In Love with God
Mark 10:13-16; Colossians 3.12-15
October 4, 2009
The third of the three simple rules is stay in love with God. The greatest commandment according to Jesus is to love God. All the law and prophets depend on this first and greatest commandment. So what does it mean to be in love with God?
We each have our own experience to go on of course and we know what that feels like though we might not be able to say how, in so many words, we love God. I will leave that part of it to each of you to wrestle with. We do have some help from the scriptures in understanding more generally what it looks like to love God.
It is written in 1 John that we cannot love God and hate someone. When we love God, hatred is gone from us. This is not, presumably, because we somehow just banish hate from ourselves but because loving God fills us so that there is literally no room for hate in us. It is not as if we chose not to hate anymore but that we no longer are able to hate another. I am guessing that this sounds a little impossible to most of us. Not able to hate? What would that be like? Is this one of those impossible things that Alice couldn't possibly believe?
You remember when Alice argued with the Queen of Hearts, I believe it was, about believing impossible things and how she couldn't do it and the Queen said that indeed you could do it, in fact she practiced believing impossible things every morning and sometimes believed as many as 5 impossible things before lunch! Or something like that.
This, believe it or not, is relevant to us this morning because according to Bishop Job who wrote the book about the three simple rules, staying in love with God requires practice. Bishop Job begins his discussion of this rule with an emphasis on the staying rather than the love. That is to say that we stay in love with God by being intentionally in God's presence, by being in relationship with God. It is about the relationship. If we believe, as the Bible tells us, that God is love, it stands to reason that being in God's presence is to be in the presence of love and that the love in God's presence is a given. In God there is only light (I John 1.5) and love. The point of the third rule is to remain in the presence of God and to do this practice requires the practice of certain disciplines that remind us of our task but also which help us to keep from becoming distracted. This is how the Bishop puts it:
"We must name our spiritual disciplines differently, but we too must find our way of living and practicing those disciplines that will keep us in love with God—practices that will keep us positioned in such a way that e may hear and be responsive to God's slightest whisper of direction and receive God's promised presence and power every day and in every situation. It is in these practices that we learn to hear and respond to God's direction. It is in these practices that we learn to trust God as revealed in Jesus Christ. It is in these practices that we learn of God's love for us. It is where our love for God is nurtured and sustained. Incorporating theses practices in our way of living will keep us in love with God and assure us of God's love for us in this world and the world to come. This simple rule will be constructed differently for each of us because each of us is unique. But there are some common essentials for all of us, such as a daily time of prayer; reflection upon and study of Scripture; regular participation in the life of a Christian community including weekly worship and regular participation in the Lord's Supper; doing some acts of goodness or mercy; and taking opportunities to share with and learn from others who also seek to follow the way of Jesus. It is through these practices that we find the courage, strength, and direction to walk faithfully and with integrity in the way of Jesus." (Three Simple Rules, pg 55-56)
I suppose it is obvious but the way of Jesus is also the way to stay in love with God at least in our context as Christians. Jesus is the one you may recall who took this love to yet another level when he said: "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends." (John 15.13)
Now if the Bishop's description of what it takes to stay in love with God sounds a bit, well, 'disciplined', there is another way to look at this. As a grandfather I am truly blessed. I have three granddaughters now and they are all still pretty little so my perception is guided by my own experience but my experience has been so far that my granddaughters love me for no other reason than the fact that I am Bapa.
In the reading for today you may recall that Jesus said no one would enter the kingdom unless thy became like a little child and I can't help but think that this business of loving God is not unlike how a little girl loves her Bapa. She knows I love her before she even knows what her name is or can speak a word of love. She knows without knowing. And her love is natural and unrestrained by doubt or fear or disappointment. (They are still little children, remember.)
And here is what is interesting about our journey. At one point we were all little children who loved unconditionally and innocently with all of our hearts without even knowing it. At some point we grew up and left our childish ways and became responsible adults which we must do. But now we are asked to become as children again, to relearn dependence and trust and unconditional love. How is that possible?
All great religions have developed the idea that the spiritual journey begins in innocence, passes through knowledge, and returns by faith to see where we began for the first time. Buechner, on the subject of love put it this way: "The first stage is to believe that there is only one kind of love. The middle stage is to believe that there are many kinds of love and that the Greeks had a different word for each of them. The last stage is to believe that there is only one kind of love.
There is integrity in loving God for when we love God we love all that God has made, we love each other, our world, and even ourselves. We can't help it, this is what love does. We understand that there is one love that embraces all that is, one love that endures all things. It is the love that was here before the beginning and will be here after everything else is gone. We come from love and we return to love and this journey we are all on is the one that moves from knowing without knowing to knowing again for the first time what we have always known.
How do we get there? I think the secret is in the disciplines, in the intentionality of our seeking, in the practice. In the practice of finding our way, we find our way. As a child we loved without knowing and now as those no longer childish, but children still, we seek to love knowing full well all the ways we have failed and fail to love and we cannot do this alone or without help and so we gather in community to worship, to reflect, to serve, to practice loving God until that day we see that it is God that we love, that we are, in fact, in love with God and that the greatest mystery of all has been revealed: We love God because God first loved us. (I John 4.19)
This is what we celebrate is it not in this holy meal? We come with grateful hearts in love because this meal reveals the love of God for us. In the words of the letter to the Colossians: "As those chosen by God, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with one another, forgive one another . . . (Colossians3.12-13) And so, as we practice love, it is love we become. When we abide (when we live there) in God's love we stay in love with God.
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