‘The World was made to be a Scene of Love, And all the Earth a Theatre doth prove Of those Affections, which we ought like Wise Obligd and Holy men to exercise’ Thomas Traherne
Thousands of people have written of love. Very often in futility or in fun, most often unsatisfactorily to us. We most probably all have our favourite Shakespearean sonnet or 18th Century poem or Ed Sheeran song about love. The words of Traherne point us to love being central to how the world functions. It is a fascinating and alluring theme. We may also know what it is to show love to others or to feel loved by someone. St Paul includes love as one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
‘But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control’ Galatians 5:22-23, The Living Bible
What does love have to do with mission? It may seem a bit airy-fairy to suggest that love is at the heart of all Christian mission, but it is. Love is integral to our engagement with our communities. Love for ourselves. Love for God. Love for neighbour.
We may be familar with some of the comfortable words in scripture with regard to love, but do they inspire us? Do they get us out of bed? Do they help us expand our view of mission? How do they translate to our day-to-day lives? The love that is defined in Paul’s letter to the Galatians is that agapê love which is so hard for us to embrace. It is a love that is unconditional. It is a love that lives. It is a love that goes beyond our frail, human understanding. We find this love hard to grasp, because it is counter-cultural. We wonder if God really can love everyone. Some people are just hard to love! We definitely need some help to love everyone. We can have this kind of love, it is the love which God’s Holy Spirit will fill us with…but we have to remember to ask.
So what? If mission is important to us, then so is love. We love our communities to reach out in mission. Yes, even the bits which we are not sure about. That road we don’t walk down, the place where the kids hang around, the people who are different to us and even the people who sit on the other side of the church to us! We don’t just love them with an imperfect self-serving love, but with a love which knows no boundaries and will be there forever. And where do we get this love from? We ultimately get it from God, through his Holy Spirit, but we see evidence of it all around us.
We can see this love in each other. We can see it in the needs of our community. We can see it when we joyfully celebrate in church together. Very often it is only a fleeting glimpse; if only we could bottle it up and access it whenever we were feeling low on love! The brilliant truth for us is that this love is available to us. It has been flowing through the church for centuries. Are you walking in the flow of God’s love? Is your mission inspired by the agapê love that Paul writes about?
Please be encouraged that one of the key factors in mission is the love it springs from. Love is one of the key resources for mission. Without love our mission could become just another task on the to-do list. With love our Christian mission has an added dimension of pointing those around us, slowly but surely, towards the loving arms of God. We let God do the rest.