Posts Tagged ‘Love’

Do your worst. I still love you.

April 15, 2017

Easter – 2017

Matthew 28:1-10

Marian Free

In the name of God who no matter what we do never, ever gives up on us. Amen.

I can still remember the television footage of the moment when the father of Scott Rush first met his son in the prison in Bali. Scott you will recall had been arrested with eight others for attempting to bring a 1.3 kg of heroin into Australia. I imagine that at the moment of Scott’s arrest his parent’s lives will have been completely turned upside down. Their son who had had the advantages of a comfortable upbringing and had attended a good private secondary school was now facing a lengthy jail term, if not death, in a country whose culture and legal system are very different from our own. Scott’s parents Lee and Chris had had to drop whatever they were doing to fly to Bali. No doubt they incurred considerable disruption and expense in the process, not to mention the anxiety and fear that would have attended the news of their son’s arrest. Imagine the embarrassment and shame – visiting Bali as parents of a drug smuggler, facing their friends and acquaintances at home and being exposed to intense media interest.

Media reports suggest that Scott was a drug user who was already known to police and who was wanted in Australia on an outstanding warrant for stealing nearly $5000 from an Australian bank. While he may have been caught up in something bigger than he realised, he was no innocent.

When Scott’s parents arrived at the jail surrounded by TV cameras, they didn’t remonstrate with Scott. They didn’t say: “why have you done this to us?” or “what were you thinking?” They didn’t reproach him for humiliating them or berate him for being so foolish. At what must have been an extraordinarily difficult moment, Scott’s mother Chris said to the journalists who crowded in on them: “I love him”. When his father Lee comes face to face with Scott for the first time, he says, as I recall: “you’re a good boy.” “I love him.” “You’re a good boy.” In the eyes of the world, in the eyes of every parent whose child has become addicted to drugs and especially in the eyes of the Indonesian legal system, Scott was anything but “a good boy”. To his father however, he was and remained “a good boy”.

Drugs – the addiction, the temptation to make vast amounts of money with relatively little effort – show humanity at its worst. Vulnerable people are taken advantage of, dealers use violence or threats of violence to protect their patch, to extract money for debts and to prevent people from breaking free of the habit. Addicts turn to crime and sometimes to aggressive behaviour to pay for their next fix. It is a dark and shadowy world that I am glad to have no part of. Scott might have only been on the fringes of that world, but he was part of it. Yet his father can say: “You’re a good boy”.

The events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion depict humanity at its worst. The disciple who for reasons unknown sells his teacher and friend for thirty pieces of silver, the remaining disciples who promise to be with Jesus even to death, but who abandon him and deny him, the priests who fabricate evidence against him, the solders who mock him, the governor, swayed by the crowd who refuses to do what he knows is right, the lynch mob who bay for Jesus’ death, the crowds who revile him and the soldiers and fellow criminals who taunt him. An innocent man is condemned to torture and death in order to preserve the status quo and to please the crowds.

The story might have ended there. The body of Jesus sealed in a tomb and guarded by soldiers. After all that the people (friend and foe alike) had done, God might simply have thrown up God’s hands in horror and washed God’s hands of an ungrateful and uncaring humanity. God had sent Jesus into the world to save the world, instead God watches humanity spurns the gift, as Jesus endured first betrayal, then trumped-up charges and finally an excruciating death. Imagine for a moment, God’s having to watch humanity behaving in such a debased, immoral and cruel way. Such behaviour would try the patience and love of the most loving and forgiving parent.

One might be excused for thinking that God had done enough for God’s people. God chose them from among all the nations, sent Joseph to Egypt to save them from the famine, brought them out of Egypt when they were no longer welcome and remained loyal and loving despite their waywardness, their lack of confidence in God’s power to save and protect, their failure to listen to the prophets and their chasing after other gods. As a last resort God came among them as one of them in the form of Jesus but they responded by murdering him and with him all hope of salvation. If at that point, God had decided that enough was enough no one would have thought that God was being unreasonable or vindictive. If God had walked away from creation in despair most would think that that was what humanity deserved. Yet God remained steadfast, God did not withdraw God’s love but instead raised Jesus from the dead. In effect God said to the world: “you’re a good boy, you’re a good girl – I love you.”

“I love you. You have done your worst, but I love you. You have shown yourself to be weak, disloyal, fickle and cruel and yet I still love you.”

“I still love you.” The most sure and certain proof of God’s love for us is the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection assures us that no matter what we do, no matter how far we stray, God’s boundless endless love will never be withdrawn.

Humanity can do its worst, but God’s love will always triumph.

Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.

 

 

Feet – dirty, calloused, smelly, caressed, loved

April 13, 2017

Maundy Thursday 2017

 Marian Free

In the name of God who stoops to wash our feet. Amen.

Feet come in all shapes and sizes. There are large feet and petite feet. There are smooth feet and calloused feet. Feet that have seen a lot of hard work and feet that have led a reasonably charmed existence. Toes can be long or short, crooked or straight, misshapen or not. Feet in sandals are prone to get dirty. Feet in shoes are likely to be sweaty (and sometimes smelly). For these and other reasons, many of us don’t like our feet to be exposed. We are uncomfortable about allowing others to see what we consider to be imperfections or defects, we feel uncomfortable about anyone seeing them, let alone touch them.

It is an enormous privilege to be able to wash the feet of another person. It is an action of intimacy and touch that demands confidence, trust and humility on the part of the one who is willing to allow their feet to be seen and held and caressed with water and with towel. It demands that the recipient of the washing allow themselves, or at least their feet, to be exposed.

When Jesus takes a towel and washes the feet of the disciples, we are for the most part tempted to emphasise his humility, his willingness to serve – and certainly that is how John interprets the action. Peter’s response however shows the other side of the equation. It would seem that despite his discipleship, Peter has not yet learnt what it means to accept Jesus’ love. He is not willing to believe that a central aspect of faith in Jesus means receiving the gifts that Jesus has to offer. He does not understand that what is required is not the humility of thinking oneself unworthy, but the humility of accepting that unworthy though he may be, that does not put him outside the reach of Jesus’ love. Peter is self-conscious and uncomfortable with the intimacy that a relationship with Jesus involves.

He represents all those of us who do not believe that we are loveable and therefore cannot believe in God’s love for us.

Throughout Lent I have challenged you to consider how much God loves you, to believe that if God thinks you are worthy of God’s love that it must be true, and to understand that in the warmth of God’s love we can allow even those parts of ourselves of which we are most ashamed, to be completely exposed and laid bare.

Knowing ourselves loved frees us to give ourselves wholly to God.

If like Peter we are still holding something back, perhaps now is the time to ask ourselves what it is and why we are holding on.

 

Intercessions

Loving God,

On this night, Jesus took a towel and washed the feet of his disciples, demonstrating that nothing was beneath his notice, and no one unworthy of his love. Give us a true sense of our worth, that we may see worth in others and so build a world of compassion, tolerance and love.

God of grace. Hear our prayer.

Holy God,

On this night Jesus demonstrates true humility and a willingness to serve. May we your church have a sense of proportion as to our own importance and truly understand what it means to serve the world around us.

God of grace. Hear our prayer.

Gracious God,

On this night Jesus washed the feet even of Judas who was about to betray him. Help us to love and accept the unloved and unlovable – even those who do us wrong.

God of grace. Hear our prayer.

Comforting God,

On this night, Jesus gave himself completely into your hands. Enable us to trust in you in good times and bad, in sickness and in health.

God of grace. Hear our prayer.

Eternal God,

On this night Jesus began a journey from life to death, a journey that became a journey from death to life. Give to us the same confidence in your guiding hand, that we may submit entirely to your will, and knowing that we are already yours, enter with joy our eternal rest.

Accept our prayers through Jesus Christ our Lord who taught us to pray.

Our Father in heaven…

Love sets us free

March 4, 2017

Lent 1 – 2017

Matthew 4:1-11

Marian Free

Lent is Love

             Lent is Love

In the name of God whose love sets us free to be truly ourselves, to grow and to flourish and, in our turn, to love others. Amen.

St Ignatius of Loyola is well-known as the founder of the Jesuits. When he was thirty years old Ignatius, then a soldier, was hit in the legs by a cannon ball. His right leg was wounded and his left severely fractured. As a result of these injuries, Ignatius was forced to spend a considerable amount of time confined to bed. During this time of enforced rest, Ignatius came to faith and decided to devote his life to God. It was then too that he wrote his spiritual exercises – a form of discipline that was designed to assist those who undertook them to develop an understanding of the relationship with God that would enable them to live out that relationship.

The exercises are designed to be completed over a thirty-day period under the guidance of a spiritual director. They are too complex to be described here, but there are two simple elements that can enhance our own spiritual journeys – even if we never find thirty days to complete the retreat ourselves. The first is the attitude that a participant is asked to adopt before they begin. You might like to try it now. With your eyes open or shut, try to imagine God looking at you with complete and unconditional love. Sit with that feeling, allow the love to wash over you, accept that you are perfectly loveable and that you are unimaginably precious to God. Were you able to do it? How did you feel?

My experience is that this is an extraordinarily powerful, liberating and affirming practice. It is very simple and it is something  that we can do every single day as a reminder of just how much you are loved and treasured by God.

All of our spiritual disciplines should begin from this place – with the assurance of God’s love for us. God doesn’t make impossible demands. God doesn’t insist that we mortify ourselves or that we achieve unattainable standards. God simply loves us and we respond to that love by trying to be worthy of that love and by being the best that we can.

As we respond to God’s love, a second Ignatian practice helps us to develop and to grow in faith and in our practice of our faith. This is the practice known as examen or self-review. There are slight variations as to how this is done, so you might like to check them out to see if one suits you better than another. Examen is an exercise that is done at the end of the day. It requires at least five to ten minutes. There are a number of steps in the process. The first is to recall in some detail what you have done during the day. Then, after asking the Holy Spirit to be your guide, you look over the day a second time, seeing it with God’s eyes and considering whether there were times when you could have done better – been kinder, more patient or less intolerant for example. Having identified something that you’d like to change, you ask for God’s help in making that change. Finally, you offer thanks to God for God’s presence during the day.

Examen does not imply judgement, nor does it expect that we will feel that we have failed. Instead, for those who find it useful, it is a way to be open and honest about ourselves in an environment that we know to be utterly safe, because we know that whatever we do or have done, God’s love will never be withdrawn.

Love, as I’m sure you know, is a much more powerful tool for change than censure or fear. Knowing ourselves loved gives us confidence to be our selves  – even if that self is flawed and damaged. Knowing ourselves loved gives us the freedom to take risks and the courage to confess. Knowing ourselves loved allows us to stand tall and proud and to believe in ourselves. Knowing ourselves loved enables us to soar to even greater heights.

When Jesus was baptised, he came out of the water to hear a voice from heaven saying: “This is my Son the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased (or in whom I delight).” To our knowledge, Jesus has done nothing at this point to warrant those words, he hasn’t begun his mission or done anything out of the ordinary. Yet the voice from heaven makes it clear that God loves Jesus just as he is at that very moment.  Jesus was overwhelmed – he took time (forty days) to process that love and affirmation and to consider what it meant. God’s love empowered Jesus to teach and to heal, to love and to make whole, to challenge the structures of the church and to raise up the marginalised, and above all to trust God with his very life.

God’s love empowers us to be all that we can be, and so much more. This Lent, may we know ourselves loved, give ourselves permission to be ourselves, and from a position of confidence strive to  live into the person whom God believes us to be. Amen.

Longing to love

December 24, 2016

Midnight Mass – 2016

Marian Free

 In the name of God who longs to be in relationship with us and who willingly forsake power, glory and dominion to try to make that clear. Amen.

During the week I happened upon a movie titled: “Anywhere but here.” It tells the story of how two grown sons cope with the fact that their father is dying. The sons have been brought up in the Jewish faith, but have not been able to embrace its practices and beliefs. One son, Aidan, still has a connection with the synagogue because his father will pay his grandchildren’s school fees if they attend a Jewish school. As with many families there are unresolved issues and tensions that make the grieving process more complicated. At one point Aidan is compelled to go the synagogue and speak to a Rabbi. Aidan is confused because events in his life are leading him to the conclusion that God is trying to tell him something, but he doesn’t believe in God. Thankfully, the young Rabbi is wise. He asks Aidan if he ever feels “a spiritual presence”. Aidan replies that when he is showing his children the stars and trying to explain that the universe goes on forever and ever, that yes, he does get a sense of the spiritual.

The Rabbi responds: “Then think of that spirit leading and guiding you.” The Rabbi knows that Aidan has rejected the traditional ways of thinking about God and he is wise enough not to impose those ideas on him. Instead he asks Aidan to name how he knows and experiences God and runs with that.

Rejecting the God of one’s youth and yet having a yearning to connect with something deeper than the material is not unique to a person who has grown up in the Jewish faith. One of the problems that the church faces today is that there are many people who have walked away from the faith and yet have a sense of something other. There are many long to make contact with their spirituality but their search is blocked by language, dogma or ideas that offend or that no longer work or make sense to them.

If truth be told most of the ideas of God that people reject are ideas that we too reject, but it is possible for some to hear only one thing and a selective reading of the bible (by a preacher or by the reader) can give the impression of an angry, demanding, interventionist God, a selective God who expects conformity at least and obedience at best. It is relatively easy for to abandon this false idea of God, especially if that idea of God has been used to manipulate and control or to appear be remote from human affairs and indifferent to suffering and pain.

Christmas exposes that God for who and what it is – a false God based on a misunderstanding of both the Old Testament and the New.

At Christmas we are confronted, year after year with the God who is not strong or powerful, but who enters the world as a baby – vulnerable, helpless and utterly dependent. When God could not get through to us, when we had turned away from God or turned God into something that God is not, when we lost sight that God’s primary desire is to be in relationship with us, God in Christ came to us. God came among us not with lighting and thunder, waving a sword to condemn and destroy, but as a new-born child a child whom God hoped would demonstrate once and for all God’s love for all humankind – the good, the bad, the engaged and the indifferent, the kind and the unkind. That first Christmas God became powerless and impotent so that we would at last understand the depth and passion of God’s love and that we would see for ourselves God’s complete and total engagement with humanity and God’s participation in both our sorrows and our joys.

This is why we are here this and every Christmas. Our presence is not simply a result of habit or sentimentality. We are here, because we know that the child in the manger is God, that God chooses not to be remote, but to be an integral part of all that this life has to offer. The child in the manger and the man on the cross expose God for who and what God really is – an expression of the deepest love, the utmost compassion and the greatest longing to be in relationship, to be one with all creation.

 

 

 

Looking backwards and forwards on Advent 1

November 26, 2016

Advent 1 – 2016

Matthew 24:36-44

Marian Free

 In the name of God who was and is and is to come, who has loved, does love and will love. Amen.

If you have ever had a medical procedure you will know that you will usually receive a list of instructions telling you what you must do to prepare. Some blood tests require you to fast before hand and others do not. A visit to an obstetrician will often require you to produce a urine sample. An appointment for a breast screen will come with instructions as to what to wear and the insistence that on that day you do not use talcum powder. A booking for surgery will come with pages of instructions – don’t drink alcohol, do not eat or drink for a specified period, do not bring valuables to the hospital with you but do bring your method of payment. And as for having a colonoscopy – let’s not even go there! (Those of us who have had the experience know what is involved and those of you yet to have the pleasure, will find out soon enough.)

The point is that there are many things in our life that require careful and thoughtful preparation – travel, meals, study, buying a house, getting married and so on. While some of these need more attention than others, they are all relatively easy in the sense that the guidelines are clear, others have done it before us and by and large we know what is expected or where to go for information or advice.

Preparing for eternity is a very different proposition from preparing for surgery, travel or a job interview. For a start, no one has ever come back from the dead to tell us what it is like or to give us specific instructions as to exactly how to get in. No one, that is, except Jesus and he did not give a straight forward, easy to follow list of directions or instructions. Instead he left his followers to make sense of his teachings and to put them together in ways that made sense to them.

Preparing for eternity or for the return of Jesus, is the most important thing that we will ever do with our lives, but it is easy to put it off because it seems so remote, so far into the future that we imagine that we have plenty of time to put our lives in order. Alternatively, it is possible to become complacent, to believe that we have already done all that is necessary to enter into eternal life.

I wonder how many of us put the same amount of effort into our preparation for eternity as we do for other aspects of our lives. Do we have a check list that we refer back to see how ready we are? Are we really clear as to what is required? Have we put some effort and research into the subject or do we think we already know all that there is to know?

Many of us were brought up with a Christian faith that taught us to be good, that entrance into heaven required sticking within some prescribed guidelines – most notably the Ten Commandments. Along the way, we have learned that Jesus does not want simple obedience to a set of rules. In life, he consistently chose those who did not conform to the societal view of what does or does not constitute “goodness”, he criticized those who placed weight on outward appearances, and he constantly revised the commandments in such a way as to make it clear that it was a person’s attitude to and relationship with God that was the key to eternal life. In other words, Jesus shifted the goal posts and cast us adrift from the safety of clear rules and codes of behavior and left us to find our own direction.

Jesus knew that it was possible to do the “right thing” but to do it for the wrong reasons. He exposed the hypocrisy and shallowness of those whose outward show of goodness hid a lack of love and compassion, a self-centredness and self-congratulatory attitude that blinded them to their own weakness and frailty. Jesus sought out those who knew their own sinfulness and who relied on God’s love rather than their own efforts.

If Jesus were to offer advice for living or guidelines for attaining eternity, he would probably encourage us to seek self-awareness rather than self-righteousness, to recognise our imperfection rather than aim for perfection and to understand that we are no better than the next person rather than striving to outdo them with our “goodness”.

In the final analysis, Jesus’ incarnation demonstrated that our salvation does not depend on anything that we do for ourselves, but on what God does for us. Salvation is entirely related to God’s love for us – love that entered into our existence, challenged our concepts of right and wrong, of power and weakness, of judgment and acceptance, love that endured the worst that we can throw at it, and which loves us still. Love, that on the cross overcame evil and death so that nothing might stand between ourselves and life eternal.

On this, the first Sunday of Advent, we are urged to both look backward to Jesus’ coming in love and forward to Jesus’ coming in judgement, to place our lives in the balance and to see how we measure up.

Are we living in such a way that demonstrates our awareness of God’s love and our inability to deserve that love? Have we thrown ourselves completely on God’s mercy or are we still holding something back – in other words do we completely and utterly trust in God’s unconditional love or does some part of us still believe that we have to do something to deserve it?

Christmas is a celebration of God’s incomprehensible yet unmistakable love for us. Advent is an opportunity to ask ourselves whether or not we trust that love and whether that love has translated into love for ourselves and love for others.

Perhaps, after all, we are better not to prepare, but instead to ensure that we fully accept all that God in Jesus has done for us, such that Jesus’ return will be time of rejoicing and not a time of fearfulness and that we will be truly ready to rest in God’s love for eternity.

 

 

Breaking boundaries, flouting convention

June 11, 2016

Pentecost 4 – 2016

Luke 7:36-50

Marian Free

 

In the name of God who breaks down boundaries, flouts convention and welcomes sinners. Amen.

 Imagine this – you have gathered for worship at your local, traditional Anglican Church. The priest (Jane) has just announced the first hymn when the usually sedate, dignified curate (Maurice) bursts in, robe awry, and runs down the aisle shouting: “ I’ve got it! I’ve got it! I now understand! God loves me, God REALLY loves me! I’m not perfect, but God loves ALL of me! Can you believe it? It’s so amazing, so wonderful. I want to laugh and cry at the same time. God loves me, God really, really loves me. Here take this,” he says as he thrusts bags of money into the priest’s hands. “I can’t think of any way to say ‘thank you’ except by giving all my savings to God. Take it, take it all, use it for whatever you think. God loves me, God really loves me.”

During this rant, you (and possibly everyone else) were almost certainly squirming in your pew. Perhaps it was your voice that the priest overheard saying: “Why doesn’t she just stop him. Can’t she see he is overwrought? Surely she knows that his behaviour is totally inappropriate. Anglicans in this place are more constrained, more reserved. No one will come to church if this gets out.”

Imagine your surprise when the priest not only lets the curate finish his speech, but takes him by the hand and says: “I am so happy for you. Come and take your place beside me. Help me to share this good news with everyone.” Your surprise turns to indignation when the priest singles you out: “(Your name here) do you begrudge Maurice this joy? Have you never experienced the marvel of God’s love? Do you not know what it is to be truly loved and forgiven or do you think that you are so special that God can’t help but love you? Maurice knows that he has nothing to deserve God’s love, that is why he is so overwhelmed. I wish that you could share his humility, because only then could you share his joy.”

It is hard to imagine the scene in this morning’s gospel. We have become so inured to the woman’s extravagant, beautiful act of love that we often fail to see how scandalous and socially inappropriate it was and is. Simon, the Pharisee was simply voicing what any respectable person would have thought in that situation. The woman has broken a number of social and religious laws, and in Simon’s home. No wonder he is offended. In first century no woman would have been invited out for a meal, no man would have touched a woman, let alone allowed her to touch him in such an intimate way. Any such contact would make the man ritually unclean and unfit to fulfill his religious duties. What is more, it appears by the fact that the woman’s hair is loose, that she is not even a respectable woman, but a woman of the streets.

By allowing himself to be touched by such a woman, Jesus also is crossing all kinds of boundaries and is himself guilty of causing offense. Even by today’s less rigid standards, if an unknown woman gate-crashed a party and started wiping the feet of the guest of honour, it would send shock waves through the room. The guests would not know where to look, they would squirm in discomfort and wish her anywhere but there. Most of them would quietly hope that Jesus would say something to make her stop.

Instead of chastising the woman, Jesus tells a parable that indirectly condemns his critics. It is their self-righteousness, their rule-bound lives, he implies that, rather than freeing them to experience God’s loving forgiveness, actually imprison them in their own smugness. Those who criticise Jesus and the woman are so busy “being good” and conforming to the expectations of those around them that they have failed to see that their very self-assurance is a vanity that contradicts their sense of goodness.

The woman on the other hand, knows her short-comings all too well. She knows that according to the standards of the church and the standards of society she falls far short of expectations, but somehow, (and we are not told how), she has grasped what the others in the room have yet to grasp – that God loves her utterly and unconditionally. She is aware that she has nothing to deserve God’s outpouring of love and yet she knows that it is hers. The experience is simply overwhelming – a mixture of joy and awe. She feels that she has to respond and so she does, in the only way available to her. She takes the most expensive possession that she has and seeks Jesus out. Weeping with gratitude and joy she collapses at Jesus’ feet, bathing them with her tears, wiping them with her hair and finally anointing them with ointment. She doesn’t care what other people think. Her only concern is to let Jesus know how overawed she is by his gift of love and acceptance.

Those of us who are cradle Anglicans may not have had the sort of experience that brought this woman to her knees. Not all of us have had the sort of conversion experience that led Paul to understand that despite his past actions, God could not only forgive and love him, but use him to build the church. Our experiences may be less intense – the quiet, deep gratitude that a loved one has pulled through surgery, the elation at the safe birth of a child, the thankfulness that God has brought us through a time of trial or tragedy – but they are no less real.

We may not have experienced for ourselves the intensity of this woman’s love, but hopefully in our journey of faith we have learned that what sets us apart is not that we are better than anyone else, that we are more law-abiding, or that we do more good works. What sets us apart is that, despite our imperfections and despite the fact that we have done nothing to deserve it God loves us.

God loves us unreservedly and unconditionally and will continue to love us for all eternity and even if we were to give everything that we have, we would never be able to repay God for the tremendous, awesome, underserved gift of that love.

Being truly whole so that we are wholly free to love.

April 23, 2016

Easter 5 – 2015

John 13:31-35

Marian Free

 

In the name of God whose love is as strong as death, passion as fierce as the grave[1]. Amen.

She loves you

She loves you

I can remember, as clearly as if it were yesterday, the Christmas that I received my first ever record. It was the year that the Beatles had come to Brisbane and I was nine years old. Even though I didn’t listen to the radio and my parents did not own a TV I was caught up in the hype that surrounded their visit. One of my classmates had even taken the day off school to line the street to the airport and welcome them to the city. Another friend used to sing the song: “Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you”, the song with which a popular TV show of the day concluded. My nine-year-old self knew that she had to be a part of this phenomenon. So when I was asked what I would like for Christmas, there was no hesitation: “I would like a Beatles record.”

My mother and I went into the city to a record shop. In those days the counters were about four-foot tall so I had to stretch to see. “I’d like a Beatles record please,” said my mother. “Which one?” the assistant replied. Mum looked at me, I looked at her. I had no idea that there would be a choice. Helpfully I replied: “One with ‘Yeah, Yeah, Yeah’ on it.” So that is how I came to own this – an EP with ‘She loves you’ on one side and ‘I’ll get you’ on the other. I’d have to say that the lyrics of these and many of the early Beatles songs are not particularly edifying. ‘She loves you yeah, yeah, yeah, she loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah’, and, ‘Love, love me do, you know I love you, so please, love me do’ and yet another, ‘Love is you need, love is you need, love is all you need.’

Love was in the air in the 1960’s and 70’s. Flower children preached it, bumper stickers proclaimed it and popular music extolled it. The problem was that the atmosphere of the day made love sound all too attainable and all too easyms – the answer to all the world’s problems.  Love was not enough to stop the Vietnam war or to bring an end to apartheid and global poverty.

In today’s gospel Jesus enjoins his disciples to love one another in the context of his farewell speech. This includes instructions and warnings, the promise of the Holy Spirit and prayers for the disciples.  The tone for a future without Jesus is set right at the beginning: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

As I have loved you. If love was all that we needed, why do so many relationships end acrimoniously and why are so many families torn apart by disputes? The answer is that while there are good reasons for marriages to end – domestic violence being one – many people have a simple and idealistic notion of love.  Some expect love to fill deep needs of their own, others confuse love with control and its opposite subservience and there are those who expect that the simple fact of being love will ensure that their story will be happily ever after.

Jesus apparently has no such illusions, which is why he adds the rider: “Just as I have loved you.” As I have loved you. This is very different from the commandment that asks us to love our neighbours as ourselves. Jesus’ command forces us to consider his life and example and to model ourselves on him.  I quote: “Christ commands us to love as he did, putting neither reputation, nor wealth, not anything whatever before love of our brothers and sisters.” (Cyril of Alexandria)  In a culture in which honour meant everything, Jesus mixed with the disreputable and the outsider, chose poverty over wealth and acted as a servant to his disciples. Though he was divine, Jesus allowed himself to endure all the indignities of being human. In other words, Jesus’ love was a love that thought not of himself, but only of others.

The love that Jesus insists that we show to others is the sort of selfless love that enables us to give up all thoughts of our own needs and desires – for recognition, comfort, satisfaction and instead to ensure the well-being of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

What this entails in practice is being at peace with ourselves and God, being so sure of our place in the cosmos that we do not need to compete with others in order to feel good about ourselves, recognising that we do not need the world’s approval in order to know our own worth, that we do not need to measure ourselves and our worth according the standards of those around us, but  to only according to the standards that Jesus modelled and that Jesus encouraged. For some of us, this means first of all letting go of our own baggage, seeking wholeness and healing for the hurts we carry and the insecurities that drive our behaviour. In some instances it may mean that we take advantage of professional help to lay aside fear, resentment and anxiety or to let go of our sense of inadequacy because ultimately, we are only able to love selflessly from a position of confidence and strength, from a place in which we are completely free of restraint and in which don’t need others to affirm us so we are free to affirm them.

Only when we are absolutely confident in our own worth can we affirm the worth of others. Only when we are completely sure that we are loved and love

able can we selflessly offer love to others. Only when we are truly whole can we wholly give ourselves away.

“Love one another as I have loved you” – it makes the rest of the commandments look like a walk in the park. First of all we have to do everything in our power to accept Jesus’ love and then we have to do all that we can to give that love away.

 

 

[1] Song of Songs 8:6

A matter of love

March 19, 2016

Palm Sunday – 2016

Luke 22: -23:

Marian Free

 

A matter of love

May God whose love for us knows no bounds, free us from all those things that prevent us from accepting that love. Amen.

Love is an extraordinary motivator. It can enable people to go to extraordinary lengths to make a difference for those whom they love. Parents of children with severe handicaps invest hours of their time and all their financial resources to not only ensure that their child has the best quality of life that is possible, but also to defy the medical staff who have advised them that the child has no future. Siblings of cancer sufferers cycle around Australia or complete other such feats to raise awareness of the disease and raise funds for research. Husbands or wives refuse to turn off life support machines, believing that the one whom they love has a future.

The love and determination of a spouse means not only the difference between life and death, but also the difference between simply being alive and having some quality of life.  Only last week I read the account of a young woman Danielle. At just 23[1] Danielle had married the love of her life. Only months later her husband, Matt he seriously injured in a cycling accident. As well as numerous fractures, he had sustained a serious traumatic brain injury. A team of doctors advised Danielle to turn off his life support.

Danielle trusted the doctors and thought she would agree to end Matt’s life. After a sleepless night she thought: “Matt is my husband. If he stays in a coma, of if he needs looking after for the rest of his life, I will be the one taking care of him.” Instead of conceding that the doctor’s were right, Danielle knew if a flash that she could do it. She felt that God was telling her to take a chance, that this was her path in life. Danielle was not going to let Matt die. That was 2011. What followed was a battle to bring Matt out of the coma, battles with the medical staff who wanted to put him into a nursing home and twenty four hour care, once she got him to her mother’s home. Caring for Matt meant changing nappies, checking feeding tubes, giving sponge baths, administering up to 20 different medications, turning Matt every two hours and single handedly doing all the physical therapy that was required.

Danielle’s journey is a long way from over and Matt may never be the same, but he sings to Danielle and writes her poems and tells her every day that he loves her.

As is the case with Danielle, the cost of love is often enormous – emotionally, financially and in terms of the time that is involved. Yet the lover (parent, sibling, friend) thinks nothing of that, only of ensuring that their beloved is loved and cared for, has the best life that is possible in the circumstances and that they know that they have not been abandoned.

This Lent, it has seemed to me that the readings have focused on love – God’s boundless, unconditional love for all of humanity. We have seen that God reaches out for us in love, refusing to give up on us no matter how much we disappoint, frustrate and even enrage God.  God does not/cannot stop loving even when we blindly go our own way, when we put up barriers between ourselves and God’s love or when we behave in ways that are damaging to ourselves or to others. God’s love for us is a love that never gives up, no matter how broken or beyond repair we might be and it is a love that never counts the cost.

Today and throughout this week, we will witness God’s love played out in Jesus’ journey to the cross. We cannot know what was going through Jesus’ head when he set out for Jerusalem or when he incurred the wrath of the Jewish leaders by entering the city as a King, by challenging their views and by being high-handed in the Temple. What we do know is that at any point Jesus could have turned back. At any point, Jesus could have decided that it was all too hard and simply given up. At any point, Jesus could have chosen to do what was right for him, rather than what might be right for others.

But as relentlessly as the forces of evil lined up against him, Jesus doggedly continued on the path that was before him, the path that would ensure death for him and life for the world.

This is the ultimate demonstration of God’s love for us – God, in Jesus entering our world and pouring out love and compassion on an ungrateful world. God demonstrates God’s love for us in Jesus’ giving himself completely to and for us – doing whatever it would take to enable us to live our lives as fully as we possibly can.

God cannot and will not stop loving us. It remains for us to accept that we are loved and to discover that it is only by surrendering to God’s love that we will find fulfillment, freedom and peace. It remains for us to abandon ourselves to God and to thereby see that it is only in God we have all that we want or need.

[1] Reported in the latest Marie Claire Australia magazine (April 16, 2016, p104-106).

Abundance not sacrifice – Lent is God’s gift to us, our gift to ourselves

March 12, 2016

Lent 5 – 2016

John 12:1-8

Marian Free

In the name of God whose outpouring of love is more than we can ever imagine.  Amen.

It is just possible that I am turning into a grumpy old woman or it may be that I am by nature someone who tends to take the world and faith seriously. Whatever it is, I have found myself being irritated or disappointed by the attitude that some people (particularly via social media) have taken towards Lent. There have been posts on Facebook by people bemoaning the fact that they are saying “goodbye” to beer or wine or some other treat for forty days as if Lent is a burden imposed upon them rather than something taken up freely. Other people have posted cartoons, which again make it seem that Lent is at worst some interminable punishment or at best a trial that has to be endured. To be fair, I am sure that most of the posts are from people who do take Lent seriously and who assume that their friends will understand that they are simply making light of it not expressing how they really feel.

It does concern me however that the negative messages about Lent, give the wrong idea – not only about the practice of Lent but about the Christian faith – to the non-Christians who hear or read them. Those who are not in on the secret could be forgiven for thinking that Lent is a period of misery expected by an exacting and demanding God instead of seeing it as a time of self-imposed abstinence that will liberate us to know more fully an indulgent and affirming deity.

The readings for the first four weeks of Lent have encouraged us to turn our lives around and to remove the barriers that separate us from the overwhelming abundance of God’s love. John the Baptist urged us to “repent” (literally – turn around), the parable of the fig tree reminded us that we share with all of humanity its frailty and imperfections, Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem gave us an insight into the sorrow experienced by God because of our refusal to accept God’s love and the parable of the two sons demonstrated God’s utter refusal to exclude us from that love and at the same time reminded us of the ways in which we place ourselves beyond the reach of God’s affection.

Today, as we approach the end of our forty days, we are confronted by a description of an act of intimacy, extravagance and tenderness – not of God towards us, but of Mary towards God. At first the gospel seems out of place an action of such beauty and lavishness seems to conflict with a time of fasting and self-denial.  But today’s gospel is a perfect fit – not only with the gospel readings that have preceded it, but also with the central purpose of Lent. In conjunction with the gospels of the past four weeks, today’s gospel sums up what Lent is about and what we can hope to achieve.

We discover, if we plumb the lectionary offerings, that Lent is primarily about ensuring that we are in the best condition possible to accept God’s love for us. We allow ourselves a period of prayer and self-examination to reflect on our lives and in particular to consider whether or not we are truly open to the love that God is constantly pouring out on us. Fasting and self-denial are not intended to be a way of  “mortifying” or denying the flesh” but a means of identifying and ridding ourselves of the obstacles that we place between ourselves and God – obstacles which are just as likely to be emotional and psychological as they are to be physical.

When we strip ourselves bare, when we purge ourselves of all the things that prevent us from experiencing the fullness of God’s love, we will be simply overwhelmed by the outpouring God’s grace and the generosity and the bounty of God’s affection. We will be astounded that God could love us so much and we will be acutely aware of our little we deserve that love.

Lent is a lesson of love, God’s extravagant, unconditional and boundless love, which is ours for the taking. The disciplines of Lent are not intended to weigh us down, but to prepare us to receive God’s love without question and without hesitation.

This is where Mary fits in. Mary, the sister of Lazarus, responds to God’s love with an extravagance that matches Jesus’ own. Mary is the perfect example of someone who has allowed herself to be stripped bare, who has opened herself completely and unreservedly to God’s scrutiny and in so doing has discovered not judgement but compassion, not condemnation but understanding, not rejection, but complete and total acceptance. Mary responds in the only way possible – with a demonstration of her deep and humble gratitude.

Even by today’s standards, Mary’s actions open her to disapproval – the loose hair, the public and intimate display of affection, the extravagance and waste. Yet for Mary there is no other response that will adequately express her reaction to God’s love for her. Mary throws caution, propriety and decorum to the wind. She has no thought of what others might think of her only that she must express her own love in a way that matches her experience of the love of God.

Lent then, is not so much about sacrifice as it is about abundance, not so much about self-denial as it is about self-acceptance, not so much about being unable to measure up, but about realizing that there is nothing against which to measure ourselves. Lent is less about sacrifice and more about abundance – about discovering the abundance that emanates from God and not from the world. Lent is less about will power and more about letting go – for it is only when we truly let go that we are able open ourselves to the wealth that is ours for the taking.

During Lent we identify and shed the obstacles that separate us from the love of God – a love so overwhelmingly abundant that it calls for a response that is extravagant, intimate and tender a response like that of Mary sister of Lazarus.

Forty days is not much to ask – in fact it almost seems far too little to give when we gain so much in return.

God and slugs

December 24, 2015

Christmas 2015

Some thoughts

Marian Free

 In the name of God who could chose to be anything and yet chose to become one of, one with us. Amen.

 From time to time, I dip into a collection of daily readings that uses the writings of C.S. Lewis[1]. Recently, in the readings for December, I came across this statement: “The Eternal being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a foetus inside a woman’s body. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab[2].” I have to admit, that as much as I have pondered the nature of the Incarnation, I had never grasped the enormity of God’s decision as clearly. Lewis’s comparison really puts the concept of the Incarnation into perspective. In fact, as I absorbed the new point of view, it occurred to me that the difference between divinity and humanity is so vast that even Lewis’s distinction may not be sufficient to capture the chasm that exists. In fact it is almost certainly impossible to come up with an image that does the notion justice, but it might be more useful to consider our becoming an amoeba, a mould or some other microscopic life form.

It is beyond imagining that a human being would voluntarily trade their human form for something so base and so insignificant as a single-celled organism. Is there any circumstance under which a human being would make that choice? Is it conceivable that there would be a situation that would draw out the sort of love and compassion that would compel a person to make such a radical sacrifice?

I suspect that there is no way that any one of us would willingly choose to give up our independence, our rational thought, our self-determination. There is no imaginable state of affairs that would cause us to make a choice that would leave us completely at the mercy of the elements, adrift in the world with no power to change our position or to influence the direction that our lives might take. Human beings can and do make enormous sacrifices for others, but it is hard to imagine any human being giving up their humanness for any cause whatsoever.

Yet, God, the source of life and love, God who could and can do anything, who could choose to be anything at all and who could determine any number of ways to save the world, made the choice to fully and completely enter our existence. There were no half measures. God did not appear to become human. Jesus was not merely similar to us. God took on human flesh with all its frailty. God abandoned power and glory, imperishability and immortality to fully enter the human race. In so doing, God exposed Godself to all the indignities associated with being human. God sentenced Godself to all the restrictions, all the limitations of the human form – the spewing, mewling, incontinent state of infancy and old age, the vulnerability to disease and accident, the risk of being emotionally abused or abandoned.

We cannot come close to envisaging the cost of God’s abandoning the glories of Paradise for the uncomfortable realities of life on this planet. We cannot take lightly God’s love, commitment and compassion for the human race.

This is what the Incarnation, what Christmas is all about. God’s desire that we should be saved that is so powerful and so overwhelming, that what to us is an unimaginable decision becomes a realistic solution. God could see no other way to demonstrate God’s love and to bring us to our senses than to share our existence and to show us our real potential. I have no desire to become an amoeba or even a slug, but I will for this life and the next be overawed and filled with gratitude that God should love so much that God would become one of us.

 

Christmas 2015

Family service

If you could be anything at all when you grow up, what would it be?

(Take responses and comment – something like there are some pretty ambitious and amazing goals there. I hope that you work hard enough to make them a reality. If there are no outrageous comments, mention some that came up at our grandson’s Kindy graduation – princess, batman, Prime Minister)

God can do or be anything that God wants, and what did God decide to be? (Wait for answers or simply provide the answer.) Yes, God decided to be a baby. God could be anything at all, and yet God became a baby – a baby that cries, that needs its nappy changed, that throws up after it is fed. Yuk! Why would God want to become a baby? Why? Because God loves us so much, that God will do anything to get our attention. Why? Because God knew that we wouldn’t really trust God unless God became like us and that if God was to become like us, then God had to be just like us – starting as a baby. Why? Because God knows that everyone loves a baby and God hoped that if we loved the baby, we might learn to love God.

So Christmas is all about the baby, and the baby is all about love – God’s love for us that is bigger than anything we can begin to imagine.

God loves us, and hopes that we will learn to love God.

 

 

 

 

 

[1] In C.S. Lewis. The Business of Heaven. Ed Walter Hooper. Great Britain: Fount Paperbacks, 1984.

[2] op cit 300.


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