141005 – Human-Nature – Love

Creation 4 ~ 1 Kings 19:8–12; Deuteronomy 10:12-21

We’re celebrating the Season of Creation. Deuteronomy 10:14-15 says, “Look around you: Everything you see is God’s – the heavens above and beyond, the Earth, and everything on it. But it was your ancestors that God fell in love with!”

Look around, celebrate the wonder of creation, delight in God and nature, listen to the wisdom of God and the earth, work with God in stewardship of this amazing world we’ve been given, but don’t forget as we focus on all this creation and nature stuff that creation also includes us! Yes God loves the trees and flowers, and lakes and oceans, and birds and animals, and yes God loves us! “It was our ancestors that God fell in love with” and God still loves us from generation to generation.heart-love-speak

God loves you. I know, you’ve heard that a million times. God loves you! But that’s not all. It gets even better, even deeper, even more intimate than that because God not only loves you God is in love with you. God is head over heels, knocked out, over the moon, ga-ga in love with you (and you, and you…).
Sit with that for a minute.
What the heck does it mean to say “God is in love with me”? It probably doesn’t mean that God is going to come knocking at your door with flowers and chocolates.

What it does mean is that this Something More at the centre of the universe that pulsates with loving intentionality toward us for our good and our delight and our harmony and our joy does so longingly, passionately, ardently, and zealously – like a lover.

Richard Rohr says, “the images of an intimate bride and bridegroom (for us and God) are used throughout the Bible. Mutual presence, even intimacy, is clearly the ultimate goal. Bride and bridegroom are together just for the sake of being together! Presence is the naked language of union, of being lost and found in the face of the other, or in Jesus, the very breath of the Other (meaning God).”

Being fully present to God’s Presence is very, very intimate. God’s love for us isn’t some cutesy Hallmark card heart with an arrow through it. Read the Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs) sometime. It is downright steamy stuff! God loves us like a lover loves us. Anybody squirming yet?

Now the big question: how should you respond to this outpouring of divine love for you? What does the Lord require of you?

If you’re a good church-going Christian your brain should be remembering a scripture verse that we sing as a hymn from time to time. What does the Lord require of you? Our usual first response is from Micah 6:8 – to seek justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.  That’s wonderful, but that isn’t the scripture we heard today.

Today we heard Deuteronomy 10:12-13 “What does the Lord require of you? Just this: Live in God’s presence in holy reverence, follow the road God sets out for you, love God, serve God, your God, with everything you have in you.”

Live in God’s presence – which we just said was about intimacy – and love God with everything you have in you! That should send your memory to yet another verse – what Jesus called the greatest commandment: Mark 12:29-30 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”

So, what does the Lord require of you? LOVE!

Deuteronomy 10 is the first commandment – love God (communion) – and Micah 6 is the second commandment – love people (compassion).

We are required to love. Why?

It’s not because God is needy. Please don’t put our puny human insecurities on God. God doesn’t say “Love me” because God’s ego needs a stroke. God says “Love me” because as anyone who has ever been in a healthy loving relationship knows you can’t get to the depth of the love unless both parties are all-in and willing to be fully open and vulnerable with one another. Love that only flows one way isn’t love! We are ‘required’ to love God because God has first loved us!

To so willingly receive someone’s love and not respond in kind is not a relationship, it’s abusive.

To so willingly reap the benefits of someone’s attention and not invest your precious time and energy in them is to use the other.
What kind of loving relationship is it if the only time you pay attention to the other is when you need something or something goes wrong? Isn’t that how we treat God sometimes?

Now, to be fair, we’re not talking about mutual love between human equals here. What does it mean to “love God”? How does one love a Something More that is so infinitely beyond us?

We just heard Elijah’s story about his encounter with the Presence of God. 1 Kings 19:11-12 Elijah is at his wits end after a life and death struggle and he’s told “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn’t to be found in the wind; after the wind an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn’t in the fire; and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper.

What are we to make of this? It’s a reminder that God is awesome and awe-full, and that in the midst of God’s indescribable otherness and transcendence there is also an intimate and immanent ‘right here-ness’ about God. Our relationship with our God is marked by simultaneous awe and intimacy, fear and love, power and gentleness. How does one love a rock splitting, earth-quaking, ear-whispering lover?

My buddy Brother Lawrence has an idea. He says you love God by being fully present – by paying attention – by tuning in. He writes at length about not only practicing being present to God but also having a heart filled with adoration for God as you rest in that Presence. Lawrence says that adoration and love are the way we can draw ourselves back to God’s presence when we get distracted.

He says, “a brief lifting up of the heart is enough. A brief remembrance of God, an act of inner adoration.” “It would be appropriate for beginners to formulate a few words interiorly, such as: ‘My God, I am completely yours,’ or ‘God of love, I love you with all my heart,’ or ‘Lord, fashion me according to your heart,’ or any other words love spontaneously produces.”

Can you hear yourself saying stuff like that to God?

If I asked you to take a quiet moment right now and express your adoration to God/Christ/Spirit/Mystery/Something More what kind of experience would that be? Would you know how to start? Is adoration for God something you regularly think about declaring? We mainline Christians are pretty famous for sitting on our hands and being spiritually stoic. It’s no accident that folks in our tradition have been called the frozen chosen!

I’m not sure that’s how we really feel, it’s just what we’ve learned is socially acceptable in a church setting – which when you take a moment and think about it is a pretty bizarre idea. Imagine being taught not to show any emotion or affection toward a God that we claim has given us so much! Shame on us for not allowing our hearts to burst open in joy!

Have you told God lately “I love you, God”?
Have you told Jesus lately “I love you, Jesus”?

No?

Deuteronomy 10:16 says “Circumcise, then, the foreskin of your heart, and do not be stubborn any longer.” (I bet some of you are squirming now!) I know that language is a bit off-putting. The Message translation says it better.

Here’s the passage in context. We’ve just been told what the Lord requires us to do: love. Here’s why – Deut 10:14-16 “Look around you: Everything you see is God’s – the heavens above and beyond, the Earth, and everything on it. But it was your ancestors that God fell in love with; God picked their children – that’s you! – out of all the other peoples. That’s where we are right now. So cut away the thick calluses from your heart and stop being so willfully hard-headed.”

So cut away the thick calluses from your heart and stop being so willfully hard-headed!

God loves you! Love God back!

Again, how? In what ways can humans express adoration to God/Christ/Spirit?
Well, how about caring for the earth, showing compassion to people and helping them, caring for and supporting one another in our church community, living ethically and justly. In other words, all the stuff from Micah 6 – live justly, love kindness, walk humbly. Those are great ways to love God.

But again what about that pesky first commandment? – the one that says we’re supposed to love God Godself with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength? How do we demonstrate what Deuteronomy says the Lord requires of us? How do we tell God “I love you!”?

We say “I love you, God” when we notice God’s presence.
We say “I love you, God” when we delight in God’s creation.
We say “I love you, God” when we listen to God’s wisdom.
We say “I love you, God” when we drop our guard and open ourselves and allow God’s Spirit to transform us more and more in Christlikeness.
We say “I love you, God” when we express our gratitude for all these endless, astounding gifts.

But I get that we might feel funny about actually, verbally saying “I love you” to God. I get it that it’s hard, or maybe awkward, or at least odd. It almost feels like we’re saying ‘Jesus is my boyfriend.’

And you might think it’s enough to just demonstrate it in all those ways I just mentioned, but I ask you to think about your own life and your own relationships – whether with a partner, or a family member, or a best friend.

Are the demonstrations of love in your life enough?
Are the tender acts of caring and kindness enough?
Don’t you also need to hear the words?
Don’t you also need to gaze into the eyes of the person you love and experience that warm rush of joy and intimacy as you hear them speak the words, I love you?

I melt when my wife says “I love you!”

I feel utterly fulfilled when my kids say “I love you, Dad!”
I feel strong and valued when my closest friends say, “I love you, man!”
And so I strongly, strongly, strongly encourage you to express the love in your heart, to your partner, or family members, or friends, or church friends.

And I implore you to honour God’s commandment to love God, with actions, and with words. Thankfully, God has given us yet another marvellous gift that we can use to express the depth of our hearts to God.

We can do even more than just speak words of love to God – we can sing them! Singing our love to God in worship, in praise, in joyful adoration – this is probably the most beautiful and natural way to share our hearts with the one who first loved us.

What does the Lord require of you? To love as you’ve been loved. I’m going to give you a chance right now to sing your love to God.
You are loved with a love that is beyond imagination and without equal.
You are loved with a love that fills your lungs with air, fills your mind with ideas, fills your spirit with joy and delight, and fills your heart to overflowing with blessing and love.
Look around, every day, every moment, God is saying to you, “I love you!”

How will you respond?

I Love You Lord (see video below)

I love you Lord, and I lift my voice to worship you, O my soul, rejoice!
Take joy my king, in what you hear, may it be a sweet, sweet sound in your ear.

Amen.