Loving Like God
Based on Ruth 3-4, Mark 12:38-44, Psalm 42
On a whim I did an internet search on the question, “How many books have been written about love?” Not surprisingly, there was no finite answer – one respondent stated wisely that basically all books are written in one way or another about love, same with songs, same with poems. When one considers all the ways we humans find love, lose love, misuse love, dream about love, etc, it became clear to me that the pundit’s answer was on the mark. Undaunted, I posed the question, “How many books have been written about God’s love? Again, there was no exact number, but I got results of the 66 ways God loves you, or the top 50 books on God’s love for Christians. Yet, there is one book (the Bible) that speaks not only to how God loves us, but how it is we are to grow in love for God and one another.
Our scriptures today from Ruth, Psalms and the Gospel according to Mark give us some insight into how it is that God loves us, and how it is that we are called to be transformed by that love so that we might one day love like God. Before we launch into that portion of our time together, let us go to our loving and faithful God in prayer…
Our “Call to Worship” today was adapted from Psalm 42. The writer of Psalm 42 was recalling a time when he doubted God’s love and presence. His opening lines state, “…My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?…” He remembers happier times when he led a “throng” to God’s house and there was much glad shouting and “songs of thanksgiving”. Now, however, his soul is cast down and he is overwhelmed by the flood of emotion of life lived seemingly without God. But then he remembers in verse 8: “…By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life….” The Psalmist has remembered that God’s love is steadfast and faithful and is never far from him (or us). This is why he can end his song with the words, “hope in God”.
Our scripture reading from Ruth skips a lot of information about how Ruth and Boaz finally get together, but suffice it to say that Naomi’s plan to obtain a secure life for her daughter-in-law works. At the same time, Naomi’s future also becomes more secure as she will be taken in with the new couple and will shortly be given a grandson named Obed (who will be grandfather to King David). The neighbor women tell Naomi that God’s love has blessed her and restored her and that love is reflected in Ruth’s feelings toward her. They also say that Ruth has been “more to you than seven sons” (remember she lost the only two she had in Chapter 1). Naomi resumes her role of caring for a son as she becomes the nurse for Obed. She is returned to a place of honor and family through the great love shown her by God through Ruth.
Jesus is once again verbally jousting with the Temple leadership as he teaches. He notes how the scribes have come to expect that the people will show them respect because of their position, and that they will be accorded the best seats when they are out in public. Jesus names their hypocrisy noting that they “devour widows’ houses” and will be condemned for their behavior by God. He contrasts the Temple leadership with the poor widow who gives all she has to keep the scribes in the style which they are accustomed. Those who have much more, give out of their abundance and it causes them no real concern – yet she gives her last two pennies, trusting that God will see her through. How deep a love is this that trusts fully in God’s steadfast love and faithfulness!
I’m not sure how many of you have read the works of Pierre Tielhard de Chardin. He was a Jesuit priest who lived in France from the late 1800’s to the middle 1950’s and was a paleontologist as well as an accomplished mystic and spiritual writer. He had a unique way of blending his scientific background with his spiritual growth and insights and he offers us some views on God’s great love. He writes, “…love is the most universal, the most tremendous and the most mysterious of cosmic forces. Love is (at once) both human and divine. Divine love is the energy that brought the universe into being and (the force that) binds it together. Human love is whatever energy we use to help divine love achieve its purpose…divine love is the self-expressive force that gave birth to our evolving universe. It is that same divine love that continuously keeps every atom of creation existing and moving forward on its grand evolutionary journey back to God….” Let me paraphrase that last bit to emphasize it: God’s love for all God created transforms creation so that it ultimately returns to God as love.
Yesterday I officiated my third and final wedding of this calendar year. I have been greatly blessed this year to have been able to counsel and then celebrate the marriage of six terrific young people who have publicly vowed to love each other as they love themselves. All three couples chose the verse from 1 Corinthians 13 about love bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things and enduring all things. This is a popular wedding scripture, however, the Apostle Paul was NOT writing about human love. What Paul is writing about when he teaches that love can bear, believe, hope and endure all things, is God’s unconditional and perfect love. Because if we humans were truly able to love like God then divorce, abuse, abandonment, pornography, et cetera, would be unknown in our world.
Father de Chardin points to an important point about our loving like God – namely, we must be transformed (or evolve) through the power of God’s love into a new creation. We cannot objectify one another or use people for our own petty purposes and expect that our love will be like God’s. We seek to be transformed by God’s great love to the point where we can see and name the hypocrisy around us lovingly and then use our loving energy to help God achieve God’s purpose for our world.
This is what Ruth and Jesus are modeling for us in our scriptures today. Ruth has been transformed by her love for Naomi to the point that she can once again provide a stable future for her long suffering mother-in-law. Ruth’s love for Naomi so transforms her worldview that she leaves everything she has known behind and trusts that Naomi’s God will see them through. Jesus points out the egotistic, narcissistic and hypocritical behaviors of the Temple leadership in a mixed group of disciples and scribes. He then sits down and watches the offerings being brought to the Temple treasury by the observant Jews of the area. He notes that many are giving to the treasury out of their great wealth – and giving a portion that does not change their basic daily life, that is…without sacrifice. Yet here comes a widow with two pennies – all that she had to live on, and out of her great love and trust for God, she gives all she has…just like Ruth.
The two women have been transformed by the love of God to love like God. To give abundantly out of their love and trust for God all that they have so that God’s divine purpose might be achieved. They trust that God’s love is almighty, that is, it cannot be thwarted by the sinfulness of humans and their institutions. God’s love has transformed them into selfless love itself – the most powerful and mysterious force in the universe (to quote Father de Chardin).
What about us then? How is it that we can grow in love so that we can love and trust God like these folks do in scripture? The answer is that it happens as an evolutionary process…one loving action begets another. One small act of mercy leads to ever larger and more numerous acts. Through these loving actions we come to the realization that God’s love is not finite – it is infinite in its scope and therefore it can never run out. We begin to understand the abundance in life that Jesus taught about and modeled, we begin to get a glimpse of what heaven on earth looks like as we live into God’s love and then back out of that love into the world. In this way, we move step-by-step into a love-filled future that increasingly reflects the overwhelming love of God for us and all creation. How do we come to love like God? The Wesleyan answer is through God’s grace (God’s free gift of love) we are offered the opportunity to choose love, to act out of this love, and to repeat these acts today and for all our tomorrows. In that way we continue to move forward on our transformative journey back to our loving God as love itself. Amen and amen!