“Love is…”

Address for 17 May 2020

Readings: Acts 17: 22 – 31   John 14: 15 – 21

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
“Those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them, and will reveal myself to them.”

Jesus’ words take us back before Easter again – as he prepares his friends for his death, and for the time when he will no longer be with them, in the literal, physical sense.
They don’t yet know how Jesus will die, let alone the nature of his rising again and his ascension into Heaven, but, in this farewell speech, he assures them that God’s Spirit will be with them and in them, that they will in fact see Jesus again, and will live because he lives; and that they will be loved by God, his Father and theirs.
And the key to all of this assurance is love – if they love him then they will keep his commandments.

Jesus himself boiled down his teaching to two principal commandments – “Love God; and love your neighbour as yourself.”
Beautifully succinct and, I think, rather ingenious in the way it neatly sneaks in a third commandment along the way: “love your neighbour as yourself” implies also that you must “love yourself”!
In recent weeks, many of us have had more time to ourselves than usual – time in which to become painfully aware of our own personal foibles, flaws and fears – all of which may tend towards self-loathing, rather than to loving ourselves.
And yet, if we can grasp it, our changed mode of living gives an opportunity for a little “self-improvement”. Whether by learning new skills, or by deliberately trying to learn more about God and our neighbours – we can begin to appreciate more fully the life that we all share and to love more genuinely.
It’s perhaps easier to think about loving our neighbour than it is about loving God – more easily understood in practical terms.
And certainly the response, among our neighbours, to the current lockdown has been quite phenomenal: the most recent figures I’ve seen for the official Wilton Covid 19 response team cited 113 volunteers; 1220 calls answered; 333 prescriptions collected and 274 shopping needs undertaken. And that’s 2 weeks out of date – so even more by now!
That speaks to me of a vibrant community – willing and ready to work together for the good of all of us, and especially the most vulnerable.
That speaks to me of “love in action” – even if some of those 113 volunteers might well blush at that description!
It’s perhaps the individual acts of kindness that have spoken most directly to us, in recent weeks – the concerned phone call, the extra bit of shopping for a neighbour, the friendly greeting from a neighbour we don’t normally see; and, at least in one case I know of, the bag of flour for someone craving a bit of therapeutic baking!
For me personally there was the novel experience of celebrating a birthday in lockdown – which provided my family with the extra challenge of finding suitable presents that were a) still available to buy and b) had even a remote chance of arriving in time. In the event, they did rather well – perfectly gauging my current cravings .. for music, food, coffee and fitness! And there is love – demonstrated in the thought and the sourcing of those things.
And yet it was another gift which actually brought tears to my eyes – a simple packet of biscuits, left on my doorstep, by two of our younger servers.
Here again, I realised that some people know me rather better than I think – I do have quite a craving for most kinds of biscuits. I think what really moved mem though, was that their gift was totally unexpected. It was a surprise in the best sense.

And I want to suggest that it’s in those unexpected acts of kindness that we might glimpse something of God’s love for us.
As we recognise that we are not after all, separate beings, motivated purely by greed or self-preservation, we begin to find meaning beyond ourselves and our immediate surroundings.
At some stage I hope that I’ll be able to hear some of your stories of lockdown – the people that have touched your life and surprised you with kindness, the times that you have glimpsed God’s love in all this – and soon perhaps we can compare notes and see what we make of it all!
Christ reveals himself to us, then, in the “goodness” that lies behind the actions of our neighbours – reminding us that we are never truly alone, reminding us that we are loved.
And how are we to love God? What can we do to signal our gratitude?
Most simply we can just talk to God – however strange that may feel at times, we need to at least try to express, to God, our thoughts and our shifting emptions.
Polls this week suggested that, over the past few weeks, around 45% of the population have turned to prayer – of one kind or another – as we seek solace and some kind of meaning.
And the response to the Daily Prayer on our Community Facebook Page, Wilton Chat, seems to confirm that we ARE indeed talking to God more frequently just now.
In making the time to do that, we offer to God a simple gesture of love; and we open ourselves to receiving the love which Christ promised to reveal to his friends.
Can we then, both by celebrating the many acts of kindness to us, and around us, and by praying often and without restraint, begin to know ourselves better; to know our neighbours better, and to know God, who knows us better than anyone?
May Christ enable us to find our place within that eternal cycle of love – loving God because he loved us first; loving ourselves because God loves us, and loving our neighbours because we feel God’s love welling up inside us, and we just can’t keep it to ourselves.. Amen.