** 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) **
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.
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…
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.
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.