Love Is Where It’s At
Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17 Matthew 22:34-46
I would like to start this morning’s sermon with a Guided Meditation. Settle yourself comfortably in your seat, feet flat on the floor, with your body as relaxed as possible. Close your eyes, or just soften your gaze, meaning don’t look at anything in particular. Take some deep breaths, feeling the air go deep into your lungs, and then push it down to let it fill up your belly. Breathe this way 3 or 4 times, nice and slow. Now use your imagination to go to a place that is warm and safe and comfortable for you. It may be a place from childhood. It may be a place out in nature where you feel very connected to everything that is. It may be your easy chair at home. In your mind’s eye, see yourself in that safe place and take a few nice deep breaths once you can see yourself there. Use all of your senses to notice everything around you. First use your mind’s eye to see everything there is to see in this place. Notice what time of year it is, notice the kind of light, notice the things that surround you - whether they be rocks and trees, animals, water, or the furniture of your home. Now use your ears to hear everything there is to hear in this place. Listen for animal sounds, or the wind in the trees, ocean waves or the flow of water over riverbed. Smell what there is to smell. Maybe your nose sniffs out autumn leaves or ocean saltiness, maybe you smell something good cooking. Maybe your sense of taste even comes in here as you taste something the air around you. Now use your sense of touch - again, in your mind. What does the place you are sitting feel like? Is the air around you warm or cold, dry or damp? Just sit in this place for a little while, using your senses to really feel what it feels like to be in this safe and secure place.
Wherever you picture yourself being, in this place of comfort and safety, you are also being held by God. God’s embrace and God’s deep love for you is what makes this place feel so safe and secure. God is the one who lets you know that you can find comfort and peace in this special place that you have brought yourself to in your imagination this morning. And even when you open your eyes and come back to the present moment and to the church, you can always just take a deep breath and return to your safe place and to God’s protective love any time you need to. Take another breath or two in this place of protection and love, and when you are ready, open your eyes.
Both of this morning’s scriptures relate to that sense of comfort that I hope you just experienced. The psalm speaks of God as our dwelling place, a place of comfort and peace that pre-existed everything else on this earth. We have always lived in God, and we still do. We don’t always take time to notice or acknowledge this, but when we do, it can bring a profound sense of relief in the midst of the stresses and cares of our lives. Think about how it felt to be in that safe and protected place in your mind’s eye and imagine what a difference it might make to claim this peaceful center for yourself each day, no matter what else is going on.
The rest of the psalm speaks of particular ways in which God’s point of view on the world can help us put our worries and troubles into perspective. The Psalmist says;“Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting, you are God.” These words create an image of God’s solid dependability, and help us to remember that no matter how permanent and real our troubles may seem to be, they are not nearly as enduring as God’s presence and God’s help.“For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past,” can be comforting to hear when we are going through a rough time and can’t wait for it to be over, when we are struggling to find our way through it to better days. God’s perspective reminds us that this moment will soon be over. This difficulty will not be with us forever, but God is with us always.
If we move now to the Gospel of Matthew, where Jesus is once again fending off the attacks of his detractors, we hear a message about love that builds an even stronger foundation for us to rest within. When asked what commandment in the law is greatest, Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and will all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment.” It is not clear what the Pharisees expected from Jesus, but they probably had little understanding of nor respect for love. It was not their top priority, and it seemed to have little to do with the laws and rules they organized their lives and their religious practice around. Rules are a relatively easy way to organize your life. They are clear-cut and straightforward. You know if you are in compliance or not by simply checking your actions against the rules you want to live up to. But love is a whole other story. Love cannot really be quantified. You cannot measure yourself on a scale of 1-10 and claim you are loving enough. There are no clear-to-follow expectations regarding behavior or actions. Love is something that starts at the heart with who you are. Love influences actions, but does not dictate them. When there is a person in need, love does not tell us what to do nor how to do it. Love does not even tell us when to step in. Love challenges us to do things that rules or laws could never hope to accomplish, because it draws forth from us actions that are filled with meaning, ones that are more honest.
Jesus continued his reply to the Pharisees by saying of the most important laws; “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This is where love comes alive within us and in our interactions with others. I see it in action as we continue to reach out our hands to help those who were hit by the flooding after Irene. I feel it pulling me to respond to friends who are hurting and who need some compassion. I feel it when I relate to co-workers and they share a little glimpse of some of the difficulties they face in their lives. I feel love’s pull asking something of me in response to what I see and hear. Sometimes the way to respond is clear and straightforward, but other times, I really do not know what might be needed in the moment. What I do then is pray. I surround the person in prayer for healing and hope, for God’s presence to hold them. The meditation we did earlier often comes in handy at a time like this, when I am not sure what else to do. I imagine the person about whom I am concerned, being in a place of peace, surrounded by God’s love, and I know it makes a difference. Love reaches out and touches all of us when and where nothing else can. All of our lives we are surrounded by the peace and comfort that we experienced in the meditation, but we are not aware of this reality. All of our lives are lived within the safekeeping of God’s love for us. Remembering this fact can save us worry and heartache as we put everything else into perspective and live in reality of God’s love.
God of love, may we experience your protection and care surrounding us this morning. May we stretch out our hands and hearts to embrace others in this, your care as well. In the name of Jesus who knew so well how to share your love, we pray, Amen.