God is like . . .

Text: 1 John 4: 7-21 (God is Love)

“Let’s talk about love.” That’s the title of a mega-platinum album released by Celine Dion in 1997 and of a single from that album written by Bryan Adams. It’s also how I think about church.

For me, church at its best is a never-ending conversation about love. Each week, we gather to focus on love. We hear ancient stories about it; we share concerns and joys as people who struggle to love ourselves and our neighbours; and we reflect on what love might mean in this moment in family, neighbourhood and world.

Of course, we do more than just talk. We also try to act.

No matter how we list our sacred values — as faith, hope and love; or as humility, honesty, respect, courage, wisdom, truth, and love; or in any other kind of list – these values are not just objects of conversation. We uphold them to inspire one another to reach out in care, to work with others for justice and peace, and to help us behave in ways that live up to these values. Church is not just a talk shop. It is also an incubator of ethical behaviour, of personal and communal healing, and of social change.

Nevertheless, conversation plays a big role. The reading we heard from the letter First John has been influential for many people in the church since it first began to circulate in the Second Century and especially since a consensus developed in the Third Century that it be included in the New Testament.

The reading might not strike everyone as eloquent or persuasive. But because of its repeated refrain that God is Love, it has helped many of us frame our understanding of church tradition and of the other books of the Bible from the perspective of Love.

I chose “God is Like . . . ” as the title for this brief reflection based upon the children’s song we sang last week. It offers a variety of metaphors for our understanding of the divine. The first verse says God is like a flashlight shining in the dark; the second that God is like a mother giving us a hug; and the third that God is like a father saying welcome home. I enjoyed its simplicity and how it encourages us to imagine the divine with a variety of metaphors.

For me, the most important metaphor is the phrase “God is Love.” Other passages in the Bible suggest that we imagine God in other ways: as a vengeful judge, as a mighty warrior, or as a moralistic accountant. But those metaphors don’t encourage me. In contrast, God as Love feels infinitely encouraging.

However we imagine the Divine, or the Sacred, or the transcendent side of consciousness, I believe that when Love is at the centre we are on the right track.

There is more to life than just conversation. But the power of conversation should not be underestimated. Words matter. Refining our concepts can helps us. Pouring out our hearts to compassionate friends can increase our ability to cope and thrive in challenging circumstances.

Because of this, I value deep conversations that help us navigate our way through each stage of life and each moment of blessing and challenge. If these conversations help us to understand love more completely and to orient our hearts, minds, and actions towards compassion and joy, then they are worthwhile.

I have deeply enjoyed being in conversation with Elder Evelyn Day this winter in this series on Sacred Indigenous Teachings. What a privilege to listen to her teachings, to hear her drumming and singing, and to be transported by her energy.

Reconciliation between Canada’s First Nations and those of us who are descendants of settlers involves many things. One of them is conversation. We gain a lot by listening to the stories, perspectives, and teachings of First Nations people.

Listening, reflecting, and responding in love might not always seem like much. But for me, it is healing; and I pray that it is for others as well.

So, without further ado, I now invite us to prepare our hearts and minds to hear a seventh teaching from Elder Day. Evelyn . . .

And here is the “preamble” to the service that I delivered yesterday

Dear friends,

“What time is it?” This a question I often find myself asking; and today is one of those times. So, I begin with some answers that fit with this morning’s gathering. Well, to start, today is the last Sunday of winter 2018-19. The spring equinox occurs on Wednesday afternoon. And I am sure I am not the only person here who is happy that we can so clearly sense the change of season this weekend.

Today is also the second of the six Sundays in Lent in 2019. And so our spiritual journey to Jerusalem continues. I hope many of you saw the reminder in Thursday’s “What’s The Buzz” e-newsletter of the suggestion from last Sunday that we consider not just giving up something up for Lent, but also adding things like acts for reconciliation and random acts of kindness. We distributed two lists that encourage us to think of how can we pay it forward this Lent. There was a link in WTB to the sheet we handed out last week, and there are more copies of it at the table near the entrance to the church. Please do consider taking a look at those lists if you haven’t already done so.

This morning, we also continue our practice in Lent of having a different member of the congregation lead us in prayer each week. I look forward to what Ethel Ray will offer us this morning.

Today is also the seventh and final of a series of Sundays in which Elder Evelyn Day offers us a teaching on Sacred Indigenous Teachings. I am pleased that this last one focuses on Love, which is a sacred value in all traditions; and I look forward to what Evelyn will offer us today. This will include a chance for us to feast on some Bannock and strawberry jam in the Lower Hall after the service, and perhaps a chance to dance with Evelyn at that time. I have been delighted by this series this winter and the gracious way that it came to be. Thank you so much Evelyn.

Today is also St. Patrick’s Day, which for a person with as much Irish ancestry as me, should be a big deal . . . but which, yet again, I have ignored. I even forgot to choose some Celtic music that might remind us of the Emerald Isle or of the blessings of the Irish to both church and world. But regardless, I wish you all a happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Today is also the baptism of Laura’s daughter, Alex Paquette. I always love welcoming a new baby into church and world with the ancient and evocative sacrament of baptism. Not only does it help us express our joy that Alex is here. Baptism also symbolizes our entry into the universal Body of Christ. With its watery symbols of birth, burial, and rebirth, baptism feels to me like a perfect way to prepare for springtime and Easter.

As you may have noticed in “What’s The Buzz” on Thursday, Laura is having a luncheon for her family and friends in the Lower Hall to celebrate Alex’ baptism, and she has invited all of us to join them! Thank you Laura! So, if you like chili, please feel free to stay not only for Bannock and jam, but also a chili lunch!

Finally, on a more sombre note, today is one in which a terror attack on two mosques in New Zealand on Friday is on many of our minds. In that regard, I will now offer a poem published on Friday by the United Church of Canada’s Moderator Richard Bott. I found it helpful, and I hope you do too:

Forty-nine people murdered.
More than forty others wounded.
In Christchurch.
At worship.
At prayer.

Forty-nine people murdered.
More than forty others wounded.
For one reason:
because they were Muslim.

Forty-nine people murdered.
More than forty others wounded.
Hundreds grieving the death of family and friends.
Thousands even more afraid
for their loved ones and for themselves.

Forty-nine people murdered.
More than forty others wounded.
Because of fear, turned into rhetoric,
turned into anger, turned into
white supremacist hatred.

It is time to pray.
It is time to act.

It is time to stand, together,
to counter acts of hatred,
large or small,
with acts of love;
to counter acts of hatred,
wherever we encounter them,
with all that we have and all that we are;
to counter terror
with God’s peace.

Grieve.
Pray.
Act.
Love.

So, on this Sunday filled with many blessings and concerns, we turn towards Love. And as both the Moderator’s prayer and the series on Sacred Indigenous Teachings remind us, one of the best ways to bring all of our blessings and concerns together is to end with Love. May this be so during our time together today.

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