Skip to main content

Love in the Shape of a Cross

John 1.1-14

Now that we've talked about our own presents, it's time to open another one - a present for everybody here today but, as I hope you can see, it's not a very big present.

Someone helps me to open it and it turns out to be an empty box with the words 'Love' scrawled on each of it's six sides.

Well, an empty box of love. That's a bit of a lightweight gift, isn't it? I'm reminded of the priest who went on holiday to Spain. He was a visiting a church one day and when the sexton discovered that he was a priest he said to him, 'Would you like to see our most holy treasure? Normally we only get it out on feast days, and then we parade it around the village, but - as you're a priest - I'll give you a special glimpse of it. And he led the priest down to the crypt under the church and there on a tiny stone niche under the high altar was a golden box with a glass lid. The sexton lifted it down carefully and the priest looked inside. As his eyes grew accustomed to the dim light in the crypt, coming from just a few electric light bulbs fastened around the ancient stone walls, he realised that what he had first thought was indeed true - the box was empty. He had expected to see the thumb nail of a famous saint, or a sliver of bone, or a lock of hair, but no, there was nothing inside the box at all.

'What is it?' he asked, bemused. 'Don't you know?' said the sexton triumphantly. 'It's the Holy Spirit!' So there they were, looking at the Holy Spirit supposedly shut up in a box. And this (our box) is love shut up in a box - it's an equally daft idea, isn't it? Except that, when you unfasten the sides of the box it becomes love in the shape of a cross!

I belong to a minister's e-group. We exchange ideas and answer each other's questions. And one of the things people have been discussing over the last couple of days is how it feels to go and visit your family at Christmas, especially after you've been working so hard in the days leading up to Christmas itself. For some it's a wonderful opportunity to unwind and relax in the company of people who will love them unconditionally and spare them the criticism which they sometimes face during the rest of the year. But for others it's the exact opposite. Their fathers and mothers criticise them continually and they find it hard to bear.

One woman was amazed when she collected her mother from a fortnight's respite care and the sister in charge of the residential home gave her mother a hug and said, 'Isn't she lovely? I wish I could take her home!' 'So do I!' thought the minister. 'Because if you had her at home with you for any length of time you'd very soon see another side to her nature!'

People have been wondering why parents and children can sometimes antagonise one another in this way, when they can both get on perfectly well with everyone else they meet. I think the answer is that the relationship between parents and children is so important to us, and so full of love, that we always expect the very best of one another and then of course we get desperately disappointed when our children, or our parents, can't always meet our expectations. Whereas, if we don't love someone, then we'll put up with what's ordinary or even mediocre and think it's acceptable and even be quite nice about it. That's why it's our own children, or our own parents, who often see us at our most difficult and inflexible.

God is different, of course. God also wants to get the very best out of us and to give the very best to us, and God gets just as frustrated as any parent when we fall short. But God doesn't lecture us, or criticise us or complain. Instead, God offers himself to us again and again, in love, calling us to respond and to be the best that we can be in him.

With acknowledgement to Robert Amos for the idea of the cross-shaped present.


Popular posts from this blog

I don't believe in an interventionist God

Matthew 28.1-10, 1 Corinthians 15.1-11 I like Nick Cave’s song because of its audacious first line: ‘I don’t believe in an interventionist God’. What an unlikely way to begin a love song! He once explained that he wrote the song while sitting at the back of an Anglican church where he had gone with his wife Susie, who presumably does believe in an interventionist God - at least that’s what the song says. Actually Cave has always been very interested in religion. Sometimes he calls himself a Christian, sometimes he doesn’t, depending on how the mood takes him. He once said, ‘I believe in God in spite of religion, not because of it.’ But his lyrics often include religious themes and he has also said that any true love song is a song for God. So maybe it’s no coincidence that he began this song in such an unlikely way, although he says the inspiration came to him during the sermon. The vicar was droning on about something when the first line of the song just popped into his head. I suspect …

Why are good people tempted to do wrong?

Deuteronomy 30.15-20, Psalm 119.1-8, 1 Corinthians 3.1-4, Matthew 5.21-37 Why are good people tempted to do wrong? Sometimes we just fall from the straight and narrow and do mean, selfish or spiteful things. But sometimes we convince ourselves that we’re still good people even though we’re doing something wrong. We tell ourselves that there are some people whose motives are totally wicked or self-regarding: criminals, liars, cheats, two-timers, fraudsters, and so on, but we are not that kind of person. We’re basically good people who just indulge in an occasional misdemeanour. So, for example, there’s Noble Cause Corruption, a phrase first coined apparently in 1992 to explain why police officers, judges, politicians, managers, teachers, social workers and so on sometimes get sucked into justifying actions which are really totally wrong, but on the grounds that they are doing them for a very good reason. A famous instance of noble cause corruption is the statement, by the late Lord Denni…

True Love

Mark 12:28-34 In 1981 Prince Charles was put on the spot during a television interview with Lady Diana Spencer, his new fiancee. The interviewer asked them if they were in love. Lady Diana’s instant response was , ‘Of course!,’ but Prince Charles replied, ‘Whatever “in love” means.’ Now in case you think Prince Charles is just a bit of a cold fish, on National Poetry Day 2015 he read a poem on Radio 4, ‘My love is like a red, red rose’ by Robbie Burns. I thought, ‘This is going to be a bit wooden,’ but I was wrong. He read the poem so movingly that Clarence House has made it available on YouTube and Twitter. Listening to him it was impossible to escape the conclusion that he now knows what being “in love” means. O my Love is like a red, red rose, That's newly sprung in June: O my Love is like the melody, That's sweetly played in tune. As fair art thou, my bonnie lass, So deep in love am I; And I will love thee still, my dear, Till a' the seas gang dry. But what does being “in …