By Rev. Canon Renee, January 2001

I’m always telling people I love them.  I want to recount to you a conversation I had recently with a friend.  I said to this friend, “I love you.” and she said, “You say that to everyone.”   “Yes,” I said.  “Because I really do love every single person, even those who irritate and annoy me.”   “How can you love people who make you mad, or who have given you trouble?” she asked.  “When I get into another person’s presence, I look into their eyes and I love them."

I’ve come to believe that people act out certain behaviors because of certain things in their life about which I have no clue.  Each person has their own history, environment, circumstances, and experience that have formed and shaped them.  I can’t know all these things, because these things are different for every single person.  But I know in my heart that if I did know these things, I would understand and forgive them for any trouble they might give.  It’s like the quote of a Benedictine nun I once read, “There’s no one you can’t love, once you’ve heard their story.”  I do know, however, that this love is not something I have achieved by my own will or effort.  It is nothing I can be proud of as an accomplishment, because it is purely a gift from God.  God pours the love into my heart and I can’t not feel it, and show it, and say it.

“But if you love everyone, how can I know that I am any different to you than anyone else?” my friend asked.  “God’s love is such that it loves each person uniquely and distinctly.  If I am loving with God’s love, then I have the capacity to love you distinctly and uniquely from every other person.  My loving everyone else doesn’t make my love for you any less.”

We need to know we’re loved, don’t we?  We need to know that we are loved specially, uniquely.  We need to know that we matter -- really matter -- to someone else.  Really matter to God.  That we play a role that no one else can play.  We also need to be able to give love, don’t we?  We need to open our arms and our hearts to gather others in.  We need to let others know they make a difference in our life and in the world.  We need to share the warmth of tenderness.  Every creature has the need to be loved and to give love.

But without love everything we do is worth nothing -- without love we are dead in the midst of living.

I have some sun-dried tomatoes with me this morning.  Look at them.  They have had the water of life sucked out of them.  They are withered, shrunken, shriveled, closed in on themselves, and too concentrated –- bitter if eaten in their present form.  They seem lifeless, even useless, until they are hydrated.  Then they plump up, their wrinkles disappear, they are dynamic, and their taste is balanced and pleasant.  The soul without love is like the dried tomato -- withered, shrunken, shriveled, closed in on itself, too concentrated, apparently lifeless.  Shriveled souls do work for God, but their work is nothing more than a task to be done.  Shriveled souls relate with others, but their relating lacks authenticity and warmth.  Shriveled souls pray and go to church, but their prayers feel silent and empty.  Shriveled souls believe, but their belief is focused more on words and traditions than a living relationship of love and faith.  What causes souls to shrivel is a lack of love.

(Sing Ubi Caritas) Ubi Caritas, Deus ibi est -- the Latin words for “where there is love, there is God.”  This is the Good News of God.  God is love, and wherever there is love, there God is.  So often, we think of God as being judgmental, but that is only because we see Scripture through a shriveled soul’s eyes.  In reality, God brought us into being because of love, God redeemed us because of love, God pours the Spirit into our hearts because of love, God promises us eternal life because of love.  Everything God does and has done is because of love.  There is no act of God’s that is outside the realm of love.  There is no pain that cannot be transformed by God’s tender love.  There is no sin that cannot be forgiven by God’s tender love.  There is no failure that cannot be made right by God’s tender love.

Can you even imagine how many people there are in the world who do not know this?  Who have not heard this Good News of God?  Who do not know that no matter what they do or do not do, they are eternally loved by God?  Our mission is to bring that love to them, no matter what the cost.  To make every single one know that they are special; they are uniquely and unconditionally loved; their name is written on the palm of God’s hand.

Someone emailed me this week and asked me to pray for her son, who she said “does not know the Lord.”  I wrote back saying that of course, I would pray for him.  But I also told her that her son knows the Lord in his deepest heart, even if he has not yet acknowledged the fact -- because God loved him even before he was even born!  You see, he knows the Lord, because even if he hasn’t acknowledged it, God knows him and loves him, and died for him, and claims him. The only task now is to clear the path before him so that he feels that love fully and knows himself to be held forever in that love.

If only we, and every other human being, could really believe we are loved by God.  If only we could find it in ourselves to love others as we are loved.  Can you imagine how plumped up we would be?  How our wrinkles would disappear?   How lively we would become?  How dynamic?  As St. Therese of Lisieux said in her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, “With love, I not only advance, I fly!”  Love gives us wings of freedom and joy.  Love lifts us from the tawdry troubles of earthly life and makes it possible for us to soar with eagle’s wings on the air of God.  But without love everything we do is worth nothing -- without love we are dead in the midst of living. What would it be like for you personally if you really knew -- really knew -- that no matter what you did or did not do, you were loved?  What would it be like if you let go of your anger or annoyance at your spouse, or your child, or your friend and simply smiled at them with love?  What would it be like if you could let go of your resentments and bitterness toward those in your life who have hurt you?  If you chose to allow Christ’s love to burn away all that separates you from those others so that nothing but love could exist between you and them?  What would it be like if everything you did proceeded from love?  Love could really transform you, you know.

Ubi Caritas, Deus ibi est.  Where there is love, there is God. But without love everything we do is worth nothing – without love we are dead in the midst of living.

The gift of my having the capacity to love everyone that I spoke about earlier is a gift that is available to all who ask God for it.  There is an Epiphany Collect that I want you to memorize:

 O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing:
Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you.
Grant this for the sake of your only son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Let this prayer be in your heart and on your lips.  In the very fibers of your being, believe that if you ask God to pour love into your heart, God will make your heart overflow.  Carry this prayer as tenderly as you would a precious vial of the holiest ointment.  Let it become one with your breath, and one with your step.  Anoint yourself and others frequently and liberally with this best gift of love.  And watch what happens.  Watch souls lonely and limp, withered and worn, shriveled and spent, be enlivened right before your eyes.  Watch your own soul, lonely and limp, withered and worn, shriveled and spent, being filled with vigor and spirit.  It will happen.  If you ask God, it will happen.  I promise it.  I promise it because God promises it.

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