Sermons from St Faith's   

Unconditional Love

Revd Denise McDougall,  Sunday, 29th October, 2017

Today we are delighted to welcome Chris and Louise and their Family and friends to St. Faith’s as they come to share in the baptism of Oscar Thomas. Baptism and the Eucharist are actual events, when we are transformed by water in baptism and bread and wine in the Eucharist, these events are not simply reminders of God’s love, they bring God’s love to us.

Oscar came into the world 20 months ago today and without any training, purchasing particular items, or practising special skills his mum and dad Louise and Chris understood how powerful and apparently from nowhere love could really be. I have to confess that when I was expecting my second child I worried that my first daughter who had already had 2 years of absolute love and nurturing, would lose out when her baby brother or sister arrived, would I love her any less, would the love she knew have to be halved? Of course not and neither did two daughters miss out when number three came along and Neive and Fraya certainly weren’t loved any less when Oscar arrived. Love doesn’t get divided or diminished by numbers and there is always more waiting to be shared and what better occasion to remind ourselves that each of us despite failings and weaknesses are recipients of God’s unconditional love.

The love between parent and child binds them together for life. I don’t need to tell Louise and Chris, they are probably well aware already that there will be times as Oscar gets older that they will probably become frustrated, annoyed, disappointed and so on but the strength of their love will always be pivotal to any decisions they may make for him or help him to make for himself and their love for Oscar will be unconditional, just as God’s love is for us.

Of course there are any number of different types of love, we live in an age which bombards us through the media about the importance of love. We can all think of adverts or songs in the charts that focus on a superficial or sentimental love but real love isn’t that simple and a sentimental insistence on love falls a long way short of the way God challenges us to love and respect everyone, God knows that each person has a unique contribution to make to society, in whatever form that may be. We may well be able to think of people who claim to be devout churchgoers or those who hold high profile positions in their work places but at the same time fail to offer the hand of friendship or acknowledge the needy person close by, or add items to a supermarket trolley for the local food bank or comfort a homeless person sleeping in a doorway who needs warmth not only physically but emotionally as well.

Similarly the Pharisees frequently boasted about living by the laws of their ancestors of which there were around 613 separate commandments and in today’s Gospel reading we hear how they tried to test Jesus by asking him which commandment was the greatest. The question they asked has just as much relevance now as it did over 2000 years ago and Jesus responded by taking his listeners to the heart of Jewish tradition, by faithfully wrestling with the laws and continuing to apply them in ever-evolving situations. In no way was Jesus attempting to abolish Jewish law but saw his role as fulfilling it and bringing it to perfection by broadening the scope of the Commandments; He was forcing the Pharisees then and us today to look deeper into ourselves, to look beyond attitudes and actions. Above all else he calls us to love God and our neighbours wholeheartedly. It is highly unlikely that we will be able to enjoy the best relationship possible with God if other relationships are broken or wrong. I suspect that like some Jews we may smugly think we do keep all the Commandments however we need to look beyond those commandments, to our attitudes related to them, and reflect on how we do actually live our lives on a daily basis.

Jesus highlights the laws of loving as a gift from God and if we allow that gift of love to enter our thoughts, desires and emotions, it is no longer about actions but about our inner most being. How we love and are loved is what makes us tick.

So as Christian people we are challenged to take stock, to examine our lives, our thoughts and the motivation behind them, both personally and collectively. Not an easy task and Jesus’ commandments verge on asking the impossible but the important thing is to never give up working towards the perfection that is God’s and ensuring that our motives are always sincere. Jesus calls us to base all our behaviour on the integrity of character rooted in love and in our relationship with God.
 Righteousness is an expression of being right with God.

And if we really are genuinely seeking to love God and neighbour, we can’t do it alone, we need the power and victory of the Messiah to help us do so; it just isn’t enough to mean well, we need to accept God’s grace and accept God’s power working in our lives, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, in the Church and its sacraments.

Today Oscar Thomas takes his first steps on his own life-long Christian journey and will shortly receive the gift of the Holy Spirit through baptism; let us pray for him and his family and welcome him not only into the family of St. Faith but into the Christian family world-wide.

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