Love..…at times an abused word…yet still the word we most want to hear……even at the end of a short text.
Once we accept there is a God , then there is no debate.. God is entitled to our first Love….”for God, The King and the Country”…..
“Unless you hate your mother, father, wife, husband, children , you cannot be my disciple” ( St Luke 14:26..) Obviously Jesus is not saying you must hate your family in any emotional sense…the force of the word is priority…God first…being a disciple of Jesus takes first claim upon our life.
But, having said that, we need to hear all the biblical passages about loving family, care of our children, even loving our enemy. We will experience at times difficulty working out our obligations, conflicts will arise..but, in most situations if I am putting God first, then my wife, my children, my colleagues at work ..yes even my enemies should be receiving a quality of love that enriches their lives.
Paul’s letter to Philemon is a beautiful expression of how loving God determines how we love others…Onesimus is a slave, owned by Philemon ( with all that “owned” implies) Onesimus has run away… but, through Paul he has become a disciple of Jesus..so Paul, urges Philemon to take Onesimus back….not whipped, or killed as could be expected. Paul’s love for Onesimus is Christ’s love being expressed through Paul …”no longer a slave, but a beloved brother in Christ” . “Welcome him as you would welcome me” This letter is a love poem, a radical expression of how the love of Christ should affect the relationships we are to have with each other.
Talk about a social revolution! Paul is asking Philemon to go against all that was linked to slavery..this is a loving that breaks the laws of discrimination and victimization; smashes the evil structures that endorse the legal abuse of a fellow human person.
We need have no fear that loving God first, will justify loving others less, let alone excuse our abuse of others on the basis of loyalty to God.
So what about the potter and the clay (Jeremiah 18 ) ..where is the loving in the warning of Jeremiah that God may smash Israel to pieces if they do not turn back to him….do we just dismiss this as Old Testament ?
If God sits back and never gets involved in the events of our social, political and personal lives, then such a God is no God at all….if God is indifferent to evil then God is not only immoral, but without any morals at all. How God acts in judgement,and what that might look like in our own time is a major task, to be approached with caution, and not with some religious raving as some might do.
If I jump out of a plane without a parachute, I will fall and be killed. God does not arrange such consequences on an individual case by case basis; it is the nature of the universe. As surely as we ignore the moral laws designed to develop and protect us, so consequences will follow and if they didn’t God, our Creator, would be without any moral character. When love abounds, human society holds together for the common good and when love is crucified then suffering follows and society falls apart, like a cracked pot. Human history carries the evidence that this is so.
So, reading the signs, as did Jeremiah, becomes an urgent task. If we are to build this tower of human society then we need to know how to do this so the task is achieved.
Given that love is of the nature of God, given that love, as seen in Jesus, gives itself away for others, as Paul expresses so beautifully and powerfully in his letter to Philemon, given that such love always works to build community and connectedness across the walls that divide, given all this we should note with concern the rise of individualism? ” You can’t tell me what to do”… “I am my own person”… “I can do what I like with my own body.” “America First !” What is Brexit if not a sign of withdrawal back into nationalism. “If we want to burn down our rainforest, that is our business.”
If Jeremiah were here he would be saying…the vessel has become cracked in the potters hand and needs to be reworked. Tribalism, denominationalism, individualism works against the way The Potter would shape us.
Out of love we have been created and therefore we are designed to find fulfilment only within community..we are communal beings.
There are voices trying to raise us above individualism, above tribalism, denominationalism and nationalism..God speaks through them whatever they call themselves.
Our commitment to each other within our church life is a commitment to the importance of community for human well being… paying our taxes and gifts to charities is a commitment to loving our neighbour.. our prayer for others is a commitment to the connectedness of the world…all that we have and all that we are belongs now to Christ, for the sake of our family, neighbour, and the wider world.