There are lots of songs on the radio, but there is one topic which is sung about more than any other, and that is love.
Of the many songs written about love, one of the best known and most popular is The Beatles, ‘All Your Need is Love’, written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney and released in the UK on 7th July 1967. It’s got a really great catchy tune, and very simple lyrics, which get right to the point ‘All you need is love.’
If there was one word to sum up the Christian faith and what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, it is love. Love for God, and also love for one another.
The theme of our readings this morning can also be summed up by the word love. This morning I want to focus particularly on our reading from Deuteronomy because it reveals what God expects and desires from his people, and so I have three headings for today’s talk, Love’s Initiative, Love’s Priority and Love’s Obligation.
On May 2, 1962, a dramatic advertisement appeared in the San Francisco Examiner: "I don't want my husband to die in the gas chamber for a crime he did not commit. I will therefore offer my services for 10 years as a cook, maid, or housekeeper to any leading attorney who will defend him and bring about his vindication."
One of San Francisco's attorneys, Vincent Hallinan, heard about the ad and contacted Gladys Kidd, who had placed it. Her husband, Robert Lee Kidd, was about to be tried for the murder of an elderly antique dealer. Kidd's fingerprints had been found on a bloodstained ornate sword in the victim's shop. During the trial, Hallinan proved that the antique dealer had not been killed by the sword, and that Kidd's fingerprints and blood on the sword got there because Kidd had once toyed with it while playfully dueling with a friend when they were both out shopping. The jury, after 11 hours, found Kidd to be not guilty. Attorney Hallinan refused Gladys Kidd's offer of 10 years' servitude.
When it comes to love, God is the one who always takes the initiative, that is the overriding message of the Bible.
In Deteuronomy we read ‘To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations.’ Deut 10:14-15) God the creator, sustainer and ruler of the entire universe, chose one very small nation, Israel, to be the instrument of his special purposes in the world. He chose Israel, and established a special covenant relationship with them, which was based on HIS commitment to love them. The initiative was with God and it still is. The apostle John emphasised the same point when he wrote ‘This is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.’ (1 John 4:10)
Brother Roger, the founder of the Taize Community in France said “God’s love never imposes itself. It has to be discovered and welcomed.”
Love is the greatest thing that God can give us, and in return our love is the greatest thing we can give to God, and that is what God desires of us. But it is not just about loving God in word only, but like God, demonstrating that love in practical deeds.
‘And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?’ (Deut 10:12-13)
We see here what God desires from us his people.
Firstly we are to fear God. To fear the Lord, is one of those strange expressions that is found throughout the Bible, but what does it actually mean? If you were to ask people what they are fearful of, they might say they fear illness, unemployment, loneliness, rejection, war, death, and so forth. But that is not what is meant by fearing God.
To ‘fear’ God or be ‘God fearing’ is an image often used to describe a follower of God. To fear God is to give reverential worship to God, to be obedient to him, to acknowledge and recognise the power, might and majesty of our God.
In the book of proverbs we read that "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge" (Prov 1:7). Our fear of God is the starting point of our knowledge and relationship with God, as we truly recognize who God is, our Creator, Saviour and Provider.
WALK IN HIS WAYS
Next we are called to walk in obedience to God. To walk in obedience to God, is to live a holy life, and we do that by following the example of Jesus. The Apostle John expressed it this way, “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” (1 John 2:6)
To live as Jesus did, is to be walk in love, compassion, obedience and in truth. This is the heart of discipleship. The question is how many of us actually do this? Imagine what a difference we could make if each one of us truly determined to walk as Jesus did every single day. Imagine the impact we could have if in our decisions about daily life, we asked ourselves "What would Jesus do in this situation" and then act on that?
As well as walking in his ways, we are called to love God. Love should be the ultimate motive behind all we do, it should be our guiding principle and attitude.
There is a story told about a shabbily dressed boy who trudged several miles through the snowy streets of Chicago, determined to attend a Bible class that was conducted by Dwight Moody, a preacher and evangelist. When he arrived, he was asked, "Why did you come to a Sunday school so far away? Why didn't you go to one of the churches near your home?" He answered simply, "Because you love people here."
In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote, "Do not waste your time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbour act as if you did. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”
Imagine what a difference we could make if the world believed that we truly love them. Imagine the transformation we could see in the church if love was at the heart of everything we do.
Out of our love for God, should flow a desire to want to serve God, and to serve his people. ‘What does the Lord your God ask of you but… to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul’
For God’s people, serving God is not an option, it’s a requirement. However there was a quote in the Sunday Express which said ‘Most people wish to serve God -- but in an advisory capacity only.’
But love’s obligation is that because God has loves us, we are called to love others. In Micah 6 verse 8 it says “what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Jesus summed this up when he said we are to love our neighbour as ourselves. To serve others is to serve God.
We are called to practical service, and practical love. In our Gospel reading taken from the parable of the sheep and goats, Jesus commends those who give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, and who welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, look after the sick, and visit the prisoner. Jesus says that whenever we do this, we are serving God. “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Mt 25:40). It is this sort of practical love which is the real mark of Christian discipleship.
Notice that this call to care for others is not restricted to one or two specialists. It is something we are all called to, and something that can start here in our own church family. So that each one of us takes on the responsibility of supporting one another, noticing when people are in need, and doing something practical to help them. But it can’t just be restricted to those in church, this is something that needs to reach out to our friends and neighbours, and to our work colleagues, and to the strangers we meet on the street, or in the shop or on the bus. It’s about having a heart of compassion for those around us.
I began by talking about ‘All we need is love’, and that is the heart of true religion, and true discipleship.
I want to finish by telling you a true story about a young girl called Vicky. Vicky was 17, unemployed, living with her mum and her mum’s latest boyfriend who regularly abused her. She turned to alcohol to try and dull the pain.
Eventually she had enough, and packed her belongings and ran away, to live on the streets of Walsall. She ended up sleeping rough in the Arboretum. On one cold Saturday morning, she met some other rough sleepers, who told her they were going to the Big Feed, which a number of churches help run in the centre of Walsall once a month. The offer of free food caught her attention.
When she arrived at the Big Feed, she was overwhelmed. It was warm and cosy, and the volunteers seemed so cheerful and helpful. She was given a drink and offered hot food, all for free. After she’d eaten she was offered a shower and change of clothes, and a volunteer came and talked to her, and gave her advice about the problems she was facing.
On leaving at the end of the afternoon, Vicky was given a food parcel, with provisions for a couple of days and a hygiene pack. She was overwhelmed with emotion and asked “Why are you people doing this?” To which came the reply “Because we love you.”
Love and practical service should be at the very heart of all we do as Christians.
All we need is love.