The love hour
The words you need and the music you want
With a choir of angels as a backing chorus.
If I had all that and I didn’t have love,
I’d sound like an orchestra tuning up … badly!
If I had answers to all our political tangles,
The clearest explanations of the hardest problems,
The faith that makes everything possible …
It might look great,
But, without love, it would mean nothing.
I can give away every penny I’ve ever owned;
I can work myself into the ground helping others.
Without love, I haven’t even reached the starting line.
Love is what makes everything else work.
There’s no jealousy or envy in it.
It’s kind, patient, long-suffering.
Love never spends its time looking in a mirror
And liking what it sees.
You can’t wind love up until it explodes;
You can’t make it descend into cruelty;
You will never make it hold grudges
Or laugh at other people’s disasters.
Love gets on with whatever comes its way,
Believes the best in people
And always hopes it will work out well.
If everything starts to fall apart
It never wavers, never changes its tune.
Love is here and will never go away.
The very best of what people think, say and do
Cannot last forever
Because it is only part of the truth, part of the whole.
When this world is made perfect again,
Our imperfect understanding will disappear.
When I was a child, I saw things like a child sees them.
As I grew up, I left behind what I used to think and do.
That’s how it is:
We see fragments of the big picture.
But one day we will see it all face to face.
And I will truly know about this mysterious world
Just as God knows about me.
Then three things that never decay will surround us:
Faith, hope, love.
And, in that future heaven on earth,
What will matter most?
Lord of all that is lovely
Forgive us for trying too hard rather than letting love direct us.
Forgive for driving ourselves into the ground in the pursuit of good causes.
When we do that, we’re trying to be good but we’re not letting you take the lead.
Help us to understand we are your followers and not your executive committee
Make us make time for ourselves as well as for others
Prod us if we become lazy but make us people who have enough space to appreciate your mind-boggling creation.
You know us in a way we will never know ourselves and appreciate things about us that we will often miss.
In spite of how we sometimes are, you love us.
May what you do for us, be what we do for others so that where we live becomes more and more where God lives.
Hymn/Song HERE I AM TO WORSHIP
I didn’t introduce the poem we started with because I was absolutely confident that after a few lines, you’d realise that it was simply a modern version of Paul’s great song of love in 1 Corinthians 13 – such a wonderful poem that some people say he didn’t write it. Not that they’ve got much evidence to support it but it is a surprise when it pops up in the letter, albeit a quite lovely one.
Now because God is love, as 1 John 4 observes, and love is so much the subject of our faith, I’ve often thought of turning up on a Sunday morning and saying “Welcome to the Love Hour”. You would of course wonder what was coming next. And you’d every right to be slightly nervous.
In fact, when I was a radio DJ, back in the 80’s, and I was filling in on the late shift, that’s exactly what I used to say coming out of the 11 o’clock news. The final hour of the station’s output majored on love songs and your messages to those you couldn’t be with. It was a revelation. I got to know the nicknames of quite a few inmates at Cardiff prison and I learnt to edit some of the messages that came in so that the radio station didn’t get into trouble with the complaint’s regulator. It was a good time of night to be broadcasting but it was also a window into how sad and lonely lives can become at times. There may be people who think they can do without love but I fear that we become dried out and lifeless without it.
When we say God is love, there are some scholars who screw up their noses and complain that this is not necessarily a great definition of God. They think it defines him too narrowly – what about justice and mercy and creative power and sheer awesome-ness? Well, of course, mercy, justice, greatness, creativity and thousands of other elements go to make up both a description of God and indeed of love.
You notice that I say a description rather than a definition. Love is exactly the sort of word that lights up for us the limits of a dictionary. Part of what we want to say about love will always elude us. That’s natural – love is something that is always greater than we have yet experienced or can ever imagine.
The interesting thing about God’s love is that we associate it with some aspects of the word much more than others. People who are asked about what kind of love is God’s love, tend to talk about pure love or strong love, a love you can depend on, a perfect love. That’s good. But they might also be thinking unconsciously that it’s a love which keeps itself apart from the trials and temptations of this world, a separated sort of love.
If you read your bible, you’ll find it covers all kinds of love. Turn to Song of Songs, a series of erotic marriage poems. Here’s a taste from the early chapters.
The girl says:
I know I am not pale and elegant
Like the young women of the city.
But I long for you to tell me I am beautiful too.
Her lover replies:
My love, you are lovely:
The way you walk is enough to turn heads.
Your hair curls into golden rings
And your eyes are as soft as a dove.
She’s not convinced:
But I am not one of those fine ladies,
I’m like the wild rose that struggles
To grow where our sheep graze.
he valley is more beautiful than the city,
In spite of all the sophisticated women,
You are the rose among the thorns.
One of our problems with love is not just giving or receiving it but feeling that we even deserve it in the first place. We know our imperfections and we home in on them. When BT installed better broadband at our place last year all I could see at first was how clear my wrinkles were. Somewhere along the line we all need to accept how we are. So let’s pray together.
Let us pray:
Lord of all that is good and lovely, help us as we wrestle with our imperfections,
If we look in the mirror, we may be unimpressed by what we see staring back at us.
But the mirror is just looking at the surface.
There are things that matter far more than that.
Forgive us for the unlovely things we think and do; forgive us for our carelessness
And the times we’ve taken advantage of situations.
Renew us so that any imperfections are only in the way we look
And not in how we behave with each other. Amen
Our next piece of music would be best described as spiritual. It’s certainly not a hymn. Todd Rundgren who wrote it has always described himself as an “outside type of spiritual” person. So he starts from a different perspective to a regular churchgoer. He describes himself as always searching for something – like the person in the lyric of this song. And, however much money you can put up front, you can’t find paradise or happiness that way. Take a listen to Rumer as she sings Love is the Answer.
Hymn/Song: LOVE IS THE ANSWER
Even someone from well outside church circles can realise that the light of the world needs to shine on them and that the answers to our loneliness and our troubles will only be found in love. Given that understanding, it’s seems utterly curious how we get tempted to run away from God.
The writer of Psalm 139 gets the both the wonderful and the scary part of someone truly knowing who you are:
O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
you search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O Lord, you know it completely.
That frankly is terrifying especially for someone like me who often doesn’t start thinking about what I’m saying until I’m halfway through the second sentence. That’s a bit late to call things back if I’m honest. And the Psalmist piles on the pressure:
Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
The poetry is beautiful but the thought is terrifying. You can’t think anything secretly, you can’t do anything secretly. Every dubious night-time activity, every deal completed in the shadows suddenly has a massive searchlight trained directly on it. That certainly terrified the teenage me. And yet a few years later, I could also see the reassurance the psalm offered and I wrote this poem reflecting that.
You search me and you know me,
What I am and what I do:
From the start to the finish,
Every word is known to you.
You set the rules, set the guidelines;
I can’t begin to understand.
If I ran where could I go to
That was not made by your hand?
In the light or in the darkness,
In the depths or high above,
You are still the great creator
Who holds us in his love.
If the creator loves us, then, scary though it seems, we can learn to live with the fact that we are known through and through. So, as we come to our prayers for others, remember God hears not only what we say but what we think!
Father’s Day – granddads too – all who play the role of the second parent – my gran often filled in for my mum or dad especially when mum was unwell. Parenting is a team game every bit as much as soccer or rugby – and often as rough!
End of refugee week – Trinity & Oasis projects in Cardiff, I know many of you have been involved in care in Pontypridd too – family stories
G7 – over – mixed reactions – governments can do more but so can people
What we can do
Aksa from Tanzania – husband, old & ill – never enough food
Tear Fund – Farming God’s Way rows -> holes, fertiliser -> ash & animal droppings, seedlings cover with mulch – the crazy lady … then the harvest
People we love, people who love us
People we know who are missing the ones they love
People who simply feel unloved
We remember the prayer you taught your first followers and say it now:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name
thy kingdom come; thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever.
Jesus, as you’ll be aware, didn’t leave us any love poetry but he did leave us the very simplest of guidance. His last instruction to his followers which you’ll find in John’s gospel is to love one another.
Simple. To the point. I often think about what he had in mind when he said that. It’s a What Would Jesus Do moment. And I think part of the answer can be gleaned from Ecclesiastes.
In chapter 3, the writer says this: to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to … well, as the writer points out, a time for all the things that fill our lives.
I was reading this one morning and I thought – well, that’s sort of where Jesus is directing us when he talks about – surely he’s asking us to keep love in mind at all times and in all ways. So I wrote this:
To every love, there is a season.
A time to start new pages in each other’s stories,
To hold hands, watch the sunset.
A time you should confront the things that hurt,
Then kiss, make up and start again.
A time to march for justice, feed the hungry;
A time to brew a pot of tea.
There is a time to bear a family’s disapproval,
To walk your own road with the one you love.
A time to break the silence with kind words,
Or split the sky with thundercracks of laughter;
A time to see the welcome in another’s eyes
And one to say goodbye with grace.
There’s a time to stay when others leave,
And one for letting go when it’s easier to cling on,
A time to bless the home that makes you safe,
Another to open doors for lost and lonely souls.
A time to smile at all that’s yet to be;
A time to hold hands one last time.
The seasons turn and bring their change
But love’s in every purpose under heaven.
Let me finish with one picture. We’re over in Bristol with our new grandson Reuben. He’s just over four months old and like some babies, he doesn’t much like being fussed plus he’s very, very curious about the world. The other week, after I’d mowed a lawn, Reuben and I just lay in the grass and looked at each other. I probably talked a bit because he likes my deep voice but I did absolutely nothing. I was just there with him. “Why are you so popular?” my wife demanded as Reuben gurgled and smiled. A fair point as I wasn’t doing anything. But I think that’s the point. Love isn’t always about doing; sometimes it’s about simply being there for each other.
Poetry and love weave themselves through the bible in a thousand and one ways so it’s good to take time some Sundays to celebrate that fact – love truly is a wondrous story … which takes us neatly to our final piece of music.
Hymn/Song: I WILL SING THE WONDROUS STORY
If you should wish to use any of the material please give credit to Dave Kitchen.