is one of that strange breed of semi-Christian songs which are perennial favourites in primary school assemblies. For those of you who've escaped these since your own school days, it has a chorus which has been buzzing around my head this week, for all sorts of reasons:
"Love is something! If you give it away you end up having more."
Dan has a brilliant post on the Theology of Receiving inspired by last week's Blah...Manchester*
It spoke loud and clear into my current thoughts about the state of the church,- which is not entirely encouraging, as I'd love someone to tell me that I'm actually quite wrong! It seems to me that in "everyday parish ministry" we spend most of our time wrestling with the impossible needs/expectations of those within our churches, who feel that it's OK, even desirable, to engage with those outside in our spare time, as long as we get all the church agenda sorted first. Mission is fine, as long as you're always there for the PCC and get the magazine article posted. And I guess it doesn't take a genius to work out that even in a community gathered in response to the Gospel, there will still be the sort of fearful survival instinct that demands that if there might not be enough to go round, you jolly well better look after me first. The thing is, we're supposed to be different. God's love has no limits, so there will be enough to go round. It's easy to write that, but as Dan says, believing ourselves loveable, and opening ourselves to be loved is hugely difficult. I once spent a whole Maundy Thursday Watch arguing hotly with Jesus that I really didn't want to have my feet washed by him, thank you very much...only to find that he'd already done it. Just as well, really, as I'd probably still be protesting if he hadn't taken the initiative.
However, as the months pass here, I'm increasingly convinced that most people have no idea how much they are loved...which makes it all but impossible for them to get on with the business of loving the world. I took a sad little funeral recently for someone who'd died in his 80s. Though married, he had no children, had not engaged with anyone else through work, leisure, faith. Rather, he and his wife were "all the world to each other",- which sounds very sweet until you think through the implications.....In this case, the widow was furious that she had been deserted, and still more angry at the injustice which allowed her beloved to die at all.
"He didn't deserve it", she said, "He was a good man. Everything he did was for us. "
Clearly they'd felt the need to build their own little kingdom, with sturdy defences which nobody had dared to penetrate...Not surprisingly, this was reflected in the response to her husband's death from the larger community. I was pleasantly surprised that there were 8 of us in the crematiorium chapel. As always I spoke about the love of God, which is so much stronger than death...but I could well have been speaking a foreign language. I pointed to Jesus as its complete expression,- but I do wish I could with confidence have pointed to the church as well.
I was about to press "publish" when my thought for the day from the Henri Nouwen Society arrived. Yet again, it's extremely apposite, so here it is in full...
Sharing the Abundant Love
Why must we go out to the far ends of the world to preach
the Gospel of Jesus when people do not have to know Jesus in
order to enter the house of God? We must go out because we
want to share with all people the abundant love and hope,
joy and peace that Jesus brought to us. We want to
"proclaim the unfathomable treasure of Christ" and "throw
light on the inner workings of the mystery kept hidden
through all ages in God, the creator of everything"
What we have received is so beautiful and so rich that we
cannot hold it for ourselves but feel compelled to bring it
to every human being on earth.
* (small irrelevant note here: how miserable do other people get at the repeated news of exciting discussions, inspiring speakers etc in cities we've not a hope of getting to without a major plan of campaign and probably a bank loan for the train fare/petrol? And yes, I know that Greenbelt is coming, but I still need a quick whinge)