Deuteronomy 10.12-22, 1John 4.7-21, St Matthew 12.28-34a
In the name of the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of the World
When you think of the world, what do you think?
When you hear that the ice in the artic is melting that will raise sea levels and flood low levels of the country who do you think about?
When you hear global warming will lead to a draught who do you think of?
When you hear there may be bird flu coming to this country who do you think of?
When you pass a homeless person on the street who might look threatening, who do you think of?
If we are going to be very honest – we always think about me.
That when we look at the world – we see it through our eyes – or rather through our I’s (point)
The greatest challenge for us as human beings is about getting beyond our own selfishness, our own self-preoccupation, our projection of our needs onto everything.
The greatest threat to the world, is us and our selfishness
The greatest threat to the Kingdom of God, is our I-I blindness
To truly be able to reflect God to the World, we need to get beyond ourselves.
So how do we do this?
Well there is something about the God-human relationship – or what is sometimes called the I-thou relationship, between us and God.
Getting beyond our own I-ness has something to do with the love of God and us loving God.
This I-ness problem is not new.
As the Hebrews became a people group, originally quite a marginalised cohort of people. God established a primary relationship by covenant with the Hebrews and after the exodus from Egypt, to be God’s people, and to reflect what that means to all the people in the world.
They were given the Great Shemah prayer, the centre of the faith, to Hear O Israel, that the Lord your God is one. And that this God-human relationship was to be mediated through love.
To love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your strength and all your mind.
That this love of God would enable Israel to be God’s representatives to all peoples, to be God’s priests to the world. To represent God’s love mission to the world, through radical inclusion, compassion and care for everything as good stewards.
The discipline of loving God, and allowing God to love you is key. The expectation of a mediated sense of experiencing the love of God is what David sings about in the Psalms.
It is this combination of self-disciplined loving God through a pattern of spirituality and values, plus the experience of love mediated through attentiveness to God’s involvement in the world and to them, that enabled the Hebrews to get beyond their I-blindness and their I-ness.
Although this was the optimistic intention – it is clear that the nation of Israel could not sustain this way of love to overcome their I-ness
Quickly other people who were not Jews – were unclean and gentile – to be avoided. So the nation squandered God’s love for them to gain land and power by seeing themselves as superior to the world, rather than as servants to the World.
So rather than the love God enabling Israel to reflect the love of God to the world, Love became a set of rituals about excluding rather than radical love.
So Israel projected greed, injustice and exclusion on the world, and God became angry.
So in a second covenant, the God of Love mediated a new expression of love in the incarnation of God in Jesus, and a new understanding.
Hear O Israel the Lord is One; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul and with all your mind and all your strength. The second is that you shall love your neighbour as yourself. There is no other commandment great than this.
Again the discipline of loving God, and allowing God to love you is key. The expectation of a mediated sense of experiencing the love of God is what enables us to love our neighbour beyond our I-ness, that by loving our neighbour in this way we are called to love humanity and the world.
In so doing we reflect the love of God to the world.
So the church – as the new Israel, the new Kingdom of God, is called to this radical love of reflecting God to the world,
To love the world for its own sake rather than for our own projected needs.
1 John puts this far more eloquently than I can:
'Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God.'
So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.
Love has been perfected among us because as he is, so we are in this world.
We love because he first loved us.
So what does this mean for us living in the complexity of the 21st century?
There are 3 main points of application I want to focus on.
Firstly, the most common reaction to this radical call to love, is that it is impossible to get beyond our own I’ness, and that living this way is practically impossible given the complexity of today, and that many of us do not feel we experience the love of God.
May be I am an idealist, but I am inspired by Saint Teressa of Avila, and Martin Luther King who I believe show us that this can be mediated. Yes it is hard work, but it is possible. They are both examples of what is possible if you balance mediating love to the world with a healthy and disciplined spiritual life
We will look at St Teresa of Avila at the Lent course on Wednesday, so I will not say anymore about her now.
But let’s look at Martin Luther King’s example. OK – he was no saint particularly in the Lady’s department, but where did his passion, and love for the world come from? How did he reflect so politically a love to the world?Well King spent between 2 and 4 hours a day in prayer, contemplation and intercession. These were deeply intimate times of struggle and embrace, of the giving and receiving of love mediated through prayer, that enabled him to reflect God to the whole world as he sought justice. So King, who struggled with his own I’ness, could get beyond it because he loved the world through his experience of the love of God. That the love of God through prayer enabled him to transcend his selfishness to truly love.
So I believe, we can following the example of Martin Luther King and Teresa of Avila.
Secondly, in reflecting the love of God – we so need to watch ourselves, our intentions or what is called our shadow-selves. I could say easily be here today as a postmodern kid because I have a need to be needed. That I as a priest, could get by with no prayer, no intimacy with God on the back of all the positives I get – the nice things people say, sitting on the nice chairs which speak of privilege and the garb that speak of power and mystery. If I do not turn to God, and have a pattern of enriching spirituality, then my ministry is but a projection of my needs, my needs to be loved and needed, rather than the love of God. If I were doing that, then I could never reflect the love of God to the world, I would be a hollow gong. A blunt instrument.
So you also, need to ensure that it is God that we love, and not the projection of ourselves.
If we really do love God, then God is in us, and then where ever we go, who ever we interact with, then people will encounter God, as God seeks to reconcile all things back into relationship with the divine, through us, through our dreams and our restorative actions. God is then reflected to the World and not in our world.
Then we can express God’s love to the marginalised, the environment, in fact everything and everbody.
But only if we love the Lord our God with all of our heart, mind and strength.
Hear O World, that the Lord is One.
In the name of the Creator, Redeemer and sustainer of the World.
© Gareth Powell