Wednesday, 23 November 2011

How do we know we love someone?

How do we know we love someone?  Of course I am not talking here about romantic love.  I am talking about the love people are to experience in the church.

Many years ago I was involved in a church where two people had a history of hatred towards each other.  However, I was told not to go there.  They had learned to get along.  Problem was they had only learned how to live with their dislike of each other.  They could put up with each other.  'It's dealt with,' they would have said.  But the silent hostility was there for all to see.  Love has to be better than this.

So how do we know we love someone?  Is it being able to shake their hand before sharing in the Lord's Supper?  It must include that, but surely must be more.  Of course you would ring for the emergency services if you saw them bleeding at the side of the road, you might not want them dead, but you would rather that they were as far away from you as possible.

They say that you don't have to like someone but you do have to love them.  That is true, they may have a sense of humour that gets on your nerves, they may be insensitive and harsh in how they talk to you, but you do have to love them.  But I think it is dangerous to say 'well, I don't like them, but I do love them.'  Make sure that you don't think that loving someone is something easier to achieve than liking them.  That would be too shallow a view of love.  Similarly it is very unhelpful to think about why you don't like someone, it is much more healthy to think of reasons why you might be tempted to like them.

When I was in theological college my pastoral care lecturer, Heather Morris, told us that it is very hard not to love someone you are regularly praying for.  What good advice!  After all Jesus said, 'pray for those who persecute you.'  Of course our prayers for them need to be sincere, often and deep for this to be helpful.

Let's make this practical.  It can be hard to tell where love is present but it can be obvious where love is absent.  If we can't talk to people over a cup of coffee then love is absent.  If we talk about them in a manner that aims to show others why they should also dislike them then love is absent.  If we won't go to a party because they are there then love is absent.  If we would not have them over for a meal (why not prove your willingness by doing so) then love is absent. 

Another thought.  Author, Randy Newman (not the singer), says that we do a disservice to our understanding of family when we talk of them as being 'disfunctional.'  You see that suggests that the aim for families is to be functional.  But we are called to something far greater than simply being a functional community.  The same is to be true for the church.  Our church is to be a family of ever increasing love.  Jesus' call to be perfect ... as your heavenly Father is perfect is set in the context of loving people who are difficult to love (Matthew 5:48).  

A man asked Jesus, 'What is the greatest command?'  He replied, 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'  Then Jesus added another.  'The second is this, 'Love your neighbour as yourself.'  There is no commandment greater than these.  So let's prove our love for God as we obey his many commands to love all people, and especially to love his people who are our sisters and brothers in Christ.

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