Summary: An opportunity for us to think about who we love, and who we should love

In the name of the father, son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Love is a many splendored thing.

Love lifts us up where we belong.

All you need is love.

The opening lines to a song from the film Moulin Rouge where Ewan McGregor is courting Nicole Kidman whom he has fallen in love with. But this isn’t why I begin with this song. You see this particular song, continues to speak about love, but instead of it being a newly composed song, it is actually a medley of many songs about love, with lyrics from bands like U2 all the way to the Beatles.

Love for one another is one of the most popular themes for songs all over the world. So if love is so important to us then why do we see so much hate in the world?

All we have to do is look in the news to see that we can’t always see love at work.

We see Conflicts in Israel and Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, the list is almost endless. I did a quick check to find out how bad the situation is, and right now there are 59 armed conflicts happening around our world.

This is before we consider the other threats to our world through acts of Terror, such as the continued presence of Daesh in Syria and beyond, plus the scenes that we see more and more on the news of civil unrest across the globe.

However there is a brighter more hopeful side to this doom and gloom, there are organisations that have a mandate to try and restore peace in these places, organisations such as the UN, amnesty international and others who are striving to achieve a lasting peace.

Dark and light, war and peace, hopelessness and hope. We live in a complicated world, where pride, power and human ambition at all levels of society within a single nation, as well as much further afield on the international stage can dismiss moral and ethical values, and most importantly basic social values, especially in those who are marginalised, or through our own unconscious bias. All of which degrades humanity as a race, and reminds us so clearly of man’s inhumanity to man.

With all of this in mind we can think about our Gospel reading this morning, ‘“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

For Christians, this forms part of the first tenant of our faith. It shapes who we are as children of God, how we should treat others, and it shapes our actions and reactions to what happens to us, and those around us.

Fourteen years ago, I spent six months in prison… …as part of my studies at college. I was shadowing the Anglican chaplain in his duties at HMP Durham, and along with spending time with him, I also spent time with the rest of the chaplaincy team.

Durham at that time was classed as a categorisation prison, which means that the inmates were there on remand awaiting trial, all the way up to murderers who were either there long term, or awaiting transfer to a category A high security installation such as Frankland down the road in Durham, or others such as Wakefield or Manchester.

In the beginning it was a daunting place to be, the slam of every door after you went through it to check it was secure, and being told on day one by the chaplain to never enquire as to why someone was in there, it was an awful lot to take in.

After the initial trepidation and the chance to settle into the prisons routine, I had the opportunity through my placement to experience the full array of duties the chaplains undertook, which included meeting with and have contact with everyone from common thieves to multiple murderers, as well as the officers themselves, they all came under the care and spiritual responsibility of the chaplains.

Now some of these men showed little or no remorse for the crimes that they had committed, but there were others who showed a heartfelt repentance, and a resolution to change.

One prisoner who I will call Joe to protect his identity, who I had quite a bit of contact with through a weekly study group, told me that he had murdered his wife, and once I had gotten over the initial shock of finding out what his crime was, we had many conversations and I had the opportunity to get to know him quite well.

Whilst in prison he had found faith, and although it was unlikely that he would ever be released from prison, as he was an older gentleman. He was working through what he had done, whilst at the same time learning about faith.

But what was most amazing about Joe was the genuineness of his faith and how it had begun to change not only his life, but also his attitude to what he had done.

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