What is love?

“Love one another” says Jesus. But what is love? How can we love one another? This was my sermon on the different types of love and how that makes a difference to us.

It was a pleasure to be invited to preach at the chapel at Repton School and I wanted to talk about the lectionary readings in a way I hoped would be relevant and interesting for the students.

I based the talk on C S Lewis’ The Four Loves. As I was talking about love to teenagers, I thought using song lyrics was a good way of illustrating my talk. I’ve given the references in square brackets.

What is love? Readings: Acts 10.44-48, John 15.9-17
“I want to know what love is” goes the song [I want to know what love is, Foreigner] “I want you to show me.” “Love one another” says Jesus. So, what is love?

Well, the song that has been at number 1 [One Kiss] for the last few weeks has got one answer to that: “One kiss is all it takes. Falling in love with me”

That’s partly because the English language is a bit rubbish when it comes to talking about love. It doesn’t really have enough words for love. So, I love my wife, and I love my daughter, and I love my friends, and I love God. But, is it really that helpful to have one word mean four quite different things? Well, five if you include our love, our enjoyment, of things we get involved in doing: sport, or hobbies, or subjects, or whatever.

There’s romantic love, which is what we normally think of, that most of the songs are about. As they say ‘How do you know you’re in love? All the songs make sense’. [Castle] Songs like One Kiss. So, that’s what we tend to think of when we use the word love.

But then there’s what sometimes gets called Affection, love for family. Love for those people around you, who are part of your family, either by birth or adoption, whether that’s formal or informal. “All of my love, All of my love to you” sang Led Zepplin [All my love], about the lead singer’s son.

As well as that there’s Friendship. The love that in The Big Bang Theory keeps Leonard, Penny and the rest actually talking to Sheldon. Well, most of the time, anyway. And, like in The Big Bang Theory sometimes, when they’re at their best, friendship is about support, about seeing people as they really are and loving them anyway, about encouraging them to develop for their own sake. Which is why Jesus talks about his companions, his disciples, as friends.

But, although those different forms of love are important, and although Jesus talks about those people around him as friends, he’s talking about a different form of love. The passage we heard from John’s gospel uses the Greek word, agape. Agape. Unconditional love. The love that God has for each one of us. The love that puts the other loves into perspective, that stops them becoming things that we worship, or things that damage us.

That’s the love that Stormzy is talking about in Blinded by Your Grace:
Lord, I’ve been broken
Although I’m not worthy
You fixed me, I’m blinded
By your grace
You came and saved me

When Stormzy collected his Brit Awards earlier this year he said:
“Firstly always I give all the glory to God. God this is all you. I know that every time I give glory to God, for lots of people, I know that it seems a strange thing to do, but if you know God it’s all him.”

If you know God it’s all him. It’s the relationship that puts all other relationships into perspective, the love that gives us a new way of looking at everything else.

That’s what the other reading is about, the one from Acts. It’s the end part of a long discussion on who’s allowed to be a Christian, what the entry requirements are. And God’s answer is the part we heard. Which basically boils down to: Anyone who believes. You don’t have to come from a certain group, or dress or act in a certain way.

To show this, the new believers are given the Holy Spirit to help them. To show that God’s love is open to everyone.

God’s agape love. The love that is stronger than death. The love that invites us on the adventure of discovering more about what that means for each one of us. The love that desires the best for us, and keeps on giving us new challenges and new ways of looking at things. The love that loves us too much to leave us as we are; that longs for us to bear fruit that lasts, to use the picture that Jesus uses.

Or, to use the picture that Dua Lipa uses in One Kiss “something in you lit up heaven in me”. God’s love for us lights up heaven in us and gives us the Holy Spirit to help us do the things that matter. “Love one another” says Jesus. With God’s agape love. See one another as God sees us, and act towards one another as God would act. And ask God to help us see how that makes a difference to how we love, to what we do, and to how we do it. Amen.

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