Four Loves

** Note:  This is a sermon done in pieces throughout the worship service, interspersed with scripture and songs.  Also – many thanks to UCC Worship Ways for help with the liturgy that ties all these pieces together (parts are found in the Eros II section) **

A few years ago, I was in Nashville and most of my ministry was to young adults in the congregation. Valentine’s Day was approaching, and I was surprised by the ways in which people without “significant others” felt like they were being left out of the festivities. Left out of the celebration of love. They were depressed and heart broken and lonely. So as we got together to talk with one another about all the mushy, gushy stuff that surrounds this month, we tried hard to remember that love is not an emotion or an action reserved only for two people who “love” each other. It is more than that. It is deeper than that. Love is essential to who we are as human beings. We are creatures who both need to give and receive love. All of us need that.

C.S. Lewis is a great Christian theologian and he wrote a book about love. About four loves actually. The poverty of the English language is that we only have one word to describe this whole range of experiences. And so when this word is co-opted by a holiday or defined in a particular way, we leave out all of the other expressions of this complex and varied thing called love. But C.S. Lewis looked back at the different Greek words that all get subsumed under our conception of love today – and realized that love is a many splendored thing.

PHILIA

As much as our culture talks about individualism and self-identity, the truth is that we would not survive very long in this world without the people around us and the relationships that we have. David would have been absolutely lost in Saul’s court, if it were not for the bond that he had with Jonathan. And love, of one form or another is a part of all of these bonds. It is the glue that cements us together. Perhaps the most common and varied way in which we experience love is through the Greek word, philia, or companionship. This kind of love is always about something, some common interest or activity that draws individuals together for a common purpose.

Just think back to high school. All of the groups and cliques that formed were a result of philia, some kind of shared love. There were the jocks and the band geeks, the popular crowd and the nerds. These relationships, whether we liked it or not, were to some extent exclusive. The jocks just didn’t hang out with the nerds – unless of course you went to a small school like myself, and the jocks were the band geeks, who were the popular kids and they dated the nerds. Anyways. The very nature of philia is that it is exclusive. When you are drawn together for a common purpose, it means that others who don’t share in your love will not be a part of the group. And for the most part, that’s okay because we have multiple circles of friends: our golf buddies, and the people we play cards with; our co-workers.

I do want to say however, that Philia love is deeper than mere camaraderie. When you and others share philia love, you are passionate about the things you do together. You can’t wait for your next opportunity to be with one another.

This is how we think if David and Jonathan. In romantic love, two people stand face-to-face – eyes on one another. But in philia love… those two people… or more… are standing shoulder-to-shoulder, facing their common interests. Both David and Johnathan cared for one another, but their common passion was for Israel even more. Jonathan was willing to give up his claim to the throne, because he knew that David would make a better leader. And as the king, Saul, becomes more and more disturbed and seeks to end David’s life – it is the relationship between Jonathan and David that ends up saving David from death.  (Photo by: Mateusz Stachowski)
When we find others who truly care about the same things we do, we find our place. I think that this is truly what it means to be the church. We are drawn into community because we have found others who are in relationship with Christ and because we share a common understanding of what that means. We are connected to something larger than ourselves and find others to travel that journey with us. There is a downside to this Philia love, however. It can become very exclusive. It can shut others out. And when the church only has this kind of love in mind, it is no better than a high school clique. We need to be continually transformed by God’s love, so that our love for one another and Christ will draw us outward and will open the doors of the church.
STORGE
The next type of love is storge, or the affectionate love that we find within families. It is the completely natural warmth we feel towards those people who have also become like family to us – it is a love that cannot be coerced or bought but it is simply present through time. When thinking about storge, I often think about how I felt towards my brothers growing up. My mom would often tell me, “You don’t have to like your brothers, but you do have to love them.” With this type of love, who the person is or what they believe or how they act doesn’t matter. It is our relationship to them and the fact that we are in this together for the long haul that forms our bonds of love.
As I have watched my nephew Aden grow over the last three months, I have witnessed this kind of love. It is the bond between a mother and her child as they nurse. It is the bond between a father and his child as they play. It is made through eye contact, and soft gentle touches, and a warm arm to cuddle into. We enter this world fragile and vulnerable and we need the love of our families to grow and develop. In fact, children who do not receive this kind of love can fall behind in development and have a “failure to thrive.”
This kind of love is about giving and receiving. When families break apart, or when we do not receive love from the people who are supposed to care for us in this way, there is great pain involved. Parents, as hard as they try not to sometimes have favorites and the story of Jacob and Esau shows how it can tear a family apart. But the good news is that we become part of new families throughout our lifetimes; co-workers come to feel like brothers; that wise couple next door, like grandparents. When we open ourselves to others, when we are vulnerable and listen for the vulnerability of others, we can experience this kind of love.

EROS

Eros is about the beloved. It is being in love with the beloved. And it is something we don’t like to talk about in church. When we think of eros love, our minds immediately jump to a sort of passionate sexuality that the church defines, constrains, and then ignores. But physical sexuality is not the sum and total of this kind of love. It is a part, but not the whole.

To love someone with this kind of love is to love them, not because of what we might receive from the relationship, but simply because of who they are, simply because they are the beloved. It is about intimacy with another that is fostered through all sorts of mundane tasks: taking walks, sharing meals, conversing with one another. As Kathleen Norris writes in her book, The Cloister Walk, some of the most sexual people that she knows are celibate monks. She says, “When you can’t make love physically, you figure out other ways to do it.”

This kind of love is a sort of glimpse into divine love. I’ll admit, that I do watch South Park on occasion, and one of my favorite episodes is when Cartman starts a Christian rock band. I thought about showing you a clip of this episode, but unfortunately, I couldn’t find one without horrendous language, so I’ll just have to describe it for you. The kids take popular romantic love songs and simply insert Jesus into the lyrics.

While that may seem sacrilegious… the language of Eros love has often used by mystics to describe their relationship to the divine – as they come to see God as the beloved. Just hear these words from the diary of Beatrice of Nazareth, a thirteenth century mystic: “…the holy woman’s affection was so tender that she was often soaked with the flood of tears from her melted heart, and sometimes because of the excessive abundance of spiritual delight, feels a great closeness to God, a substantial clarity, a wonderful delight, a noble liberty and a ravishing sweetness…”

As we think about God as our beloved… we suddenly remember all sorts of hymns and songs that are in essence, love songs to our Lord… let us join together and sing one of them now… Oh How I love Jesus…

Eros Part II

As we think about the transfiguration of Christ, we often place ourselves in the shoes of the disciples. And we are filled with wonder and awe and love towards this glorious thing taking place right before our very eyes! But the problem is that we can become overwhelmed by the passion that we experience there. You see, even in the presence of God, Eros love, by itself, is never enough. A blind devotion to the object of our affection can be dangerous, be it to our partner or our conception of the divine. And it is because Eros love always begins with ourselves. While it may be directed towards whatever we come to see as the beloved, its source is within us and as such, is far from selfless.

When we fill our lives with Eros love, we become consumed by our passion for the beloved. Peter wanted to stay there in that moment forever. But Christ wants our love to not only be for God, but for others as well. Christ wanted them to leave that mountaintop. He wants to move them to a deeper sort of love.

We often find ourselves searching for these dramatic and holy experiences of God. We want to go up the mountain with Peter, James and John and experience God’s glory. And when we get there, if we have the ability to experience it, we want to say, “it’s good for us to be here… let’s get comfortable.”

We are too often tempted to keep the experience of God’s awesome love to ourselves. We want to enjoy the company of the saints instead of going back down the mountain to continue the work of God. God knows this is a temptation of our hearts, and so I want to invite us now to confess this temptation and to pray for forgiveness together…

God of glory and light, forgive us when we are complacent and comfortable
with keeping the riches of your love to ourselves.
Keep calling us down from our mountains of privilege.
Keep expecting more of us as your disciples.
Keep reminding us to listen to your Son, in whose name we pray. Amen.

God’s perfect love surrounds us. And it calls us to stretch and to grow and to always look to the concerns of others. The needs of our world are too numerous to name. Shelter, food, clean air and water… Our gifts touch these needs, but the biggest gift we can give is to love the world so much that we give of ourselves.
Nothing will transform need more than sacrificial love. So as you place money in the offering (plate, basket, etc.) today, don’t let your giving be done. Start planning to go deeper. May God now bless our hopes and dreams.

AGAPE

The highest of all the loves is Agape love. It is the kind of love that within the church we talk the most about and find the hardest to practice. It is a completely self-less love, always directed towards others. It is a love that has no pre-requisites, no conditions; agape love doesn’t depend upon any lovable qualities at all. Simply by being, you may receive this kind of love.

As Christians, we are called upon by God to exhibit this kind of love in our daily lives. Agape love is often referred to as charity – a complete giving of oneself without any expectation of reward or acknowledgement – a complete giving of oneself that reflects the love of God towards us. This is the way that God loves.

One of the most important aspects of our tradition, particularly the Wesleyan tradition, is that there is nothing you or I can do to deserve the love of God. We do not possess any quality that deems us worthy of being “beloved” by God. Whether we say this is a result of our fallen nature, or original sin, or simply because we are mortal and God is divine, we do not deserve the love of God. And yet, the scriptures continually remind us, that God loves us anyway. God speaks us into being and sustains us through her spirit. God provides for our every need, fully knowing we can never repay that kind of love. And God does so, not by standing above us, but by walking beside us in Jesus Christ.

This love, agape love, is so great that I often felt in my life like the others just didn’t matter. Why should I care about storge, philia and eros if I can experience and share agape love?! But C.S. Lewis reminds us that we do not need to throw away silver to make room for gold. Yes, agape love is the highest, and it is the truest love in that it comes from God. We simply need to acknowledge that it is superior, and allow it to be a part of our other expressions of love.

As the scriptures that Jack just shared remind us – we are called to live out that same kind of love toward others. We are called to allow God’s agape love to transform our relationships with friends, with family, and with our beloved. We only find the strength to forgive family members when we can love them unconditionally. Friendships based on our common goals wither up without humility and a genuine desire to care for the other. And the relationships we have with our partners need the charity and grace of God in order to love unconditionally and in truth. We are called to love others not because of something good in them, but because God first loved us.

Benediction: While Valentine’s Day is known as a time for lovers, today, we come together as people who love and desire a relationship with God, to celebrate all of the loves in our life. Let us acknowledge those people who have nurtured us, walked beside us, share common passions, and those who have known us most intimately. As we journey down the mountain, we will struggle to embody Godly love, agape love, with all of these people. It is not an easy task– we continually need to be infused with God’s grace and spirit….. God will make our love holy, if only we ask.

2 Comments

  • Rev Nancy Fitz

    February 13, 2010 at 3:56 pm Reply

    Nice work, I'd like to keep this for future reference. You do a great job of defining Love within the experiences of life so we can all relate. thaks

  • Katie Z. Dawson

    February 14, 2010 at 8:03 am Reply

    absolutely! =)

Leave a Reply