Sunday 14th February – In Celebration of Love

by Rev. Duncan Voice


Opening Words by Dorothy Grover

O come together in truth;
O come together in peace;
O come together in joy and sharing;
O come together in knowing and caring;
Come together,
O come together,
O come together in love.

Chalice Lighting

We light our chalice,
symbol of our faith
and guiding light;
to bring our attention
into this present moment,
and unite us in loving community.

Welcome

Welcome to this time together. Today is Valentines Day and so we celebrate love in all its forms. We will begin with a prayer and during the prayer you are invited to light a candle for someone, or some people that you love, or some cause which brings compassion into your heart.

Prayer by Wayne B. Arnason (adapted)

Spirit of Life and Love,
in you we have our being.
Help us to recognize the love that
surrounds us.
Help us to see ourselves as the loving
people we can be.
In silence now, we bring to our
mind’s eye the people who have
loved us and continue to love us,
people who are not here with us
today, but whose love we carry
with us;
people who are there every day, and
whose love we sometimes take for
granted,
people who might be within our
circle of love,
could we but extend it a little further.
In silence now, we hold these people
in our hearts and light our candles.

[Silence and Candle Lighting]

In returning from silence, we ask that
our hearts maybe opened
to all whose names and faces
that crossed our minds,
and that the love we share with the
people in our lives may be our
abiding teacher.
Amen

Story: Birdsnest

Reading: 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Hymn: Come Together in love

Reading: by Sarah Yorke, Unitarian Universalist Minister

Loving is more than compromise and trade off; it is mutual nurturing of growth. Loving is more than trust in each other; it is trust in something that transcends human expectation. Love is the mutual gift of freedom with the mutual gift of expectation. Love is more than being true to ourselves; it is being true to a common reverence for life and a common vision for community. Love is more than loving each other; it is loving Life itself. (Robinson, 2019)

Time of Quietness

Reflection

“God is love, and he who abides in love abides in god, and God abides in him.”

1 John 4:16

Recently I received a leaflet through my door entitled “Tell Me The Truth”. Intrigued I opened it up. It began “My Dear Friend, may I lovingly tell you that one day you will die and open your eyes in another world: either in heaven or hell!” Well, the first bit wasn’t a surprise, but waking up in another world eh? Heaven they said would be wonderful, but hell would be full of the worst kinds of torments for all eternity. It said that no matter how good or wicked I have been that I’m and sinner and must repent. Any good works I may have done are to no avail! How could I escape hell? By following their prescription of confessing my sins, obtaining forgiveness, confessing to someone that I am a Christian, then reading the Bible and praying regularly.

I must admit to being a bit angry about what I had read. Firstly I was concerned about someone vulnerable reading such a message. Imagine how you might feel if you had just lost someone and that dropped on your doormat. How cruel and hurtful that would be. Secondly, it made no sense to me. The God of the authors was apparently perfectly happy to send the majority of humanity to languish for eternity in, as they put it, “A state of unbelievable anguish, pain and torment, exceeding anything known in this life…” And they started their letter “Dear Friend, May I lovingly tell you…”!!

There seemed nothing loving about the message in the leaflet. Ideas of sin and hell, really seem unhelpful to me. How do they help anyone to live their life? But of course, this was not so much about this life as about salvation, escaping from this life. I tried not to let my anger turn to hatred for the authors, and the group they represented. Not easy for a while though. Could I try to understand them? Perhaps I could learn something?

Salvation played a part in the formation of our church at Ditchling. Our church ancestors, the General Baptists, moved away from ideas of salvation for the few, over 300 years ago; to an idea of salvation for all or general salvation (hence the name General Baptists). Since that time our church has become Unitarian and views have evolved and changed even more. The importance of historical ideas of salvation, doing things now in order to secure a place in heaven later, has diminished to a point where many would probably say they are unhelpful. We tend to be more concerned with this life rather than an afterlife which, if we believe in one at all, is usually thought of as a mystery.

Cliff Reed, retired Unitarian Minister, says this about salvation,
“Unitarians identify the agent of salvation as healing, dynamic love. This is both channelled through others and derived from some wellspring within ourselves. It is love that brings wholeness and fulfilment through the dissolution of the barriers that divide us…….So all those people who bring mercy and reconciliation, liberty and justice into the world are the embodiments of salvation. They are the “saviours” within humanity.” (Reed, 1999)

Unsurprisingly I much prefer Cliff Reed’s interpretation of salvation, where love is the key. Living our lives in a loving way to find fulfillment, wholeness or salvation if you like. Rather than waiting on empty promises of heavenly reward for following some religious dogma, or prescription; or living in fear of cruel threats about what will happen if we don’t. Love is prime, theology can be discussed afterwards. In this way our “good works” do matter, they are the outcome of our loving, living faith.

Paul Tillich (1886-1965), theologian and philosopher, reflecting on 1 John 4:16, put it’s like this, “Therefore, he who professes devotion to God may abide in God if he abides in love, or he may not abide in God if he does not abide in love. And he who does not speak of God may abide in Him if he is abiding in love.” (Tillich, 1956) In other words simply saying we are a Christian, Unitarian, or anything else, doesn’t mean anything without love in our hearts.

Love is small word, but with many meanings. In Greek there are several words for love. Neel Burton, a psychiatrist and philosopher, gives these seven types of meaning,

  1. Eros
    Eros is sexual or passionate love, and most akin to the modern construct of romantic love.
  2. Philia
    Philia is the love between friends. The hallmark of philia, or friendship, is shared goodwill.
  3. Storge
    Storge [“store-jay”], or familial love, is the love between parents and their children.
  4. Agape
    Agape [“aga-pay”] is universal love, such as the love for strangers, nature, or God. Unlike storge, it does not depend on filiation or familiarity. Also called charity by Christian thinkers, agape can be said to encompass the modern concept of altruism, when defined as unselfish concern for the welfare of others.
  5. Ludus
    Ludus is playful or uncommitted love. Ludus relationships are casual, undemanding, and uncomplicated, but, for all that, can be very long-lasting.
  6. Pragma
    Pragma is a kind of practical love founded on reason or duty and one’s longer-term interests.
  7. Philautia
    Philautia is self-love, which can be healthy or unhealthy. Unhealthy self-love is akin to hubris. (Burton, 2016)

Some of those definitions will no doubt be familiar. Perhaps some are surprising. So many possibilities for which we just have one word in English, love.

In the New Testament love is usually a translation of agape. So when Paul talked of love in our first reading he was talking of this kind of universal love; concern and compassion for all. It is used also to describe God’s love. In human terms, it is when we reach out beyond the circle of our family and friends, to those in need, those on the margins of society perhaps. To see all as having worth and dignity. In early Christian communities agape was demonstrated and symbolized through communal meals where all were invited to have a seat at the table and share food.

Early Christian fresco of a banquet located at a tomb in the Catacomb of Saints Marcellinus and Peter, Via Labicana, Rome. You can just make out “Agape” written between the two figures on the left. Note, it is a woman holding the chalice.

For people, there are few things as fundamental and necessary, yet fulfilling and enjoyable, as eating. Sitting with others at a meal table is a leveler of sorts, and might be enriching or challenging. As we share food we might have an interesting conversation or we might find someone’s views objectionable. Like the views of my “friends” who sent me the leaflet. But they need to eat and drink as I do, we share this. Despite our different views, we share a common humanity.

The leaflet I received through my letterbox has reminded how different our views and perspectives can be. I neither know or understand the people who sent me that message, but I know that I don’t agree with its content or its presentation. However, I would sit with them, share food, and discuss these things if I had the opportunity. Sitting together might be difficult or uncomfortable, but who ever said practicing love would be easy!

What would I say if I were asked what I believed in? I hope I would say that I believe in love. Love in relationships. Love moving through diverse identities, faiths and cultures that can unite us. Love that inspires freedom of expression, creativity and imagination. Love that is at the heart of caring and generosity. Love that opposes cruelty, oppression and injustice. Love that brings us hope. Whether we speak of God or not, it is love that matters.

I am sorry that we cannot share a meal together at this time, but I know that time will come again. When it does may we sit together in peace and joy and may we celebrate love in its many forms.

May it be so.

Hymn: Come, sing a song with me

Closing Words by W.M. Vories

Life is too brief
Between the budding and the falling leaf,
between the seed time and the golden sheaf,
For hate and spite.
We have no time for malice and for greed:
Therefore, with love make beautiful the deed;
fast speeds the night.

As we go from here may we abide in love and the God of our understanding; and may peace be with us all. Amen

One thought on “Sunday 14th February – In Celebration of Love

  1. Your leaflet struck a chord for me. I was told at junior school what a sinner I was. I kept wondering what I had done that had been so dreadful I knew I was naughty and got into trouble but it left me feeling quite confused. I am glad I’ve since found people with a more positive view. Lovely messages in this reflection.

    Like

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