Monday, February 18, 2013

By Love Alone We Live!

I get cranky when I hear or read long, complicated definitions and descriptions of God. Something so beautiful and so simple should not be complicated.
by Charlie Leck

One of my daughters, because of pressure from some family members, I think, attends church quite regularly with her husband and two children. She struggles through some of the sermons and much of the litergy – for a couple of reasons: (1) she has the analytic and critical mind of one who teaches creative writing, which she does; and (2) she finds a lot of religion to be a bit of the hocus-pocus variety and lacking substance. When we are together, we talk occasionally about whether one can formulate a concept of God for oneself – a concept with which one could be satsfied. I think, over the years, we've gotten to that place by using the definition offered by the writer of the Epistles of John in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. That is, “God is Love!” Or, more precisely, as the epistle itself puts it….

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love.”

And, further on in the same letter, John continues…

“No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”

Often, in her church, my daughter will try to hear the minister saying this to his congregation. Instead, she mostly hears the clutter that comes from centuries of struggle within the church to come to grips with the bulk of scripture versus this little bit of brilliant information from the letters of John. I chuckle when my daughter tells me that she often listens to these Lutheran sermons and substitutes in her own mind the word “love” for dangling, mangling ,wangling descriptions of God by the pastor.

It is too bad that thinkers within the church over centuries and centuries have made so complex what John makes so simple. Few churches talk with the brilliant minimalism of John. The church I go to happens to be one of those exceptions and my wife and I both came away from services yesterday shaking our heads in wonder about how a sermon could be both brilliant and simple – and, by the way, beautiful.

During the service yesterday, the congregation sang a lovely and short hymn, By Love Alone We Live (2012). The music is by Stephen Paulus and the lyrics are by Michael Dennis Browne. The lyrics thrilled me (as did the music):

By love, by love alone we live,
     By love alone.
Whoever has love is in God
     And God is in every heart.
All to be held, all found.
     By love alone.
By love, by love alone we live,
     By love alone.
Now bless, now redeem, now heal,
     These are the leaves of the Kingdom.
All to be saved, all changed.
     By love alone.

By love, by love alone we live,
     By love alone.
Spirit remembering light,
     Out of death we pass into life.
All to be told, all known
     By love alone, by love.

By love alone, by love! Amen

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