Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
Thought for Preparation:
“God is our clothing in which love enwraps us, holds us,
and all encloses us because of God’s tender love,
so that God may never leave us.
We are protected safely in love—in woe as in well—by the goodness of God.”
-Julian of Norwich
“For the Love of God”
Why is that a phrase people use in sarcastic discouragement. The Love of God is one of the most miraculous things—when most people try to describe God- they come up with Love, and then back pedal a little because it sound so simple and corny- but it is so profound. For the love of God, why are we so afraid of claiming the love of God! Of claiming that the most powerful force in this universe is Love, and the impulse to Love, the reality of being loved by God is the most miraculous thing we can imagine.
God’s love is like a shelter or tent that the psalmist from scripture today mentions, “You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.” Because you have made the LORD your refuge, the Most High your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent.”
Those who drape themselves in the Love of God will have protection, the psalmist boasts. Continuing in God’s voice, the psalmist speaks of loving God in return, “Those who love me, I will deliver; I will protect those who know my name. When they call to me, I will answer them; I will be with them in trouble, I will rescue them and honor them. With long life I will satisfy them, and show them my salvation.”
Mystics through out time have written love poems to God. I challenge you to imagine the love songs you hear on the radio during the next week, as love songs from God to you, or from you to God–its so moving, and it can be a quick way to awaken the love of God in you, and the knowledge we are loved profoundly by God. Hear this poem from mysitic St. Teresa of Avila, a saint alive in Spain during the 1500’s,
“We bloomed in Spring. Our bodies the leaves of God. The apparent seasons of life and death our eyes can suffer; but our souls, dear, I will just say this forthright: they are God, and we will never perish unless God does.” Mystics express this feeling of closeness with God, and union with God, something all our souls long for.
God’s not so discrete love note to us today was to stay indoors with our loved ones, and if we are alone, to stay warm and draw close to God.
We also hear from Cornell West, that “Justice is what love looks like in public.” Protecting the vulnerable, lifting up those whom the world has trampled down. The orphan, the widow, privileging the suffering and the hurt and the victims of the world.
Why talk about heart break, when we talk about Love. Why talk about temptation when we talk about Jesus being the son of God? Why do we need to feel the opposite to know the former exists?
The love of God doesn’t reconcile all people to one another, it isn’t flimsy and cheap, it isn’t easy and reckless. Love doesn’t mean that everyone agrees and gets along all the time. Love means being accountable to one another. Love doesn’t mean having the same opinions or even wanting the same outcomes. Love means being in touch with our own heartbrokenness, and allowing it to surface and teach us. And the Love of God is that Love that fills in the places where our heart breaks open. We are most open to the Love of God when we are a bit broken open ourselves.
In the Christian tradition, the main way God has shown God’s love to us is by becoming one of us through the person of Jesus and experiencing our suffering, intimately. Jesus was aware of being cloaked in the love of God. He went around trying to awaken that awareness of God’s love in everyone! God loves you! But first, he went through his own trials, of being completely alone in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights, being tempted by what Luke’s gospel describes as the devil.
Luke’s devil is not the same as the contemporary American depiction of the devil, which was developed in the Middle ages and continues to find new expressions- of red horns, pointy tails, fiery background, red pants. Luke’s devil was closer to the devil in the Book of Job or Genesis 3’s serpent. Ha Satan, in Hebrew, meaning literally, the adversary, the one that questions God, or makes you question yourself. The Greek Philosophical tradition lifts up the process of questioning as a pathway to truth. The popular phrase, “to play the devil’s advocate,” is much closer to the Biblical depiction of the devil- the one who questions. SO the devil in Luke is not a cosmic force of evil trying to challenge God, the devil in Luke is making Jesus question himself and his love of God. But Jesus passes the test, as we know, and begins walking the earth empowered as the Son of God, a child of humanity, the one to awaken the love of God in others.
Our journey has begun too, our journey of walking with Jesus through the wilderness, through life, death, and resurrection at Easter. We are in the season of Lent, and on Wednesday some of us gathered in the Sanctuary to worship and receive ashes. To kick off our Lenten journey, we remembered that “from dust we came, and to dust we shall return.” We have come from the earth and we shall return to the earth. We remembered that our bodies are mortal, but our spirits belong to God.
Our souls long for harmony with God, to fill with the beloved spirit of the divine, but so much gets in our way. What gets in your way? Our fear, our desire for perfection, our egos, our busy schedules, even our loneliness. We asked ourselves, “What keeps me from connecting with God?” Then we wrote it down on pieces of paper and burned them. The Deacons collected the papers and brought them up to a chimminea placed at the front of the sanctuary, and burned the papers with great care, one by one, as Shari played Amazing Grace on the Organ.
As we watched them burn, we cleansed our hearts. There is always opportunity for forgiveness, newness, redemption, starting fresh. We prayed as the fire crackled for God to take our burdens and to empty us, so that we can fill ourselves with God, with love. So that we can heal the broken open places in our hearts. We then received ashes, a marker of God’s love through Jesus and as a symbol of our mortality.
The mortality marking was really hard to wipe off- we got it all over our hands, and on our clothes, and faces. Ashes that used to be palms, nurtured by sun and water, soil and care, a symbol of life renewed, were smeared all over our stuff- reminding us that we are finite. For the Love of God, we are finite, and we are to Love and the infinite, the divine, not the devil of self, pride, money, ego, loneliness, separation, power.
Imagine burning those things now- the chimminea is still there- imagine burning that which does not serve you, that which hinders you from loving God, from connecting with God, from connecting with other people. Mortal though we are, we hear the comforting words from the Letter to the Romans, “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” God loves us! Nothing can separate us from that love! On this Valentines Day, on the first Sunday of Lent, let’s it kick off to become lovers of God, by connection with God, each other and people who are different than we are. For the love of God, Let it be so, amen.