The Colour of Love

Sunday 23rd October 2005
Year A, The Last Sunday after Trinity
Holy Trinity, Hurstpierpoint
Holy Eucharist
Leviticus 19:1-2
2 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Matthew 22:34-46

I suppose that all of us have had the experience of walking into a room to be greeted by a split second of awkward silence, certain that we have just been the subject of some awkwardly furtive instruction similar to John Cleese's famous: "Don't talk about the war!" when some Germans were about to enter the bar of his hotel. In our circumstances it is more likely to be: "Remember not to mention his first wife" or: "She's wearing a hat after her chemo' so try not to look at it!" or: "Yes, they are a gay couple but it's best to pretend that they're two separate people".

Of course we have all been recipients of these instructions as well as being the subject of them but I have the not unique but quite unusual experience of being both on the same occasion, of hearing instructions about me just before I enter a room. You see, odd as it may seem, many people think that if you are blind you are also deaf (the fact that they simultaneously think that you have a marvellous sense of hearing and perfect pitch only makes matters more muddled); and so, I stand in the hallway of a house and hear the host saying: "He's blind but it's best not to mention it" or: "He's blind but don't take any notice". Which could be very difficult if everybody kept the rules; because then I couldn't find anything and everybody would refuse to describe the buffet.

I have started with these situations because some of us have this tendency to tack around the obvious and the important and hope that we can small talk our way around a big idea so that it will go away; but we ought to know that this is hopeless. Sooner or later somebody in John Cleese's bar is bound to mention the War to the Germans; somebody will refer to his first wife; somebody else will say what a nice hat she's got; and sooner or later I get some food from the buffet!

That's how it is with the theme of today's gospel. We are to love God and to love our neighbour as ourself. Love is a word that we're not all that good with, partly because we all know love or the lack of it differently; there's no one way of loving and being loved; no one way of rejecting love and being rejected. What makes the narrative of love so lucrative, in books, in the cinema, on television, is that there is no one way; and what makes it so problematic for us is that there is no one way. When I was at Harvard there was a wry expression that the bores got all the blondes. You never know. And that is why it is much wiser for us to work at our love than to spend our energy pronouncing on whether the love of other people is real love or just self indulgence. And like all big words, love has a history; it doesn't necessarily mean now what it meant 2000 years ago. A homily like this can only be a loose leaf page added to the compendium of life, so we can't think about love in all its guises; so I just want us to think about two ideas, the first connected with loving our neighbour, the second with loving God.

Who is our neighbour? My answer to that is to take you to that icon of wickedness, the garishly lit inner city where all manner of depravity takes place: this is the end point of the international drugs trade, the international sex trade and the international alcohol trade. This is the place of the junkies, the ravers, the binge drinkers, the fornicators; this is the place where most of our children must go to test limits, leaving us praying that it will not be too long before they come back. This is the context in which the Government is pushing its so-called 'Respect' agenda but so many of these people who resort to or succumb to undisciplined, uninhibited behaviour lead, according to their own admissions, lonely, pointless, loveless lives. Governments can't dispense love; only we can. These lonely, self destructing people are our neighbour; and if all we do is to rant against such behaviour we are failing in our Christian duty of love.

Of course, we're not miracle workers, nor even social workers, so this kind of neighbourliness may be beyond us; but look closer to home. When we were setting up the Hurst Arts Festival four years ago, one of our ambitions was to bring all the people of the village together; what must we do, we asked, to find a way of establishing a communal dialogue between the East of the village and the North-West of the village? If we are divided within a few square miles, what do we really have to contribute to a discussion on civic breakdown in the Balkans, or on the breakdown of civil society in our sink housing estates, for that matter?

My second idea concerns the way in which we love God. This time let me take you to 5th Century Ireland and that story of St. Patrick describing the Blessed Trinity through picking up and showing a three-leafed shamrock. I have always been deeply suspicious of that story because everything else we know about Patrick shows him to be a highly sophisticated type. The problem with the shamrock Trinity is that it's static and geometrical; nothing takes place between the leaves, they just happen to be joined at a common stem; he could have chosen vine tomatoes or garden peas.

The Holy Trinity, However, is both eternal and dynamic. The way I picture it is to think of the three basic colours, blue, red and green, which are transmitted to produce a picture on a colour television screen; sometimes you see these three colours separately and distinctively, most obviously in a game of snooker where you have red balls, a green and a blue; but these three basic colours can make every colour in the world. It's a pity that Patrick didn't have colour television!

We usually think of the Holy Trinity as dynamic in the context of salvation, summed up in the alternative blessing: "In the name of the one God, Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier" sometimes known as the "Economy of Salvation"; well, you will be relieved to know, that that is for another day. In the meantime, however, I want us to look at the Trinity as the economy of sacred love: God so loved the world that he gave us His only begotten son; The Son loved the Father as the Father loved the Son; and out of this love there "Proceeded", to use theological language from the Creed, the Holy Spirit. There are problems with using verbs which give a sense of time in this set of transactions, except that Jesus was an historical person born into time, but the basic idea is that all three persons, are impassioned in eternal, mutual, equal love.

But here is the really important point: because the Father created us to love Him; and because His Son, Jesus Christ, was human, and because His love for the Father and the Father's love for him are given in complete equality, we are caught up in the love of the Father and the Son through the medium of the Holy Spirit. Because Jesus was a human being who loved the Father from a position of equality, so we are equal to God in a relationship of love through grace. If it was otherwise we could not love God and, in truth, God could not love us; love is for equals or it is not love.

And so, brothers and sisters, always remember that the incarnation of Jesus Christ has put us on a level where we can love God from a position of equality, not from a position where we are the same, but from a position where the humanity of God in Jesus Christ is balanced by our innate striving to be divine. If we bear this in mind, then the struggles we have to love our neighbour will be put into some sort of perspective.

Love is what makes us Christians: there are other religions with forms of adoration, penitence, thanksgiving and supplication in their worship; there are religions which put a high value on alms giving and on justice; there are religions which put a high value on inner peace; but for us Christians, what defines us is love.

So let us be brave, let us be strong, for God loves us as He loves the Son; and we must love each other as Jesus loves us. Because we are not Jesus we will find it hard to love as he loved the outcasts and the sinners; and those who were different. But we have no alternative as Christians but to try.