I've visited a few churches just lately.
And heard more than a few church stories!
Not all, of course are stories that we would want to associate with the working out of the Christian gospel, but they contain lessons for life never the less.
One church I was shown about was a late 16th century protestant church in Northern Ireland. The floor had needed to be relaid some years ago and so the old boards were pulled up.
To their surprise the church members found a grave under where the aisle was. A plain stone marked the resting place of the early ministers; his inscription read, "They shall walk over me in death as they did in life."
Now I know no one here would ever think of walking all over a minister!
And I'd have to say I was treated with a most gracious respect in Northern Ireland, but we can get ourselves into trouble at times, can't we? Relationships are always a two way street and much difficulty is of our own making, but how sad to feel you had been walked over.
How absolutely tragic!
How completely opposite this is to the will of Jesus, who said:
This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you. Jesus words have the force of the greatest example to reinforce them. "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends."
In Belfast we were warmly welcomed and people offered us their friendship, warm hospitality, they took us to see beautiful places and favorite things, the ecumenical fellowship was active and friendly. We felt at home and loved. Two miles down the road we were shown the "peace lines," fences enormous structures with razor wire and cameras to keep catholic and protestant communities apart. Sad division.
Two examples of community, a short distance apart, but what a huge contrast!
I want to tell a few stories about love: stories about the doing, because love in action, in real life speaks more powerfully than fine theories or ideals.
My story of "love in action" is of a ten year old named Pat, her Gran and her Uncle Charlie.
"I was scared the first time I saw Uncle Charlie, I came home from school and in the dining room was a bed with a strange man in it. Gran told me that she'd had a dream and God had told her to bring Uncle Charlie home from the veterans hospital and he'd get better. She wasn't sure if it was the right thing to do, or how she would cope, but thought she would give it a go.
He had been for ages what they called catatonic.
Gran explained that was a fancy way of saying that cat had his tongue. It took me ages to get used to him, but after some weeks I even played in his room and talked to him, though he didn't talk back of course.
"Pat, I've got something for you," Gran called. She'd found a baby bird, fallen out of it's nest and I was to look after it. I put the poor tiny featherless thing in a box and put it in Uncle Charlie's lap while I went to get some food for it. When I came back the empty box was on the floor!!
"Charlie, I whispered, trying not to cry, where is the little bird?"
He smiled and opened his cupped hands as the little head popped out.
That evening Gran was getting Charlie's tea tray ready when out he came, dressed, and carrying that bird.
Gran's eyes nearly popped right out of her head.
Then Charlie made the first sound I ever heard him make, he laughed, he laughed til tears rolled down his cheeks. "Look," he said pointing at the bird, "isn't he the sweetest, most helpless thing you ever saw?"
Pat, aged 10
"Love in action" opens doors and changes lives. Jesus love is love that gives its life for his friends, a love that really can change us, can open doors and bring hope and healing, compassion and life in all it's fullness.
His words to his followers are words we need today.
The fences of our divisions might be more subtle than those in Belfast, they are very real none the less.
"Love one another as I have loved you."
The God we know through Jesus is always active.
God is the untiring Lover who is there for all, active all the time. and Love is known through action.
This is my commandment: That you love one another as I have loved you.
You and I must be about these activities then;
the love-driven giving of ourselves to and for others,
the welcoming loving of hospitality,
the thoughtful caring of loving consideration.
When Jesus asks us to love one another, he is inviting us to participate in God's characteristic activity. To align ourselves with that Joy which is the ultimate activity in the universe.
The whole purpose of life on this planet is to produce loving creatures.
Jesus says; "I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." "this is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you".
The complex, painstaking process of creating humanity, is driven by God's loving. The immense time scale involved, is for the creation of lovers.
The triumph of human spirit over calamity, suffering, and evil in its multiple forms, is to produce loving persons. Nothing matters more. Nothing is more fundamental.
The whole purpose is for us to become loving beings; like God.
It is as simple as that and as profound as that. Boil it all down to its very essence, Christian faith is about love.
The be all and end all of our purpose, is most clearly shown in Jesus loving actions.
Jesus asks us to participate in the very essence of God, and in so doing we will find our fulfillment.
Jesus, we know, loved life; he went to a wedding and supplied the wine.
He teased Nicodemus with his playful wit, he gave wry responses to challenging questions whose aim was to entrap him, he enjoyed eating and drinking at parties, told stories of heaven as being like a party, he valued friendships, he brought healing and wholeness to real people in real need. "This is my commandment, says Jesus: That you love one another as I have loved you." in order that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
These are marvelous inspiring words, words that some have died for, but we have to recognize they are just words until we do what Jesus says, just concepts in the in abstract 'til people like Pat and her Gran put them into real life actions, 'til people like you and me give of ourselves in real ways that puts love into action - for this says Jesus is the very essence of life as we were made to live it!
And as we live out Jesus way of loving, his joy will be in us and our joy will be complete.
May it be so in us, more and more, by God's grace.