Love God, love others, love your community
Some of you have met my husband Phil. Phil and I have been married for 21 years this year, and at our wedding, like many people we had a reading from 1 Corinthians 13 – which is all about love – love is patient, love is kind and so on, I am sure you know it.
But Paul starts this whole section of this well known and often read passage with these lines:
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.1 Corinthians 13: 1-3
That’s quite a statement – if he could understand all mysteries – effectively be on the same level as God – but he says – without love it would mean nothing at all.
Love is an important, no, vital, part of our faith. Without it, our being, our actions, are nothing. So love has to be a central part of our vision – in who we are as Christians individually and corporately here as a church – how do we love?
Mark notes in 12:31 as we heard, Jesus words to the scribe and those listening – that the greatest commandment – here referring to the commandments in Jewish law – is to love God with all our being – all our mind, soul and strength; And to love our neighbour as ourselves – ie love others around us.
These are the greatest things we can do to serve God according to Jesus. Everything else hangs on this:
Love God, Love people.
In our Jeremiah passage we heard God’s word to the exiles. Those who had been exiled from Jerusalem. Living perhaps in fear, in uncertainty, not knowing when they might return ‘home’. And what is God’s word to them? Essentially, it is to make a home where you are. Live in the moment and love the people around you. Don’t hark back to what was before but make the best of now:
Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry, settle down, have a family, and importantly then we read:
seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in itswelfare you will find your welfare.
Or in other translations: seek its prosperity or blessing and the same will come to you.
There is something about the place where God has led us that is important. A place where we can show God’s love.
This part of Burgess Hill is where God has called us to be a worshipping people. To be a people of love in this community. If we love God here in this building we must also love the people of the community around us. Many of us have already planted ourselves here as in our Jeremiah passage – we have homes or families and many of us feel called here. We all have a reason to be here at St Edward’s in this part of Burgess Hill. So what might it mean for us to seek the welfare of this place, to seek blessing for this place as God called the exiles to do?
How can we love God and love our neighbour here in this place as Jesus called his followers to do – the greatest commandment he said.
Well, I think God’s love looks like something, God’s word through Jeremiah was to be part of the community, to commit to it, and in really practical ways. I like to use the phrase let’s put: God’s love into action. Bishop Ruth encouraged us to have big bold dreams – so what might a big bold showing of God’s love look like here?
We’ve talked a bit so far in our vision process about listening – it came up in our evening last week, I talked about how we might hear from God last Sunday too.
And I think listening is so key – we might like to think about about ‘triple listening’ if you like –
1. we need to listen to God
2. to each other,
3. and to our community.
- Listening to God, I’ve talked about a lot – We need to be led by the Spirit into God’s plans for this place. We all have lots of ideas – we saw that on Wed eve with the Bishop but we can’t do everything – in fact she challenged us to think about what we were NOT going to do as well as are going to do. We need to discern together through all these ideas the what and the how and the when.
- But we also need to listen to each other. What is important to us as individuals? What are the things that help us engage with God and develop our own faith? Or if you have kids – how are they engaging? Because if we are fulfilled and growing in our faith we will be shining lights to others, we will be putting God’s love in action probably without even realising it! But if we are struggling to worship or to meet God then that’s a lot harder. And what is important to one of us will be different for another so we need to do this in community, share together. And really listen to one another without agenda or defensiveness, but simply seeking to understand.
- And finally listening to our community – a really good way to show love to those around us is to meet people at their point of need. We need to listen to our community – ask the questions – what are the local needs?
At a local school they talked of the families on lower incomes, really struggling to live – how could we show them God’s love in our actions?
Local business owners talked to me about the young people having nowhere to go – how could we show the young people of our parish God’s love?
A local councillor talked to me of those struggling with loneliness, particularly for so many having spent 2 years having to be away from one another a lot, having to bear tough things alone – how can we support the lonely?
Let’s be asking those we meet in conversation – hey our church is thinking about how we can best serve the community – what do YOU think the needs are around here?
And these three areas we need to hold in tension together. God didn’t tell the exiles to form some grand plan it was actually really simple – be part of the community where you are. Jesus didn’t reel off the commandments or a list of instructions – he said simply love God and love people.
And as Paul reminded people – without love our actions mean nothing.
So lets be people who seek the welfare opf the community around us, who love God and who love people.