Your donation helps keep the Cathedral open to God, open to all

No, I'd prefer to donate another time


Sermon: Cathedral Eucharist - 14 February 2016

Sunday 14th February 2016
Cathedral Eucharist
Romans 10: 8b-13
Luke 4: 1-13
Download Recording (MP3, 14.6M) Download

The first Tweet I read today said: is it happy Valentine's Day or gloomy first Sunday of Lent?

My reply read: Or subverting Valentine's Day and saying something joyful about love of God on first Sunday of Lent? Far from gloomy @GuildCath

For our readings draw us into the reality of love, which is far from gloomy.  We subvert the cliches and excess; the flowers and chocolates. And we glimpse a love that is so real it vulnerable. It bears our hurts and increases our capacity for joy. God's love is the first breath and the last word. It reconciles, strengths, waits and transforms. God chooses to love us by becoming one of us. It's a reality that subverts and deepens our human 'I love you'.

It's such a simple sentence.

Three monosyllables.

Subject. Verb. Object.

I love you.

It's such a familiar phrase: longed for, expected, demanding or routine.

Developers of autocorrect technology for our smart phones and tablets have analysed billions of key strokes. They tell us that the most commonly typed sentence is: I love you.

As Joe Moran says in the Guardian Review: 'all those millions upon million of what seem to their owners to be inimitable feelings, with intricate emotional histories behind them, condenses into the same three-word chorus.'

I love you.

It's enough: reassuring words, habitual words an everyday sign off.

It's freighted with meaning: a grand gesture, a formal declaration. 

I love you: the intimate becomes the universal.

It's layered with excess: 'I really, truly, madly, deeply, love you' declares Alan Rickman's character Jamie, in the film of a similar of the same name.

It's open to manipulation and control: anyone listening to The Archers senses unease and fear when Rob Titchener expresses his love for Helen.

Three words. I love you.

It's a sentiment that is relentless extended: Gonerel declare's to Lear that she loves him 'more than words can wield the matter'.

It's given and expressed within the limits of our relationships. Lear's youngest daughter rejects the competitive excess.  She knows she's not poor in love. Her love is 'bigger than her words'. Yet, when faced with transaction and conditions; with rhetorical word play to gain a greater share of the kingdom, there is nothing that she can add.

She loves as a child should love a father, neither more nor less.

Love, obedience and honour: half as daughter, half as wife.

If love is bound by conditions, what more can she say?

What can be added to 'I love you'?

Cordelia utters painful, honest truth:  'Nothing, my Lord.'

At church weddings, couples increasingly seek out non-biblical readings to give expression to their love. Perhaps the nursery rhyme familiarity of the Owl and the Pussy Cat adds a quirky edge to their personal commitment. Perhaps the image of entwined tree roots in Captain Corelli's Mandolin says it better than they could. One couple reverted to the Velveteen Rabbit.  Perhaps it's the safety of children's book that renders the inexpressible cost of love, sayable.  Perhaps it's still a favourite of grandparents and babysitters.

The Velveteen Rabbit longs to be real.  In the nursery he seeks the wisdom of one of the oldest toys. How can he be real? 

'Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'

'Does it hurt?' asked the Rabbit.

'Sometimes,' said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. 'When you are Real you don't mind being hurt'.

In Luke's Gospel, we have learnt that Jesus is conceived by the Spirit; he is baptised with that same Spirit. Now that same Spirit leads him in the wilderness. The Spirit fills Jesus and the Spirit guides him. Here in the desert, Jesus commitments himself to loving the world. Tempted as we are, yet without that fracturing of relationship, or selfish desire, we call sin.   In the weakness of our flesh, God loves in a way that it so real it hurts; so real it saves.

The devil's questions, prompts and offers to Jesus are lens through which we see the power of love.  In the human frailty of hunger, Jesus faces the relentless psychological nagging 'if you are the Son of God do x or y.'

Satisfy your hunger: no, says Jesus, for we are sustained not by bread alone. No, I will not love the world simply by satiating physical desires; by refusing to go deeper into human longings; by colluding with greed.  Love that gets to the heart of our needs and hopes, that is real.

Accept earthly power: no, says Jesus, seizing glory and authority in that way is not God's way of loving. Resorting to domination on someone else's terms is not real love.  Love that coerces and bullies a response isn't real.   Attention to God in worship is the beginning of love; serving others by attending to their needs, that's real love.  This is love that walks the way of grief and exclusion; transforming it into joy and welcome.

Perform a stunt: no, says Jesus, I won't take a short cut. I won't put God to the test in that way. Real love doesn't change human hearts by performing dramatic feats of reckless showmanship. Such love is superficial and fleeting: it doesn't forgive or heal; it doesn't challenge or embrace.

Three times, Jesus chose to serve God. Three times he rejected the temptations power and security. This is what God's love looks like: it doesn't dominate or seek easy wins.  It's a love that walks the way of the cross. It's a love that is our ultimate reality. A love that overcomes pain, sorrow and death itself. 

And if that's how God loves, then it's how we should love too. This is the word that is near us; that is to be on our heart and on our lips.   It is a word of love that shapes our community; it is the assurance that our fears and hopes are held in his generous love. 

Paul reminds the Romans that this has three implications:

We can have confidence in what we believe: we confess that Jesus is Lord; we who proclaim that God raised him from the dead.

We too are to be messengers of God's grace: rather than being self-sufficient, we are to draw on his love, becoming more as we live out of that well-spring.  As one of our confirmands put it 'God is our daily basis'. Our all - our beginning and end; the one in whom we live and move and have our being. The one who gives us breath; and teaches us love that is real.

We are to rejoice in the breadth and depth of God's love for us, and all people: there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile.  In Christ, God is faithful in fulfilling the promise to his people Israel - that all nations will come to his light.

There is not distinction or partiality in the love we celebrate today: whatever our ethnicity, status, age, popularity, knowledge, experience. All those 'implicit' tribal identities are swept away as we kneel and receive the gifts of God's love: in broken bread, in out poured wine, in signs of God's blessing we hear God say 'I love you'.

The Skin Horse tells the Velveteen Rabbit that becoming real takes a long time: 'your hair has been loved off, your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.'

And Toby says: 'you were right, Rabbit. Love makes us real'.

In Jesus Christ, God tells us that love that is real bears all things to the agony of the cross and the silence of the grave.  In the power of the Spirit, we are called to love that way too: bearing the weak; forgiving hurts; challenging the strong; growing in trust, and encouraging each other.  Word of love on heart and lips. May the love we celebrate this Lent, make us real.