Windsor Community United Methodist Church
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Mike Turgeon Summer of prayer: “Love” July 31, 2011
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.‘
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-39
A Summer of prayer: Love
Newspaper columnist and minister George Crane tells of a wife who came into his office full of hatred toward her husband. "I do not only want to get rid of him, I want to get even. Before I divorce him, I want to hurt him as much as he has hurt me."
Dr. Crane suggested an ingenious plan. "Go home and act as if you really love your husband. Tell him how much he means to you. Praise him for every decent trait. Go out of your way to be as kind, considerate, and generous as possible. Spare no efforts to please him, to enjoy him. Make him believe you love him. After you've convinced him of your undying love and that you cannot live without him, then drop the bomb. Tell him that you're getting a divorce. That will really hurt him."
With revenge in her eyes, she smiled and exclaimed, "Beautiful, beautiful. Will he ever be surprised!"
And she did it with enthusiasm. Acting "as if." For two months she showed love, kindness, listening, giving, reinforcing, sharing. When she didn't return, Crane called the woman. "Are you ready now to go through with the divorce?"
"Divorce?" she exclaimed. "Never! I discovered I really do love him."
Dr. Crane summed the case up this way in his newspaper column: Her actions had changed her feelings. Motion resulted in emotion that was not just skin deep. The ability to love is established not so much by fervent promise as by often repeated deeds.
You can establish the ability to love by acting in the best interest of others.
This story of the hateful wife illustrates perfectly why love is so complex. Serious understatement, no? The Greeks found it necessary to break love down even further.
eros = love of a sexual nature
philia = friendship
agape = wide open
It is this third definition of which Paul speaks in our passage. Love that is wide open, unconditional, and never to be taken from us even under the worst of circumstances. Certainly your hardship and my distress is going to look a lot different than the forlorn Israelite who was under the threat of death and being ‘accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’
But under the rule of Christ, as we are, this pure love, agape love flows through us.
The Gospel writer, John, brought it to us this way.
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.' John 3:16
Now how do we act out that love?
This is our only task, to act ‘as if’ we are never separated from Christ’s love. How are we going to pull that off? Well, the very first step is to recognize that love is an act.
At one time, I thought love was an emotion. I learned differently in a quite unexpected way. I learned about love’s true nature during a step-parenting class of all places. Thirty years ago, my wife and I attended something called S.T.E.P--Systematic Training for Effective Parenting.
When I met Chris she had this 4 year-old little boy and a 2 1/2 year old little girl. I’ll be honest, I really never noticed them in that whole first year we were dating. That’s the thing about the beginning of a relationship, it has a way of focusing you.
They say the infatuation part of love lasts about 9 months to a year. They even have a name for it--the Pink Cloud. You’re in a fog, your mind is obsessed with the object of your affection.
Then reality starts to seep in, you are eventually brought back down to earth. Then one day you can’t understand why the tooth paste tube has been squeezed from the top, why the toilet paper now comes off the roll the wrong way. Then there’s this stranger in your kitchen asking for poached eggs instead of oatmeal. Where was I?
So after about a year, when I began to notice that these two little ones were part of the package, I started to get nervous. I was ready for love, but I wasn’t so sure about parenting. So, off to step-parent class we went. There was a comment made during that class that I remember to this day; it was this: Love is not an emotion, it is an act of will.
I can’t remember the lesson, the context, or even whether the teacher was using this as her main point. It just sounded so counter-intuitive. I always thought that love was that warm and squishy feeling you got inside your tummy every time you thought about that special person. It’s not. That is infatuation. That feeling comes and goes.
Love, true love, the kind of love upon which marriages, families and entire faiths are formed, goes much deeper than mere emotion; love that makes a difference is not a casual transaction. Love that is capable of changing the world, one person at a time, requires every part of us, our mind, our heart, and our will.
The deeper we go into our series on prayer this summer, the closer we get to this absolute love that is the fulcrum of our faith--Gospel love. Gospel love because Gospel means ‘good news,‘ the best news, that Christ gave up himself willingly in the most self-sacrificing act of all.
And when we pray, we open ourselves wide to this love from which we can never be separated. It is prayer that opens the channel to allow God’s love to flow through us and out into this world. When we pray, we are vessels of this pure love. The Christian faith does not cut us off from the world but immerses us in it.
He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’
He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’ Matthew 13:31-33
Do you believe there is a call for what we have to offer as followers of Jesus? Is there a need for planting the seeds of the kingdom of heaven on earth? Is a world awash in violence, intolerance and hatred able to receive the mustard seed of hope that lies in our acts of love?
If we cannot say ‘yes’ to that question, that what the world needs now is the love of Christ, acted out by me and you, in the most humble way, then what are we? A club? A random gathering of individuals that likes to feel good about ourselves a couple of times a month?
Submitting ourselves to prayer, staying awake and open to God’s presence daily, hourly, by the minute, will determine how potent we are as the yeast of Christ here on earth.
The yeast of love
But preacher, what about the hate? What causes a journey from the altar to the divorce court? If we cannot be separated from God’s love, are we also not able to extricate ourselves from those destructive forces as well?
The answer is that life is a morality play composed of countless decisive acts. And much as we’d like to believe we can do many things at once, we can’t. We are capable of one action at a time. Our most powerful decisions are always the ones that lead us to love.
Just as the woman acted ‘as if’ she loved her husband, she previously had acted ‘as if’ she hated him. She had opened herself to the dark forces of human will.
And this is why a prayer life is so vital to our well being and the increase of God’s kingdom on earth. In prayer, we open ourselves to the force of light known as Gospel love.
That’s the thing about life, you are never in neutral. We like to say, I’m just coasting, but that is never true. We move forward toward the light or we move backward toward the darkness, but we never stand still.
The inner purpose of prayer is to remain awake, open and alert to God’s presence in our lives. Staying attuned to God’s presence directs us to deeper intimacy with God. The closer we stay to God, the better our decisions. The more our hearts stay on God, the less we need to act ‘as if’ we are loving.
In prayer, we stay in unhurried communion with God, the better able to act lovingly when called upon. Unhurried! Who would even professes to be unhurried anymore? The world laughs at those who would not be busy beyond their means. It is the world’s way of keeping us off kilter, all the better to sell us stuff.
The central significance of prayer is not in the things that happen as results, but in the deep intimacy and attachment we gain with Christ.
Acting in agape ways, wide open ways, self-sacrificing ways will indeed invite the world’s most intimidating scorn and ridicule, Jesus bore the brunt of that on his own cross. He now asks us to take up ours and follow him daily. Don’t do it without a prayer on your lips and in your heart.
And above all, believe this:
“neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”