Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
In this period of gradual unfolding,
when we are slowly coming out of our year-long lockdown,
I invite you into this time of online worship.
For this short time,
let us put our worldly cares aside,
close our eyes and imagine ourselves
to be in our places of worship,
surrounded by members of our beloved community,
and be together, if only virtually,
for this short hour.
Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point. I will be lighting my chalice for worship at 11.00 am on Sunday morning) words by Cliff Reed
We are called to rekindle
the flame of love in our hearts,
to understand the needs
and feelings of others
by discerning the same needs
and feelings in ourselves.
Spirit of Life and Love,
Be with us as we gather for worship,
each in their own place.
Help us to feel a sense of community,
even though we are physically apart.
Help us to care for each other,
as we begin to come out of lockdown,
keeping in touch however we can,
and helping each other,
however we may.
We hold in our hearts
all those who have helped us
to come through this difficult time,
and all whose lives have been touched,
in whatever way,
by painful events, in their lives,
and in the wider world,
of which we are all a part. Amen
Reading from 1 John, 4: 7-8, 16-21
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love…
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
Alternative Lord’s Prayer
Spirit of Life and Love, here and everywhere,
May we be aware of your presence in our lives.
May our world be blessed.
May our daily needs be met,
And may our shortcomings be forgiven,
As we forgive those of others.
Give us the strength to resist wrong-doing,
The inspiration and guidance to do right,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
We are your hands in the world; help us to grow.
May we have compassion for all living beings,
And receive whatever life brings,
With courage and trust. Amen
Reading Love is a decision by Richard S. Gilbert, from Echoes
Love is a four-letter word –
Abused, confused, used in a thousand ways.
Dog-eared, spattered, battered, tattered with use.
No word more profusely uttered
Nor more studiously ignored.
Love is a feeling, is it not?
A warm glow when lovers touch,
A sudden rushing of the blood,
A beating of the heart,
A burst of emotion,
An ecstasy of the spirit.
Love is an affair of the heart, is it not?
Love is more than a feeling.
Love is more than an affair of the heart.
It is an act of will –
It is a decision – a commitment – a promise –
It is when the warm glow becomes
A persistent light,
Empowered by an I and a Thou.
It is when the blood pulses in regular rhythm.
It is when the heart beat steadies life together.
It is when feeling is complemented by thought.
It is when two spirits grow in truth.
Love is a decision, a commitment, a promise,
Love is a decision.
Prayer Help us to love by Cliff Reed, from We are Here
Living Spirit of Love, we come before you
once again in need of your help.
We hear your call, and sometimes we even try
to respond, but we don’t do very well.
You would have us love our neighbour as we love
ourselves. You would even have us
love our enemies. But so often we have heard those
words, admired the sentiment,
and then forgotten them.
Help us to love, O God, to get beneath the hatred and the prejudice,
the ignorance and the self-righteousness,
to see another human soul as weak as our own.
In this hour of quietness, help us to hear
your call, but more important still, may we
hear it and obey it when we return
to the world beyond these walls.
We ask this for the sake of our neighbours,
our enemies and ourselves. Amen
Reading Standing on the Side of Love by Cliff Reed, from Carnival of Lamps
We stand on the side of love, as Jesus did.
We stand on the side of love,
as all God’s messengers, all champions of humanity, do.
The love that knows no false boundaries,
the ones that prejudice, ignorance and fear erect:
boundaries of nationality and ethnicity, creed and sect, gender and lifestyle, sexuality and sexual orientation.
We stand on the side of love.
We stand against hatred, injustice, and violence.
We stand against the bigotry that beats and shoots
and stones, and thinks itself righteous in doing so.
We stand against ideologies and theologies
which dehumanise human beings for being ‘different’.
We stand against governments and institutions –
be they secular or religious – which persecute love
and those who love because they love.
We stand on the side of love, as Jesus did.
Help us to do so.
Time of Stillness and Reflection Give Thanks for Love by Cliff Reed, from Beyond Darkness (adapted)
Give thanks for love. Real love,
not something vague, unfocused, abstract…
Real love: love as heartbreak,
love as consuming passion,
love as suffering with, for, and because of the beloved.
Give thanks for love.
Love as hot pumping blood,
as intimate caress, warm kiss, and tender touch,
love as the ecstasy of union –
physical, spiritual, transcendental.
Give thanks for love.
Love that forgives without reserve,
that bears no grudges,
love that carries no resentment,
no arrogance, no jealousy,
love that conducts itself with kindness,
gentleness and humility.
Give thanks for love.
Love as the caring that reaches out
to someone who needs it,
welcoming, enfolding, healing,
protecting and defending them,
love as laying down your life for them,
if that’s what it comes to,
And it sometimes does.
Give thanks for the love that costs,
as well as the love that delights,
because that is what true love really is.
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address The Things We Do For Love
The theme for this week’s service, the things we do for love, came to me early this morning, as I was kneeling on the floor in the lounge, folding my son’s washing, which I had just taken out of the tumble dryer. And the lyric by the 1970s band,10CC (who remembers them?) came into my mind, “The things we do for love.”
I smiled to myself. Because that phrase, “the things we do for love”, is often used to mean, the things we do for other people because we love them, even if we don’t actually enjoy the task. But it occurred to me that it can also mean making a principled effort to obey Jesus’s commandment to “love one another, as I have loved you”. Or it can refer to the things we do because we love doing them. Fascinating. So this morning, I’m going to think about these three meanings of the things we do for love.
The first is exemplified by Richard S. Gilbert’s words, which formed our second reading, and which I think were probably written for a wedding service. He wrote, “Love is more than a feeling. Love is more than an affair of the heart. It is an act of will – it is a decision – a commitment – a promise – a covenant.” It is the relationship we grow into with our nearest and dearest, whether that means members of our family – partner, children, siblings, parents – or dear friends. It is a pleasure to do things for them, to help them, simply because we love them, without expecting anything in return. C.S. Lewis, in his delicious book, The Screwtape Letters, has the senior devil, the cynical Screwtape, ponder on this phenomenon. In the passage I’m going to read you, the Enemy referred to is God.
“The grand problem is that of ‘unselfishness’… Thanks to this you can, from the very outset, teach a man to surrender benefits not that others may be happy in having them, but that he may be unselfish in forgoing them. That is a great point gained. Another great help, where the parties concerned are male and female, is the divergence of view about Unselfishness which we have built up between the sexes. A woman means by Unselfishness chiefly taking trouble for others; a man means not giving trouble to others… Thus while the woman thinks of doing good offices and the man of respecting other people’s rights, each sex, without any obvious unreason, can and does regard the other as radically selfish… You must make them establish as a Law for their whole married life that degree of mutual self-sacrifice which is at present sprouting naturally out of the enchantment, but which, when the enchantment dies away, they will not have charity enough to enable them to perform.”
Now, this is obviously a very cynical view of human relations, yet I believe it is one we need to be aware of. Otherwise we can fall into the trap of feeling hard done by, when we start to compare what we do for others with what they do for us. Whereas, the things we do for love should be done without counting the cost. Which is, sometimes, easier said than done!
In the lovely prayer that formed our Time of Stillness and Reflection, Cliff Reed reflects on what it means to love one another: “love as heartbreak, love as consuming passion, love as suffering with, for, and because of the beloved.” Which is what our third reading, Standing on the Side of Love, was all about. It is about the things we do for love for my second reason: making a principled effort to obey Jesus’s commandment to “love one another, as I have loved you”. This can involve moving out of our comfort zones and making a stand for the things we believe in, in spite of any personal cost that might have, but because we are compelled to, by love. As Cliff wrote, “We stand on the side of love, as Jesus did. We stand on the side of love, as all God’s messengers, all champions of humanity, do. The love that knows no false boundaries, the ones that prejudice, ignorance and fear erect: boundaries of nationality and ethnicity, creed and sect, gender and lifestyle, sexuality and sexual orientation.”
It is when we do this, that we are truly obeying Jesus’s commandment. It is an act of will, a decision to stand up and be counted, which is summarised in the prayer of St Ignatius, which I nearly used as one of the prayers in this service:
“Teach us, good Lord, to serve thee as thou deservest,
to give and not to count the cost;
to fight and not to heed the wounds;
to toil and not to seek for rest;
to labour and not to ask for any reward;
except that of knowing that we do thy will.”
In this sense, the things we do for love may take us far indeed. As Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” In this context, “one’s friends” might not only be our loved ones, but anyone suffering from persecution or injustice, or the planet earth and its inhabitants.
Finally, there is the third interpretation of the phrase, “the things we do for love.” This is where we do things because we love doing them. This meaning reminded me of the old tale in which the teller approached three stonemasons in medieval times, who were working on the building site of a cathedral. He asked each of them why they were undertaking the work. The first replied glumly, “Because my master makes me.” The second, slightly more cheerful, responded, “So that I can earn money to keep my wife and children.” But the face of the third split in a delighted grin, “I am helping to build a cathedral for the glory of God.”
It might be argued that the second man was working for love, but for the love of his wife and children, not for the love of the job in hand. Which is not bad – far from it. But the third man was the one who found joy in the work – he was building a cathedral for the glory of God, which transformed his hard labour into something he was doing for the love of it.
Anyone who finds the work they are paid to do satisfying in this way is blessed. We say that such people have a vocation, which means that they believe they have been called to do their chosen work. Nurses and doctors might be called to their work by compassion for the suffering; teachers to theirs by the desire to educate the young; and people like me, ministers and worship leaders, who are called to draw attention to the work of the divine in the world. Or at least, that is what I believe. Yet these are only the obvious examples. Any job can be a calling, if we are drawn to do it by love.
And it need not be paid work. My parents are shining examples of this. When my younger sister left for university, my mother was at a bit of a loose end. So she decided to volunteer at the local Citizens’ Advice Bureau, and worked there for many years, and found joy and fulfilment in the work of making other people’s lives easier for them. And my father is the Treasurer of the Midland Unitarian Association, a post he has held since 1983, but he does far more than look after the finances. Over the past nearly forty years, he has helped no end of congregations in a multitude of ways. Yes, he now receives an honorarium for it, but it must be love that compels him to work as hard as he does, most days of the year, at the age of 88. He has inspired me to do more than my District Ministry. For example, the work I do for the Worship Studies Course is “for love” because I believe so strongly in the provision of excellent training of lay leaders in our congregations. The things we do for love.
This last interpretation should be wider than jobs. For many of us, the things we do for love also encompass our hobbies – in my case, writing, reading, walking in nature, crochet and cross-stitch. I spend every free moment doing one of these things and they bring me great joy. Others may find their bliss in a huge variety of ways – playing sport, playing music, cooking and baking, woodwork, metalwork, pottery, any kind of crafting… the list is endless.
The important thing is, that we do them for love, rather than because we feel we ought to, or because we want to impress someone with our skill. As soon as “ought to” or the desire for approval comes into anything we do, it is no longer being done for love. Or not only for love. Folding up my son’s washing is a case in point. Sometimes, it may be the best we can do.
What things do you do for love?
Closing Words by Cliff Reed
be with us as we part.
Bless those who are here.
Bless those who are not here.
Bless those we love and those we should love.
Bless those who need our love and those whom we need to love.
Bless those we would love if we knew them
and those we may never love.
Bless all who love and help us to love when we find it hard.
Postlude Lady of Lewesdon Hill by Elizabeth Harley