God says, “I would walk 500 miles; and I would walk 500 more!”

(Ok, maybe that’s a slight paraphrase!)

The voice of my beloved! Behold, he comes, leaping over the mountains, bounding over the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Behold, there he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, looking through the lattice. My beloved speaks and says to me:

“Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away, for behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree ripens its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away.”

Song of Solomon 2:8-13

That lesson this morning has to be one of the weirdest in the whole lectionary.   It’s so strange that the BAS offers an alternative just in case we’d rather not deal with it.  But, you should know me well enough by now to know that, if there’s something weird in the Bible, that’s what I’m going to preach a sermon on!

The Song of Solomon is a full-on love poem… or maybe it’s more like a steamy romance novel.  The lectionary, kindly, has given us a pretty PG section – but even here, look at what’s being said: there’s an eager, muscular stag of a lover, leaping over mountains and bounding over hills, and here he is peeking through the windows and poking his face in through the garden lattice just to ask his beloved to run off with him into flowery meadows filled with turtledoves, figs, and vines of juicy grapes.  …And believe me, that’s just the start!

God is… lover?

Now, your whole life, you’ve heard and known that God is love.  “Jesus loves me, this I know”; “God is so good, he cares for me”, and “the King of Love my shepherd is”.  We know that God loves us, that his perfect Fatherly love is far beyond what we could imagine from our earthly parents. He’s one who patiently waits, who sent his own son to seek us out and pay the price of our redemption, and who runs to throw his arms around the prodigal who returns. 

But in the messiness of this world – and if you’ve listened to even 5 minutes of news this week, you’re well aware of the messiness – in all of that, we tend to reduce God’s love to a concept or an idea.  But it’s more than that.  God’s love is action.

Now, this lesson is all one big metaphor, but metaphors and poetry are meant to help us wrap our heads around ideas that are too hard to see and understand on their own.

You know God is love, that he loves you, but did you know that his love is like this?

Nowhere in scripture do we find God pictured as a stern old guy with a long beard, watching from a distance, waiting for an opportunity to scold and punish.  If that’s the image of God you’ve been given – then, on behalf of the Church, I’m sorry, because that’s not what we find anywhere in scripture.

No, this is what we find!

God loves you, God wants to be with you so much that he’s prancing over mountains to get to you!  You’ve heard the song “I would walk 500 miles, and I would walk 500 more…”.  Yeah – God loves you like that!

The type of love that God has for you is the love that leads him to climb mountains and valleys, wade across rivers, and cross deserts just to be in a relationship with you; he’ll relentlessly and energetically seek you out just to meet you where you are and say “my love, come away!”.

And, as the metaphor continues, when God gets near us, what does he find?  A wall.  Of course.  (We’re good at building walls, aren’t we?).  But does that keep God from the love he has for us? 

No, as we read in that weird lesson this morning, God becomes a bit of a peeping tom!  But he’s not watching, making a list, checking it twice, trying to find out if you’re naughty or nice – that’s not God!  No, whenever we put up a wall, we know God gave us free will and respects our decision, but God’s going to be there peering in through the windows, trying to get your attention.  If you’ve got a fence made of lattice, he’s going to be calling out through the openings “come away, I love you, you don’t have to stay in there!  There’s a feast, and flowery meadows, and streams of living water!  I love you, come with me!  Let me show you!”

When we say God is love, when we sing about love divine, it’s that sort of love: a love that seeks us out, a love that will not let me go, and even if I’ve put up a wall, he’s peeking in through the windows and calling out over the fence saying “come”, you don’t have to stay in there, let me show you how much you are loved; let my glory be revealed in you – redeemed, restored, and being made fully alive![1]

Requited Love?

If that’s how God loves us – not something earned, not something conditional – then what’s our part in that?

We just need to be responsive to God’s love.

It’s as easy as that; this isn’t an over-simplification.

When you hear that faint “come away!  Trust me!  Let me show you what I’ve got planned!  It doesn’t have to be like this!  Come with me!”, well, you know what?  It’s in those moments that we need to be doers of the word, and not hearers only.  God loves us, he just wants us to respond.

When you’ve got that knot in your gut, when a situation just isn’t sitting well, when you can’t rest, and you’re anxious, and you just can’t find any peace, that tension is because the one who offers peace that passes understanding is peering in through the window in the wall you built, calling out “come away, it doesn’t have to be like this, let’s do it my way, I’ll show you how good it can be!”.

But what does James say?[2]

God loves us, he thinks we’re beautiful, he sees our potential and wants to be with us so that we can see all that he has in store for us. 

But we hear that, and James says we’re like those who look in a mirror but just can’t accept what we’re seeing.  We know God loves us, but then we start to say “no, I don’t know what God sees in me.  How could God love me?”

And rather than answering God’s call, we dismiss his voice, and draw the blinds so we don’t see him waving outside the window.

But what God wants is for us to listen.  He’s already made all the effort.

He wants to lift us up and lead us on.  And yeah, it will lead back over those mountains and through those valleys that he crossed to find us, but he’ll be with us, to comfort, guide, direct, and provide along the way.

He’s calling.  Each of us can hear him faintly through the walls we’ve built.  Each of us can feel him in our gut when we’re apart from his peace.  But, when we hear or feel that Word, the right response is to just do it: to see ourselves as God sees us, to love those whom God loves; to bridle our tongues – and I think that’s as much about the lies we tell ourselves as what we say to each other; and to keep our hearts open, making room for God to purify them; as Jesus said today, it’s not what comes in that makes us a mess, it’s what resides in our heart that makes us a mess.[3]

“Behold, here God comes, leaping over the mountains, bounding over the hills! He’s like a gazelle, or a stag!  God is here, calling out over your wall, gazing in through your windows, saying, “I love you.  Trust in me!  Come away.”

We hear and feel that Word every day.  He’s made that effort.  Now, may we have the grace to respond.  Amen.

[1] St. Irenaeus, in arguing against those said God’s favour had to be earned, famously summarized scripture in saying “the Glory of God is a human person made fully alive” by beholding the likeness of God in Christ Jesus, face to face.  As James 1:17-18 and the whole design of worship under the Old Covenant shows, God’s glory isn’t a thing for us to look at, as though he’s lacking if his glory goes unnoticed; God’s glory is revealed through the act of broken, sinful people like us being brought in, cleaned up, healed, restored, and made to share his overflowing and abundant life!

[2] James 1:17-27

[3] Mark 7:21-23

Do Love: Priority, Desire, Sacrifice

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us…” 1 John 3:16a

Love is a common theme for the Christian life.  The scriptures are brimming with instructions to love one another, to love God, and to love our neighbour as ourselves. 

Yet, as so often happens, when something becomes “common”, when something becomes routine or expected, before we know it we find ourselves sharing common misunderstandings; sometimes we need to step back and unpack those ideas that appear simple and which we’ve taken for granted, and when we do, we usually find there’s a lot more there than we thought.

Love is an action.

If I asked you “what is love?” – to give a definition of love – what would you come up with?  Think about that just for a second: what is love?

It’s a good exercise, taking something that is common and just assumed, and unpacking it to see if there’s more to the story. 

For most adults, if we were pressed into coming up with a definition of love, we’d waffle around with a few ideas and probably land somewhere in the realm of “a feeling of deep affection”, but, anyone who loves or has been loved would be quick to add “…but that definition doesn’t quite do it”.  What is love?

If I asked the kids, though, do you know what we’d get?  “Love is when Mom hugs me and makes me feel better when I cut my finger.”  “Love is when me and Dad made cookies together for Mommy”.  One kid – you can probably guess which one – told me “love is when you play on my Minecraft server with me, because I love Minecraft”.

But, you know what?  As limited as those children’s definitions might be, they understand something that almost every adult definition of love fundamentally misses: love is an action.

And this isn’t some lofty church idea: our language tells us that love isn’t a feeling or an emotion; love is a verb, an action word.  Think about it: we say “I love you”, or “you love me”.  We don’t say “I happy you” or “you sad me” – those are feelings; our language lets us say “I love you” because ‘love’ is a verb, an action word. 

The kids are right, you know: to love someone or something isn’t to feel something about them, though affection certainly has something to do with it.  Love isn’t a feeling we exchange.  To love is to do something; if love isn’t an action, we’ve slipped into a misunderstanding that is everywhere in our society today.

How to ‘do’ love.

So, if love is an action word – not a feeling or emotion – then how do we do it? 

Like any action, there are clear, definite, purposeful steps required: if it’s walking, I have to get up off my butt, pick a direction, lift up one foot, swing it forward, put it down, and repeat over and over, one step at a time, until my walk is done.  If the action is cleaning, I have to find a mess, get some cleaner, and put in some elbow grease.  …believe me, if walking or cleaning were just feelings, I’d be a whole lot healthier and my house would be a whole lot tidier!  But they’re actions, and so is love, so there are definite steps required to do that action.

I want to suggest that there are three components, three parts required to “do” love.  The action of love requires, first, making something your priority.  Second, to do love requires a desire.  And third, to make love happen requires sacrifice.  Priority.  Desire.  Sacrifice. 


First: Priority.  We all know words are cheap.  It’s easy to say something, to throw a few words out there.  But actions speak louder than words not least because they require effort.  Or, to put it as St. James does, “faith without works is dead”.  There’s no life or lasting value to be found in merely saying, thinking, or feeling something without the effort to follow through to the best of our ability. 

To love someone or something – to take the action of loving them – means making them a priority in your life, and showing that in your actions.

It’s amazing: the kids know this, even if they don’t have the words for it.  “Love is when me and Dad made cookies together for Mommy”.  All of us adults would know from experience that, when Saturday afternoon rolls around after all week with both parents working, there are a dozen high-priority things that need to be done around the house.  Laundry to be washed, groceries to be picked up, a squeaky door to be fixed, a flat tire on a bike that needs to be fixed, online banking to be done – the endless list that goes with being responsible for a household.

But if love is more than a feeling – which it has be to – then the first thing love requires is Priority.  Loving you, loving my family, loving my neighbour, loving God means, first, prioritizing the one who is loved.  The kid knows that Mom or Dad is busy, but the kid sees that they are loved when they are bumped ahead of bills or laundry or things around the house, even for half-an-hour.  The first step in the action of love is priority.


The next step, I want to suggest, is desire.  Now, when I say desire, I mean it in it’s broadest sense: love as an action requires a strong want or wish for something to happen.

Or, in other words, love requires a goal being worked towards, to love someone or something is to want it to become the best it can be, to picture that person as the best that they can be, and to want to get there together.

It’s not enough – it’s not really love – just to prioritize something.  If I prioritize someone or something because it makes me feel good, or I get something from it, that’s not love (that’s pleasure – another action word).  Love requires prioritizing someone because of the hope, the deep desire you have for their yet-more-glorious future.  If I love my wife just because she makes me laugh – or if I love God because He’s good to me, that really isn’t love; love is looking forward to being better together, having the hope for what you and them together can become, and desiring, deeply and strongly wanting it to happen.

Love as a verb, as an action, first takes priority and then desire for that more glorious future.


And then the action of love requires sacrifice.  It takes offering yourself to take the steps necessary to make that future a reality.

This is where the modern misunderstanding of love as an emotion throws us off the rails. 

It’s one thing for me to say “I like my dog, I should take her for a walk”.  I can even have that good desire for my dog’s future, that good desire for her to have a good life, for her – and me – to be fit and to enjoy that wonderful time out in the sun, out in the beauty of God’s creation, rejuvenated by the fresh air.  I can have the desire to be a good and responsible dog owner, to want to be in the sort of relationship you see on TV where the happy dog runs to the door with its tail wagging, leash in its mouth, asking to go for a walk together. 

I can think highly of my dog, prioritizing her; I can want to be a good dog owner who takes her for walks… but does that priority or desire produce any action?  No.

No, the priority and desire require follow-through with sacrifice.

Now, sacrifice takes different forms.  Some are very costly, and the greatest love that can ever be shown, scripture says, is the laying down – the sacrifice – of life itself.  But all love requires sacrifice, and not as a one-time thing.  The action of love, the action of loving someone or something, requires sacrifice.

And this is where we so often go wrong. 

You know 1 Corinthians 13, “the love chapter” read at almost every wedding?  For your homework this week, give that a read… but recognize that each of those descriptions of love is actually a description of sacrifice.  “Love is patient, love is kind; it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud, … it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”  You know the list; but these aren’t feelings – they’re costly sacrifices, steps to be taken for one who is prioritized and for whom you have the hope of a more glorious future.  Patience is a sacrifice; kindness is a sacrifice; putting aside pride, biting your tongue when you have every right to be angry, giving second chances if and when the person recognizes they were wrong and turns from it: those aren’t feelings.  That’s what it takes to do love.  It might be as simple as a parent patiently trying to be interested in Minecraft on a rare day off; or it might be as humbling as helping a parent or an ailing spouse get to the bathroom and then get dressed again when they can no longer do it for themselves, but one thing is sure: it’s only love if we set that priority, have that desire, and work towards it with sacrifice.

On these two commandments…

Love is costly.  Love is involved.  Love is an action.  And yet, all of the commandments of God are summarized in these two greatest commandments (say it with me): you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and you shall love your neighbour as yourself.

So, let’s ask ourselves: do you love God?

Is God a priority, not just on Sunday, but every day that He gives you, and every night that He lets you sleep in safety and peace?  Is God your desire – do you desire a better future together with God, is that a goal that defines your life?  And then sacrifice: do you, will you take the steps to patiently, humbly make that love an action: as “the love chapter” says, love always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres until the end.  If love is an action, do you love God?

And then, the other side of that commandment, and perhaps the more challenging of the two.  Do I love my neighbour?  And my neighbour isn’t just my family or my friends, but every single person made in God’s Image whom God has placed in my path; those who drive me nuts, those with whom I disagree on just about everything imaginable, and those who are just plain rude and make me feel like dirt.  Do I love them?

It’s not a feeling.  And let me tell you, that’s a good thing!  Because we all have plenty of people we don’t feel happy to be around.

But do I love my neighbour?  Whoever they are, good or bad, kind and generous people, or rude and ignorant people, do I love them?  Do I prioritize them? Huh.  Because that’s what God expects… will I put that rude man who doesn’t know how to speak to anyone ahead of myself and my own desires?  Talk is cheap.  And I can say all the words there are, but if I have not love, I’m a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

Do I desire my neighbour to have a yet-more-glorious future?  Do I want them to know true love, do I want them to experience true hope and mercy and forgiveness, do I want them to know God and to live with me forever, do I want them to be better for having known and lived alongside me, such as I am.  Think of the rudest, most grating neighbour you know.  Do you want him or her to know mercy?  Do you want them to know love, to be cleaned up by the grace of God just as we will be, and to spend eternity redeemed with you?  Because, if that’s not your desire for even your rudest neighbour, then no matter what we might tell ourselves, God says no, we don’t yet know love.

And, as if that wasn’t enough, love requires sacrifice.  Are you willing to take the steps so that your neighbour can have that yet-more-glorious future, both in this life, and in the life to come.

My friends, this is why the church isn’t a voluntary organization.  If anyone ever told you that Christians volunteer their time to teach Sunday School, or help at the food bank, or help people with their taxes and paperwork, or to teach young moms to cook for their families, or to visit those who are sick or alone, or to make the church building clean and ready to welcome those who come in, or to greet our brothers and sisters as they gather, they’re wrong.  Those are not good deeds, and they’re not optional.  They’re the sacrifices that love requires.

If you say you love your neighbour, but you won’t fill his belly; if you say you love your neighbour but you won’t share her pain and do your part to life them out of despair and set them on the path to glory, then we’re nothing but a noisy cymbal.

Love is action.

My friends, lets make this a church where everyone learns to love God, and learns to love their neighbour as themselves: not thinking good thoughts or feeling happy feelings about God and our neighbour, but making God and our neighbour a priority every day; having that earnest desire for a better future with God, and wanting our neighbours to share that hope; and then making the sacrifices that true love requires.  That’s a church that will grow, that’s a church that will change the world around us; but it’s got to start with love, and it’s got to start with each one of us, loving God, and loving our neighbour as ourselves.

To God be the glory, now and forevermore.  Amen.