I think that we all grew up surrounded by music, much of it in the folk and pop traditions, writes Rev Sydney Maitland. The themes were often about love – romantic yearnings, fulfilments, frustrations and derelictions. Love rarely went beyond this and so it became more and more about self-finding, self-fulfilment, self-realisation in a relationship with someone else.
Love of family was not so prominent, love of country even less so and the love of God was practically nowhere to be seen – well, heard. If the starting point to love is the self, then it will end in tears and dereliction. But there is another way of looking at it.
To start with the love of God is to start with who and what God is. To say that God is love (1 John 4: 7) is only to approach the door of the palace. It raises far more questions than it answers, both about God and about love. Yet this is the reality behind all of creation, for it was conceived and realised as an act of total self-giving. Even at the outset it was going to cost God for the possibility of free will which would betray the love of God was always going to be a danger. Yet love had to allow creation to make decisions otherwise it would not be love, but control.
And so love took the next step: to give entirely of itself and Himself in order to restore its relationship with creation. And so God gave Jesus to restore what creation in itself could never restore – and not even imagine restoring. Just as God poured Himself out in creation so He did it again in restoring it. Again, love was all about giving.
In teaching the people of Israel about how to respond to Him, the first and greatest commandment was to love God above and before all else. With all of heart and soul, mind and strength. It was to put God above all other considerations, for only God could meet us as we really are. Only in God could we find ourselves, and only in Him could we relate to one another as He intended us to. Even when confronted by mystery or doubt or confusion love would respond by trusting rather than demanding.
And in this He gave us the vision and the reality of who and what He is by giving us Jesus. He would be the lens and the sunshield through which we might see God, for to look on God unaided and unprepared would be like staring into the sun. Lethal within the confines of this life.
To approach God expecting His favour while rejecting the means He has provided is to reject and despise what He has done in giving Jesus and in Jesus’ own work in His ministry climaxing in His death on the cross. There is however another way of seeing it. To receive the love of God as He has given it is also to find a new kind of living.
It is a life with correction but without condemnation. It is to be convicted of what is false and twisted in order to be able to live in a greater love and peace, a new kind of fellowship with one another and with God in Jesus Christ.
But more important it is also to live without fear: ‘Perfect love casts out fear’. (1 John 4: 18). In times of hesitation and anxiety Jesus invites us to fix our attention on Him, rather than the fears raging in our streets and media and among our leaders. Like the storms of the Sea of Galilee, which can be sudden and treacherous, our present pestilence has the energy to drain us of our sense of community and to isolate us even from one another. Yet in Jesus Christ we are also invited to step out, away from our doorsteps, and away from our own fears and hesitations.
I am hoping that we will soon be able to gather again to worship, even if this is also constrained by our times. I am looking forward to seeing us rise again from our fears and difficulties to worship the living God, and as we do so to encounter one another in a new way as well.