Love, love, love

Freedom (photo by Martin Malina, Long Beach WA, August 2022)
audio for sermon: “love, love, love” by Martin Malina

Love, love, love. Love is the theme in the last year of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada’s “Living the Faith” series for spiritual renewal.[1] Love. How we love needs to be the driving force behind any method, means and strategy for our lives, individually and collectively.

The word evangelical is in our church name, both nationally and locally. The word evangelical derives from the Greek word meaning “gospel” or “good news.” The Greek root word is used in the New Testament[2] and was popularized in the first centuries to distinguish the love-centric movement of Jesus followers, distinguish it from the violent Roman Empire that often made its own “good news” announcements to celebrate military victories.[3]

The love-movement from the beginning of Christianity onward has at its root always distinguished itself–or at least tried to– from a dominant culture more interested in competition, comparison and often violent aggression in promoting itself. History shows Christians have often failed at love.

You might not think that the parable in the Gospel reading today demonstrates a truth about love. But I think it does, albeit in a subtle and not often registered way.

The dead man who was rich on earth wants to make sure his family doesn’t make the same mistakes he did when he was alive. He cares for them. He loves them. “I beg you to send him to my father’s house … if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”[4] You could say that even in death he is loving them, expressing his concern for their spiritual well-being.

The divine answer highlights the truth—and the pain—of being distant, cut-off from our loved ones by an impassable abyss. “Between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.” 

In effect, his love can no longer control others, influence them. And this is hard for us to take. But, the truth is, love is not something we can control. Never has been. Not true love, anyway. A dimension of true love emerges in this parable, precisely at this point when the dead man arrives at the limits of his influence, when he can no longer manage others’ decisions any longer. A great chasm keeps us apart.

Sometimes we feel alone, when we are separated from those we love. Sometimes we may feel unloved, because no one or certain people are not physically beside us and doing what we want them to do for us. But is this true, that we are unloved in these situations?

Here is another paradox: In recognizing our limits in relationship, and in freeing those whom we love to live their own lives, we demonstrate abiding love. Because love inevitably finds a way to express itself, without our words and without our control. Love inevitably finds a way, even across the barriers that separate us, barriers of distance, time, and even death. Through the power of prayer. In the positive energy we put into the world. In the warm heartedness of our intentions and actions. This is faith, hope and love.

What is called forth from us, is a deep trust, shown first to us in the God of the cross. Religious people may be prone to think of God as speaking and acting from above—as an authoritative voice micromanaging everything that happens in the natural world.

But Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross paints another picture altogether: God enters our lives on earth more intimately, more lovingly, from below: the meaning of the cross, the meaning of our faith, the meaning of love.

Might God be less involved in controlling or directing than in accompanying, giving space, coming alongside, like a parent providing loving support to a growing child?

Might we find the highest expression of God’s love in a somewhat reckless gamble God takes in making the world a “free partner” in its own creation? 

Might God largely let the world operate without always directly intervening—trusting its natural powers and responsibilities to evolve into something beautiful?

This is God’s freedom. And God gives the world its freedom. 

“However, God must love with God’s heart in his throat at times.”[5] God must shed tears and grieve. God must grieve at what God sees at times in our behaviour so rooted in the dominant culture of comparisons, competition and even violence in relating with others.

We can be consoled, I hope, in the words of the poet in Psalm 139: “Where can I flee from your presence?” The Apostles Creed goes so far as to affirm that in Jesus God even ‘descended into hell’. God participates and loves us even in our struggles, loves us even in our suffering and death, coming alongside us from below.

God wants us to be free to make choices and decisions. This is the expression of God’s love. To trust us, because God has empowered us in creating us. And so we can pass it on: To love another is to let them be free. Not to force them to conform to the way we are and want them to be. But to let them, in a safe space, express the unique beauty emerging in their own lives, to let them make their choices even if you disagree or wouldn’t make the same choice yourself. That is love. 

And God is there, even in our letting go. Trusting in God. Trusting God has given us enough—enough resource, enough skill, and the heart-capacity as a community to live out God’s good and loving intention for all creatures great and small.

[1] Initiated by Bishop Susan Johnson in 2018, this four-year series began in year 1 with focus on prayer, year 2 on bible, year 3 on worship and year 4 on love.

[2] In the writings of St Paul especially (e.g., Ephesians 4:11, 2 Timothy 4:5) and Luke (e.g., Acts 21:8)


[4] Luke 16:19-31

[5] Beldon C. Lane, “Taking the Great Conversation Seriously” The Great Conversation: Nature and the Care of the Soul (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019, kindle edition), p.263

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