Posted by: owizblog | February 15, 2013

Daily Service, Monday 11 February 2013, Radio 4 Long Wave

[09.45.00 – 09.59.50]

Good morning! This week’s theme is “The Language of Love.” How does love speak itself? How can we speak adequately of what love is?

Some years ago, I was driving, half-listening to Radio 4, to part of a series made by John Cleese and his friend, the psychiatrist Dr. Robin Skinner, called Families, And How To Survive Them. They’d got on to the subject of love.

Cleese said something like “OK, Mr. Clever-clogs psychiatrist – define love!”

“This is going to be good!” I smirked to myself.

Moments later, I swerved precipitately into a parking-space, scrabbling for a pen and scrap of paper. What Skinner had said was “Love is the capacity to identify the needs of another, and meet them.”

We sing now of a love like this: Come down, o Love divine…

Let us pray:
Known and loved, we come to you, gracious God,
Yet still seeking to hide, from you and from ourselves,
Our complex truth.
Known, and loved, we come to you,
Not knowing how to trust this love.
Forgive us…
You spoke, and speak, your love in Christ;
Your Word uttered in the language of what we are.
Help us understand how well we’re understood,
How accepted, how forgiven…
Guide us into lives that speak your love,
In its own idiom of acceptance and service.
Amen

Language strings word to word, thought to thought. As a small child, I saw, in church, a woman’s pearl necklace burst. In slow-motion, it seemed, the disciplined string of pearls lost its integrity and dissolved into an accelerating cascade of luminous spheres, time returning to normal as they hit the wooden floor and began to bounce and scatter. Everywhere…

Parts of the Gospels are put together like strings of pearls. Sayings of Jesus, some as brief as can be, each an individual pearl, handed down in the oral tradition of the Early Church, now strung together by the Gospel writers into a larger whole, with an overarching meaning.

Our reading this morning is like that. Can we, as we listen, do justice to the individual pearls, and still see the shape, design and integrity of the necklace?

Gospel Reading: Mt 6:7-11

Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under foot and turn to attack you. Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Dorothy Parker, poet, satirist, critic and rapier wit, once found a door held open for her by an old adversary. As she passed through, the other woman breezily declaimed “Age before beauty!” Instantly, Parker shot back “Pearls before swine…”

We giggle guiltily. She didn’t say that, did she?”

Then, stunned, we remember: those are Jesus’ words…

“Do not… throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you…”

That’s shockingly blunt. On the string of pearls that is Matthew chapter seven, it stands out starkly, certainly by design. How does it fit? What does it mean? Why is it placed here? There is a scholarly consensus.

Two pearls have opened this chapter. An enormous, uncompromising, unqualified commandment: “Judge not, that you be not judged.”

Then this, to elaborate:

“Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but don’t notice the great plank sticking out of your own?”

Jesus jolts us with jolly, thigh-slapping peasant humour.

And that’s a clue. Aramaic peasant wit. That’s what this is.

“Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you…”

A rude, bucolic proverb. You can’t foist what’s precious to you onto other people willy-nilly. It will enrage and alienate them, you’ll be hurt, and it will all end badly.

If you throw pearls before swine, it’s your fault, not theirs, what happens…

Love demands we take others seriously, as they are.

“Love is the capacity to identify the needs of another, and meet them.”

Sung now by the Glasgow University Choir, directed by James Grossmith, Charles Wood’s setting of Sir Walter Scott’s words: True Love’s the gift…

[Anthem]

“Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”

Another pearl on the row: Jesus invites us to trust. Faith is trust: that our needs are known, because what we are is understood; trust that God is love…

“Love is the capacity to identify the needs of another, and meet them.” That’s how God loves us…

How do we know this? Another pearl:

“Which of you, if his child asks… for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, …a serpent?”

“Extrapolate!” says Jesus

Parents always doubt and reproach themselves. It goes with the territory. But, says Jesus, “You still know how to give your children what they need; how much more will God?”

A train of thought. A string of pearls. Don’t judge. Don’t force others into moulds of your making. Take seriously who they are. Gauge their capacities and needs. Acknowledge your own needs, and ask. When you ask, trust that your needs are known, and will be met, because you are known, through and through.

Loving God, Jesus taught us to call you “Father,”
And summons us to a life of radical trust,
Give us insight to read aright the needs of others,
And energy and imagination to meet them,
Make our lives articulate, in love’s language of service.

Father, Whose kingdom alone is the pearl of great price,
Whose love the source and goal of our being,
Prise us from those wants, disguised as needs,
Which claim our hopes and our lives;
Free us from our superior judging,
To scan gently our sisters and brothers,
Challenge us to love as you love us,
In lives that speak the coming of your Kingdom.

And as Jesus taught us, so together we pray:
Our Father
Who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name;
Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil
For thine is the power, the kingdom and the glory for ever
Amen.

Our closing hymn strings together the parts of the Gospel into the whole, Jesus’ life into the utterance, the language, of God’s love; O love, how deep, how broad, how high…

Let us ask that our living, our thinking, our doing
Be strung together on faith’s strong thread
Into lives shaped by acceptance and grace,
Patterned on the love of Jesus Christ.

Knowing how we are known and loved,
Let us ask to understand and love others
In the complex truth of their lives.

And the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with you now and evermore. Amen.

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