Love – Sunday Before Lent

Image by Ylanite Koppens from Pixabay

Opening Prayer

God of love
who asks no sacrifice
of animal or outcast:
turn our heart and mind
to love all creatures
and you, the source of life,
that we might find our strength
in the kingdom’s open feast;
through Jesus Christ, the high priest of heaven.
Amen.

From Prayers for an Inclusive Church by Stephen Shakespeare

Readings

1 Corinthians 13: 4-7,13 (NLT)

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance…13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

Mark 12:28-34 (NLT)

28 One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

29 Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. 30 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’[a] 31 The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] No other commandment is greater than these.”

32 The teacher of religious law replied, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other. 33 And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.”

34 Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And after that, no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Sermon by Colin Udall

A Facebook friend of mine is the orthodox Jewish writer, producer and comedian Ashley Blaker.  I have never actually met him, though, as it turns out we have a couple of acquaintances in common.  You may have heard him on the radio as he does an occasional series on Radio 4 about Jewish laws.  He jokes that it is a job for life because the Jews say there are 611 laws given to them directly from God. However, by the time you get to the New Testament times of Jesus you will find it depends on how they determine the number. Some believe there are 611 in Hebrew Scriptures and 1,050 laws in the Greek Scriptures. But some have said there were over 3,000 if you count all of them in both testaments.

But that is for the Jews.  For us, along came Jesus.

As we have just heard, Jesus was in discussion with some that were trying to entrap him. During this discussion a lawyer spoke up and asked Jesus a question.

 “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”

The teacher of religious law replied, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other and I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbour as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.”

Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And after that, no one dared to ask him any more questions.

If we read any of the Gospels, we can see that as Jesus teaches, there is change going on amongst his followers.  People are coming from near and far to hear him speak and watch the miracles he performs.  We read of those who are sick yet believe in him so much that they only have to touch his cloak to be healed. One of the changes that we see is that Jesus challenges the Law a number of times and asks people to think about love and forgiveness, rather than punishment.  He points out that none of us are blameless; we have all done something wrong.  Look at the story of the woman caught in adultery, they are all there challenging Jesus to carry out the law and stone this woman to death.  “OK”, he says, “let the one of you who has never sinned cast the first stone.”  And of course, they all drift away.

A story is told about Fiorello LaGuardia, who was mayor of New York City during the 1930’s and 40’s. He was known to take entire orphanages to baseball games, and whenever the New York newspapers were on strike, he would go on the radio and read the Sunday funnies to the kids. 

One bitterly cold night in January of 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court that served the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself. Within a few minutes, a tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told LaGuardia that her daughter’s husband had deserted her, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop the charges. “It’s a real bad neighbourhood, your Honour.” the shopkeeper told the mayor. “She’s got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson.” LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said “I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions–ten dollars or ten days in jail.” 

The Mayor then reached into his pocket, took out a $10 bill and said, “Here is the ten dollar fine which I now pay; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat.” And he told the Bailiff to collect the fines and give them to the grandmother.  The following day the New York City newspapers reported that $47.50 (about $700 in today’s terms) was given to a bewildered old lady who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren, fifty cents of that amount being contributed by the red-faced grocery store owner, while some seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York City policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation.

1 Corinthians 13:13 tells us “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

In a similar vein to the previous story, there is a Facebook video page called “Caught in Providence”.  It shows the court cases of Judge Frank Caprio in Providence, Rhode Island.  It’s mostly traffic violations.  However, in the ways of LaGuardia, people who have watched the videos send in cash or cheques to pay other people’s fines, either because they were given a break somewhere, or they just do it out of love for someone, unknown to them, but could do with a bit of slack themselves.  Paying it Forward if you like.  Caprio certainly seems to feel that the letter of the Law can only go so far.  The Love of one human being shown to another, even by a complete stranger, can go so much farther.

In the first letter to the church in Corinth we hear Paul’s great definition of what God’s love is and therefore what human love can be.

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.  If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

St. Valentine’s Day is a day for showing and telling people closest to you how much you love them.  As Christians, however, we are called upon to share God’s love with as many people as possible.  In these times of isolation, sickness and sometimes loneliness, as well as continuing hardship or new hardship through loss of a job, let us share God’s love in as many ways as possible with complete strangers.

Amen

Prayers

Lord on this St Valentine’s Day we come before you with our prayers and rejoice in the wonder and power of your never ending love for us, and our love for you, and we now read from St Paul’s letter  to the Corinthians.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Lord, because love is patient
Help us to be slow to judge others, but always quick to listen.
Make us hesitant to criticize, but always eager to encourage, remembering your endless patience with us.

Because love is kind…
Help our words to be gentle on those we meet  and our actions to be thoughtful.   Remind us to smile and to show courtesy to friends, to strangers to  say “Please” and “Thank You” because those little things often mean so much.

Because love does not envy or boast, and it is not proud…
Help us to have heart’s which are humble and which always look for the good in others.  May we celebrate and appreciate all that we have, and all that we are, and be ready to share what we have with those around us.

Because love is not rude or self-seeking…
Help us to speak words that are easy on the ear and on the heart. When we are tempted to get wrapped up in our own little world, help us to remember the vastness of the world around us with still so many needs, hurts and conflicts.

Because love is not easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs…
Help us to forgive others as you forgive us.  When we hold onto a grudge, gently help us to release it so that we can reach out instead with a hand of love and friendship.

Because love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth…
Help us to stand up for what is right and good. May we defend the defenseless, and help the helpless. Show us all how we can make a real difference to the lives of others, however small or insignificant this may sometimes seem.

Because love always protects and always trusts…
Help us to be strong and a refuge for those around us . When the world outside is harsh and cold, may our hearts always be open, a place of acceptance and warmth. May we always strive to help those who are sick, lost lonely or in despair.

Finally, because love always hopes always perseveres…
Help us to see each new day as an opportunity to give ourselves to your service. Help our hearts to always beat with love for you and others. Lord we thank you for this day when we celebrate love in all its glory and for showing us the true meaning of the word which is your will for us.

Amen

adapted from prayers written by Ian Farthing at http://www.thisischurch.com/prayer_worship/intercession/valentinesundayprayers2010.html

Closing Worship

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