Loving the unlovely: sermon starter for Lent 2 (Luke 13.31-end)

The various run-ins between Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees are some of the most unlovely encounters in the gospels, full of threats, traps, accusations, petty jealousy… But they’re only one element in a whole bunch of stuff that makes Jerusalem seem a very unlovely place.

With a very unlovely history.  Anyone who knows their Old Testament will remember the stories about prophets being, at best, ignored, and at worst, persecuted and killed for speaking the word of God.  Elijah being pursued by Jezebel is just the best known.  God’s most faithful servants and spokesmen always suffered for their calling.

We might also recognise something of the parable of the wicked tenants in the vineyard; Jesus certainly sees Jerusalem as, “The city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it.”

Nothing about Jerusalem in the gospels seems lovable.  And yet Jesus loves it and its people, feeling as a parent does about a wayward child – loving, frustrated, desperate even… Jesus’ love for Jerusalem is a love that takes him to the cross, but it is also a love that is ultimately stronger than death.

God’s love for that which seems unlovely is awe-inspiring. Loving that which seems unlovely is a hallmark of Godliness, and if we ourselves can learn to look around us and at one another through the eyes of God then we rejuvenate the divine image within us.

Thursday’s Love Life Live Lent action challenges us to love the unloveliest parts of our neighbourhood enough to tidy them up.  Like a God who came into one of the darkest, most difficult parts of the world in order to bring his light right into the heart of where it was needed.

Saturday’s action asks us whether we love our friends enough to put the emotional energy into keeping in touch, rather than relying on them to make the first move. The incarnation shows that God does not insist that we make the first move in keeping in touch with him, but is always more ready to listen than we are to pray.

Friday’s action demands that we love ourselves enough to dare to disrupt our habits and give ourselves the chance for new life and new experiences. 

Learning to pour love into places and people, and learning to love ourselves, is generous, and it is Godly.  This is a good challenge to rise to.  But for me, this reading overwhelmingly reassures me that even in my most unlovely moments, God is still my heavenly Father, and still longs to gather me, like a mother hen protecting her chicks.

Love Life Live Lent Wednesday week 2: Tell someone you love them

I have a six year old son who tells me a gazillion times a day how much he loves me. And he means it. He is a child who feels things deeply, and wears his heart on his sleeve, and emotions for him are often played out in the world of the senses: “Here’s a strawberry for you mummy – I thought of you as I picked it so it’s got my love in it – eat it mummy and taste the love…”  Not surprisingly, Daniel loves the tactile prayers that we do in messy church, using cushions, blankets, soft things… the love of God can be felt in these, and is very real to him.

So, when he forgets to say please and thank you to me, and does what most six year olds do, which is to treat their mother like an omnipresent servant, I try and explain to him the loving someone also means treating them with respect, and that he can show me he loves me, as well as telling me, by treating me less like a slave and more like a fellow human being.

I am fairly confident that I’m not alone, as a mother, in this experience.  And yes, the please and thank you habits are important. And yes, treating others with respect is an important manifestation of our awareness that they are in fact human beings, let alone human beings for whom we have significant feelings.

But I’d be sorry for my son’s expressions of love to be reduced to politeness.  And I’d hate his declarations of undying love for me to become mere rote repetitions without the intensity of feeling behind them.

‘I love you’ is just three short words but it’s what they look like in real life that matters. I often get wedding couples to reflect on this. I show them the declarations and the vows and ask them,’what do these words look  like in your life? And how has the way that these words look in real life chanced over the course of your time as a couple?  And in particular, what does ‘cherishing’ look like in your lives?

Cherishing must be the part of the marriage vows that’s easiest to let slip; life gets in the way, busyness creeps in, there is no time and energy for cherishing any more, except perhaps for birthdays, anniversaries and Valentine’s day…  But cherishing can be not only the finishing touch of love lived out, it can also be part of the foundation of that love lived out.

If C S Lewis was right that we can become more generous by giving more, then we can probably become more loving by consciously cherishing those around us, particularly those who have been given to us to love.

So, do I wish that my son always remembered to say please and thank you? Of course I do.  I also wish I always remembered, too!  But I can also look at all the little ways that his love for me is expressed through small acts of cherishing that assure me that love isn’t just a word to him. As long as love is truly lived out in his life, and practiced every day it never will be just a word, for either of us.