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Summary: It is the most recognised word in any language, it is the subject used most commonly in literature, both fiction and non- fiction, it is the most common central theme for lyricists in secular and religious song writing alike and is responsible for selling

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On the 24th February 1981, our country and indeed the world was captivated by the official announcement of the engagement of our future king, Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer. When asked by journalists “Were they in love?” they both replied “yes”, actually if I remember correctly, Lady Diana added “of course!” Our future king’s addition is remembered better, he added “Whatever love means.”

The word love is defined in the dictionary as “A deep, tender, ineffable feeling of affection and solicitude toward a person, such as that arising from kinship, recognition of attractive qualities, or a sense of underlying oneness.” To be in love is defined as having as “Experiencing deep affection or intense desire for another.”

In the New Testament the word love is mentioned 228 times, if you add up all its deritives such as loving, loves etc it totals over 500 mentions. It is the most recognised word in any language, it is the subject used most commonly in literature, both fiction and non- fiction, it is the most common central theme for lyricists in secular and religious song writing alike and is responsible for selling more greeting cards than any other subject but what is the true meaning of love?

In this morning’s scripture reading, Jesus opens our eyes to the true nature of love when he said “Love the Lord your God with all

your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second

is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

In this passage Jesus gives us three directions for love, they are:

love toward God, love toward others and love toward ourselves.

Our love for God is an upward love that must take priority over everything else. When we first entered college, we were fired up to do the work God had called us to do, however, as the essays started to come in I found myself pushing God to the back of my priorities in order to meet the deadlines. The time I normally reserved for my daily appointment with God, which was usually first thing in the morning, was swallowed up by working into the early hours to finish assignments, which meant that, where I would normally spend an hour at the beginning of the day I was barely able to snatch fifteen minutes. This meant that I felt spiritually dry for the rest of the day but more importantly, I was not showing God the love and attention that is rightfully his. Thankfully the situation was resolved but for me it hi-lighted the dangers of getting so wrapped up in the busy ness of working for God that we end up neglecting to give the one we serve the full love and attention he deserves, God deserves all of our love, not only part of our love. We should love nobody more than we love God. ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'

As I look out at you today, I know that many of you have a deep and abiding love of God and I also know that many of you will ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' But I wonder if any of you can truly say that you love God unconditionally as he loves you? I know that even though some of you may be suffering inwardly at the moment you will still love God with a passion that illness nor anything else can take away but I want you to be honest with yourself and ask yourself the question “Do I really love God unconditionally?”

I was at a one day conference in May, the speaker was Dallas Willard, a renowned philosopher and teacher on Spiritual Formation and was really challenged in my thinking, not by the celebrated Professor Willard but by the conversation I had with one of my session mates. We were talking about Julian of Norwich, who lived in the 1300’s. Julian of Norwich is reputed to have written “Oh how I would have longed that there be no heaven nor hell to sway my thinking, nor death of my Saviour Christ but just to love my God for who he is and not what he hath done for me.”

I asked myself the same question that I have just asked you and came to the same honest conclusion that many of you, if you’re being truthful to yourselves came to. We love God because of the sacrifice he made when he surrendered to the cross and through his resurrection gave us a hope of an eternal life spent with him in heaven. However we look at it, we cannot ignore that unconditional act of love and as such can never love God unconditionally and God’s love is unconditional. When Jesus surrendered to the cross, he didn’t make any provisos for doing so, he didn’t say “Okay, I’ll allow them to whip me, humiliate me and nail me to the cross but I want to see some change in your behaviour before I do.” He did it anyway, unconditionally and out of love. Because God’s love for all of us is unconditional. Romans 5 verse 8 reads “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And John 3: 16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

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