Love for all

St Therese of Lisieux is known as 'the little flower of Jesus'. There is a little statue of her in this church by the piano. She is dressed in the habit of a Carmelite nun, she is holding a crucifix and some flowers. She holds flowers because she once was troubled as to how God could love every person in the world, until she realized that just as the one sun shone on all the flowers of the world so God’s love could also reach every person in the world.

There was a lot of love in this church on Friday afternoon, when the young children from Whitefriars came for a Mothers’ Service. There were songs, poems, prayers and blown kisses that told their mums just how wonderful and how loved they are.

The love of young children must be an infinite joy to parents. I know my mother cherishes my first school photo as a reminder of the time when I was a loving little boy. I still love my mother very much, but I can see why she cherishes that time, when my love was so spontaneous, so unconditional, and she felt needed. Jesus said that unless we become like little children we would never enter the kingdom of God. Perhaps he means that we must try to love so urgently and without question just like little children.

We do not stay as little children, we grow up and become adolescent teenagers. We question everything, we grow cynical, obstructive and unhelpful. Possibly sometimes we may have said in an adolescent  outburst, ‘I hate you.’ How hard it must be for a parent to hear that condemnation. Though we may say afterwards that we did not mean it, words, like bullets, can not be taken back once they have been fired off. Harsh words wound.

Some of us may seem to get stuck in adolescence. This was certainly the case with the people of Israel. The story of God and his chosen people as seen in the Old Testament is one of a long-suffering parent with the child from hell. God keeps on loving them, he send them prophets to make them change their evil ways, but they reject them, they even kill them. Eventually he has had enough they bring punishment upon themselves. Israel is conquered  by Babylon, the temple is destroyed. But God, loving parent that he is, cannot stop loving them. Their suffering, terrible and endless though it seemed in captivity in Babylon, comes to an end, and they return to rebuild the Temple. 

The love of God to Israel, like a parent of a child is not an over-indulgent love but a tough love.There is an aspect of tough love to the words of Jesus to Nicodemus. Yes, it is wonderful that God so loved the world that he gave his only son. But the gift, though freely given, entailed a response. When God gave Christ, light came into the world, but many have shunned the light and preferred darkness. The incarnate presence of God’s love in Jesus was unbearable to some people. His message and his behavior made them hate him.

We all have the choice, to take into our hearts the love of Christ or to turn away from it. We know when we turn away from it, and when we do our hearts become hardened, we become less of a person.

Last week in our Lent group we looked at Edith Cavell. She was hated by the German military authorities, because she had enabled allied servicemen to escape. The Germans were determined to have her condemned: she was not allowed to meet her defence lawyer before the trial and they had her executed early the next morning to prevent an appeal back to Germany. She knew how much they hated her. But among her final words were, ‘I must have no hatred or bitterness for anyone’, regardless of their nationality or character. She was imbued with the nurse’s reason for being, to care for all who were sick or injured. That necessity to care, transcended all boundaries. In a Christ-like fashion Edith Cavell was not diminished by the spite of her accusers.

Edith Cavell was grounded in the assurance of the love of God. That assurance enabled her to pass through the terror of her last days. The assurance of that love will help us pass through all that life and our fellow men and women may inflict upon us.

To be truly loved, even to know that we have been loved is an infinite blessing, that stays with us. Human love can follow a vague and meandering course. But not so with God, for he loves us so much that he not only gave us his son, but keeps on giving him to us, over and over again. The love he shows to us in Christ is without end.