreciating the great love and care with which God provided for them each day. They were ungrateful. They were uninterested. They seemed incapable of grasping—at least for more than a moment–the ocean of love that surrounded them, provided for their needs, and led them toward a better day. God’s love freed them from Egypt, brought them through the wilderness, fed them and protected them, and still they forgot God. They made golden idols. They grumbled about conditions and even said, “Maybe it would have been better for us to have stayed in Egypt.” How could they so blindly miss the fact that God loved them so much? And yet God continued to bless them and bless them fully—giving them peace and grace and protection, God’s beaming countenance shining on them, like God was proud of them anyway, these arrogant, stiff-necked children God loved so much.

Going back to Chaucer’s image of that great plain filled with joyful song as lovers find each other, we can think of all life that God created—from the smallest microbe to the largest mountain, with insects and animals, birds and plants and humans, weather systems and thought systems and sciences—all of it–as one great cosmic symphony. Our heartbeats and energy pulses, words and thoughts and actions, our joy and hope and love, all part of the rhythm and cadence of God’s song. Every one of us is needed and no one is left out ever. All notes exist in us, as do all possibilities for life and love—that’s the birthright of each child of God. How we arrange those notes through the choices and experiences of our lives, determines whether we are in harmony with God’s song of love in the world or dissonant with it.

We can look back across time and see how the loving nature of God continually inspires people toward a better day. Love teaches us to live with more kindness, more respect for our fellow beings, causing us to want better conditions for everyone, more just governance, tender care for the poor and oppressed. God’s mission across time has been to help us overcome our self-involved natures and open our hearts to the reality of God’s love, always present with us, whether we know it—whether we remember it—or not.

George Fox struggled a bit at first with the idea that God loves everyone perfectly and equally, even those who don’t seem to deserve it and don’t particularly care. In his Journal, he wrote about it, saying,

“I went back into Nottinghamshire, and there the Lord showed me that the natures of those things, which were hurtful without, were within, in the hearts and minds of wicked men . . . the natures of these I saw within, though people had been looking without. I cried to the Lord, saying, ‘Why should I be thus, seeing I was never addicted to commit those evils?’ and the Lord answered, ‘That it was needful I should have a sense of all conditions, how else should I speak to all conditions!’ and in this I saw the infinite love of God.

I saw, also, that there was an ocean of darkness and death; but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness. In that also I saw the infinite love of God, and I had great openings.

Fox, who always had been a serious-minded boy drawn to the ideas of God, was shocked and affronted that God showed him what was in the hearts and minds of people who did selfish and wicked things. He saw how those bad ideas people held tightly in their hearts sooner or later poisoned their outer lives and caused them to hurt and exploit those around them. Fox asked God why he had to see such things, and God’s answer was that he needed to understand it all so his words of truth could help heal it. “In this,” Fox wrote, “I saw the infinite love of God.”

Fox realized that it was God’s intention to save those stiff-necked and wicked folks who were plotting evil things against others. God showed this to Fox purposely so that they might be reachable and their hearts might turn when someone spoke truth to their actions and choices. God wasn’t simply trying to draw God’s good and loving children up on the heavenly lap—God wanted those who lacked understanding, were blind to God’s loving presence, caught in the web of selfish gain, to see the error of their ways and turn back toward God.

Fox looked squarely at the lies and deceit, the darkness and greed of human nature, but more importantly, he saw also the reality of the infinite, all-encompassing, unbounded ocean of light that is the love and life of God. The ocean of darkness is no match for God’s good intent for all God’s children. God’s countenance is shining on us, even now. We are all needed, vital players in this symphony of God’s creating.

Our New Testament reading today is one of my favorite stories because Paul is inspired to introduce the people of Athens to God in a way that gracefully connects with what they already believe in their own religion. He doesn’t tell them they are wrong, or stubborn, or missing the point. He points out the place where their own questions haven’t yet been answered, and he provides the answer by telling them the truth of an all-loving God.

It’s an amazing scene. Paul stands up in this great amphitheater—hundreds if not thousands may have been gathered there—and he begins by complimenting them and telling them he sees that “in every way you are very religious.” He tells them he walked around and surveyed all their statues and idols (which shows he cared enough to study them) and then he tells them he found an altar with the inscription, TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. He says he understands their question about that and now he is going to answer it for them. Paul begins,

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needs anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the natures, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’”

Paul does a simply remarkable thing here. He takes God out of the realm of intellectual discussion and shows God to be not only pure spirit, but purely loving spirit, the source of all we have and do and are. In surprisingly few words, Paul shows the people of Athens that God fills all space and that it is in God—this beautiful meetingroom, right here, in God—it is in God we live and move and have our being.

The other remarkable idea here is that God is not served by human hands, as though God needs anything from us. God is not lacking anything; rather, God is the fullness of perfection itself—all love, all harmony, all peace, all beauty, all life, shining out, to and through and among us all. It makes me think of a bumper sticker I saw long ago: If God seems far away, who moved?

When God seems far off, when joy is hard to find, when we feel disconnected from the allness of God’s love, it is not God who moved. God didn’t forget us. God isn’t displeased with us, waiting for us to see the error of our ways. God is right here where God has always been, within reach, loving us perfectly and patiently, undisturbed by the wrong notes and irregular rhythms of our songs. God knows we’re learning, and trying, and that ultimately we are still—whether we know it or not—made in God’s image, reflecting God’s goodness and beauty, wholly peaceful and loving. Remember how God loved the children of Israel, who rarely deserved it, and how God cared about the wicked folks in George Fox’s time. Not one of us is left out or overlooked, ever. God knows the truth of who we are. We are all God’s Valentines.


  • OT Numbers 6: 24-26
  • NT Acts 17: 22-31

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