Sunday, July 11, 2010

First Love and Second Love

Today's sermon was delivered by Deacon Rick+. He had the parable of the good Samaritan as his subject. I remember my most important encounter with this parable was back in college. A pair of friends were working patiently with me to deliver me out of the darkness. They could have left me by the roadside, for I could be quite untouchable back then. As I walked them to the local ice cream parlor during those dark, muggy nights, I challenged them, teased them, talked mean to them, and did everything I could to keep from hearing their call. As Deacon Rick+ reminded me today, the call, like Donne's bell*, is a personal call from the Lord to yield to His command, to give in, to come and love Him.

From today's readings (Luke 10:25-37):

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind;"

This had to come first.

I must confess that I have always had a hard time with this commandment.

I went through a rocky period of rebellion against God for several years as a teen. I stopped fighting and accepted God into my life again during a period of personal longing and loneliness. At the time, I thought I was looking for love, but worried that I might be incapable of loving. I didn't really know what I was looking for. One friend told me that "You first have to love yourself." I didn't think that was right, so I kept searching. What I found, thanks two friends and thanks to the Gospel of Luke, was God's love. His answer to my lonely cry was the love of Christ Jesus. I heard His command which is to love God first, for without Him as the key ingredient, there would be no cure for my self imposed loneliness. Nor could I love myself. The "cure" was painless, but the healing continues. The "with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength" therapy was (and is) difficult, but time, prayer, and practice strengthed me. At any point during those early years, I could fallen prey to some other lover. I needed some honeymoon time with Him before I could be exposed to the next step:
"...and your neighbour as yourself."
After five additional years of preparation, during which time He revealed his love through scripture, prayer, and carrying me through times of crisis, God brought a human love into my life.

U.P.'s Wedding photo

For me, this could only have flowed from the first commandment. I can't imagine it working from the other direction. There seems to be a certain order to the process. Learn to love God first, then the "thyself" and "neighbor" stuff will happen. It may not happen overnight. It may not happen the way we want it, but it will happen.
Those first few months of each romance were confusing times for me. There were times in which human love wrestled with love for God. I now see that human loves, while powerful and sometimes overwhelming experiences, are at best only hints at the deeper love of God. Still, I often wonder about how all this works. And when I say "wonder," I do not mean "ponder." I use the term to indicate a certain marvel over the mystery.

God has shown me His infinite love, a love beyond compare. After He showed me that He was willing to die for me, He revealed His love through acquaintances, friends, family, the sick, and the dying. As love lives on, there is always this doubt: that maybe there is something wrong. Maybe I do not feel as strongly for Him as I used to. There is always that nagging concern, a reminder of those earlier years, that maybe I just can't love. Time and time again, He keeps reminding me that I am capable of loving him. I've done it before, and I can do it again.

All I have to do is listen for the bell, and take the steps towards the call.
* "As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all; but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness. There was a contention as far as a suit (in which both piety and dignity, religion and estimation, were mingled), which of the religious orders should ring to prayers first in the morning; and it was determined, that they should ring
first that rose earliest. If we understand aright the dignity of this bell that tolls for our evening prayer, we would be glad to make it ours by rising early, in that application, that it might be ours as well as his, whose indeed it is. The bell doth toll for him that thinks it doth; and though it intermit again, yet from that minute that this occasion wrought upon him, he is united to God. Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world? No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.-John Donne"

Watch that first step. Its a doozy!

1 comment:

  1. I think the that commandment is one we all struggle with, because in our hearts we know we're not doing it. Fortunately, God's Grace is infinite.