Love: More Than A Feeling

Notes from
Earth Day, April 22, 2018
Trinity on Church UC Kitchener
Text: 1 John 3:11-24

Somewhere in my teens, the Sunday School faith of my 11 year old self proved inadequate for my newly hormonal self.  My church and family had done a good job in teaching us about being good boys and nice girls: live love!  However, we were all experiencing new feelings toward one gender or another, and the word ‘love’ needed some stretching of its semantic field!

Luckily, we belong to a church that said Jesus comes to take away our sins, rather than our minds or wills.  I got past reading C. S. Lewis for the Narnia books, and into his explicitly religious stuff.  “The Four Loves”, based on a series of radio talks in 1958, elaborated on Greek words for love in the bible:

  1. storge – empathy, fondness – ‘I love Canadians’
  2. philia – friend, sibling – ‘I love members of my political party’ 
  3. eros – erotic, romantic – ‘I love that movie star’
  4. agapé – selfless charity – ‘I love my kids and grandkids’

Somewhere in my 20’s, one of the ‘ear worms’ that got stuck between my ears was a 1976 pop rock song written by Don Scholz, guitarist in the group Boston.  “More Than a Feeling” was about a song triggering a memory.  What had he, or he, done or not done, to evoke such nostalgia or regret?  The chorus:

It's more than a feeling (more than a feeling)
When I hear that old song they used to play (more than a feeling)
And I begin dreaming (more than a feeling)
Till I see Marianne walk away - I see my Marianne walkin' away…

In my 40’s, Gary Chapman’s 1995 book “The Five Love Languages” became a best-seller of pop psychology.  Chapman proposed that each of us has a preferred language to express and experience love.  Your intimate partner might have a different ‘1st language’ among the 5, for you to learn:

  1. receiving gifts,
  2. quality time,
  3. words of affirmation,
  4. acts of service (devotion)
  5. physical touch

In this Easter season, the lectionary invites us to read through 1 John, a letter written about 70 years after Jesus, early in the 2nd century CE, about a decade after the gospel of John set a particular vocabulary for Christianity.  Today, the lesson reminds us what we have heard from the beginning: “love one another.”

In terms of C. S. Lewis’ “Four Loves”, the command is to agapé.  The objects of this agapé, ‘one another’ allelou  are ‘brothers and sisters’, adelphoi. That may be crudely rendered Greek, but you know the difference between loving all humanity and loving your ‘sisters and brothers’, members of the church.

How do we agapé our adelphoi?  I invited you to look across our small circle, and face the challenge.  Despite the confusion among some of my colleagues, this is not an instruction to eros our sisters!  Nor are our glib liberal secularist assumptions about universal interchangeable humanity applicable here.

As I commented last week, ‘I love humanity, it’s people I can’t stand’, and ‘family values are true in general, but have you met my sister’?  It’s harder to agapé some adelphoi in action, and be accountable in community for it, than it is to make vaguely general affirmations of loving feelings or intentions. 

Through my 30’s, I kept a poster from the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), which is still available from them – though now you get it online.  It presents this issue of agapé-ing the adelphoi in a wider context:

A Modest Proposal for Peace:
Let the Christians of the World Agree
That They Will Not Kill Each Other

MCC has another poster for sale, pursuing a similar theme.  President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953, no longer General Eisenhower from D-Day logistics, speaking in response to the death of Joseph Stalin and the new Cold War, said:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired
Signifies, in the final sense, a theft
from those who hunger and are not fed,
those who are cold and not clothed.

Payam Akhavan, Canadian human rights lawyer, from a Persian background and the Bahai faith group, in 2017 Massey Lectures, “Searching for a Better World”:

The problem with the world is not a shortage
of brilliant theories or feel-good slogans.

The problem is that we confuse proliferation of progressive terminology
with profound empathy and purposeful engagement.

We say the right things, but we fail to act on them
because we want to feel virtuous without paying a price.

For 6 months, I have been repeating the “Five Marks of the Church”, asking each of you and all of us at Trinity on Church to identify our church purpose: 

  1. Kerygma – gospel proclamation – our message to the world
  2. Leitourgia – worship, celebrating God’s presence
  3. Didache – teaching the faith, equipping the saints
  4. Diakonia – service of others
  5. Koinonia – community, fellowship, mutual care

The Anglican Church has been circulating a similar “Five Marks of Mission”:

  1. proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
  2. teach, baptize and nurture new believers
  3. serve, in response to human need
  4. transform unjust structures, challenge violence, pursue peace/reconciliation
  5. safeguard the integrity of creation, sustain and renew the life of the earth

Akhavan, again in his Massey lectures, said:

The fate of modern times, the German philosopher Max Weber wrote,
“is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization
and, above all, by the disenchantment of the world.”

Emancipated from the mimicry of irrational traditions,
the demystified mind was poised to conquer the truth,
looking down from the commanding heights of utilitarian objectivity…

He concludes that in the 20th century, the unprecedented catastrophes of total war and genocide have exploded modernity’s myth of progress.  We are left to ask what it means to us, here, now, to agapé some adelphoi in action, and be accountable in community for it.  Love is more than a feeling.  Thank God!

We prayed for grace to hear the text, using words attributed to Francis Drake in the 1500’s:

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wilder seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask you to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push back the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

This we ask in the name of our Captain,
Who is Jesus Christ.