Are you easy to love?
Sunday 10 December
Sermon Advent 2 Matins
Are you easy to love? Sounds strange to ask I know but it is and important and interesting question. I suspect that most of us are much more difficult to love than we would like to admit! Too many of us think that being loved is just about feeling valued, accepted and safe. There is no doubt that being loved does involve these feelings and we can rejoice in that. The problem comes because love, real love, can also be challenging and sometimes deeply disturbing – many of us only allow ourselves to be loved in ways that make us feel good about ourselves, we resist being loved in ways that might challenge and change us.
Let me explain, there is a very disturbing song by the musician Jack White called ‘Love Interruption’. The chorus contains this line, ‘I won't let love disrupt, corrupt or interrupt me’, he is saying that he doesn’t really let love in, he doesn’t let it challenge or change him. The song has three or four deeply disturbing verses as Jack White yearns for courage to be vulnerable to being loved in a way that does challenge and change him, this is one of the verses,
‘I want love to
Grab my fingers gently
Slam them in a doorway
Put my face into the ground’
In other words, I want to be prepared to allow love todisrupt my comfortable routines, corrupt my selfish ambitions and interrupt my self-centred pursuit of the life that suits me …… and maybe ….. in the process of all this, risk being hurt a little.
When we think of people in the scriptures whose stories tell of how they encountered God, many of them through Jesus, we tend to assume that their encounters, steeped as they were in love, made them feel valued, accepted and safe in God’s presence. I am sure that this was part of what they felt, but, put yourself in Zechariah’s shoes – in our second reading this morning we heard how both he and his wife were getting on in years and that they had no children. Presumably they had accepted that they never would have children and were simply getting on with their lives. Zechariah was getting on with his job as a priest, in today’s reading we learn that he was in the sanctuary in the heart of the temple offering incense and while he was doing that he was visited by an angel who told him that his wife, Elizabeth, would have a child, and that this child would prepare the way for many people to meet with God. Zechariah is understandably surprised, not only at being visited by an angel but also by the news of a child (which to him must have seemed almost impossible) and because he doesn’t immediately believe the angel and rejoice, he becomes mute until the child is born.
On one level this is a wonderful story – a childless couple who have been praying for a child all their life are finally going to have a child. On another level, this is deeply challenging news (hence Zechariah’s guarded response), being a parent is challenging for young adults, it can be very challenging for older people. The birth of a child was for Zechariah and Elizabeth, a sign that they were loved and valued by God, but in practical terms, it was not an easy thing to live with – and that is the point I want to make. If we truly make ourselves vulnerable to God’s love we cannot expect to just feel valued, accepted and safe, we have to be prepared to be challenged to have our lives turned upside down, which is what happened to Zechariah and Elizabeth. God’s love for them certainly disrupted, corrupted and interrupted their presumably predictable and tidy lives.
If you think about it, virtually everyone who encounters God in scripture, has their lives turned upside down. Think of the people whose lives are touched by Jesus. The disciples, when they are called, have to change their lives completely. Think of those healed by Jesus, what did the man who had been chronically ill for 38 years do after he had been healed by Jesus? Where did he go? He had lived his whole life with a significant disability, all of a sudden, he had to leave that life behind and live in a completely new way. As far as we know, when he picked up his bed and walked, he was on his own ….. I wonder, what happened next for him? Think about the woman caught in adultery – Jesus saved her from being stoned, forgave her and then told her to go and not sin again. Fantastic, but where did she go then and what did she do? As far as we know Jesus was the only person who had forgiven her for her wrongdoing, what about her husband and the rest of her family and friends? When she walked away from Jesus, blessed by being forgiven, she had some very difficult conversations in store and she had to totally rebuild her life. Think about the tax collectors, the lepers, the possessed, all those people who encounter God’s love in Jesus’ forgiveness and healing – they all had their lives, and their way of life, disrupted, corrupted and interrupted – and as a result of their loving and healing divine encounter they didn’t just feel warm and fuzzy and blessed, they must have felt disorientated, anxious and frightened.
As we look forward to Christmas this Advent, it is very easy to allow the wonderful warm glow of sentimentality which surrounds Christmas to make us think that being loved by God is all about wallowing in a warm glow of forgiveness, healing and acceptance – but real love, true love isn’t just about that – it is also about being challenged and changed.
Are you easy to love? ‘I won't let love disrupt, corrupt or interrupt me’ …. are we prepared to make ourselves vulnerable to God’s love disrupting, corrupting and interrupting our lives, which many of us have nicely and comfortably controlled to suit ourselves most of the time? Are you easy to love?
Let us pray
O God, in whom nothing can live unless it lives in love, grant us the spirit of love which does not want to be rewarded, honoured or esteemed but seeks only blessing, happiness and fulfilment for those who are beloved. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord who taught us that God is Love. Amen