As soon as the newlyweds returned from their honeymoon, the young bride called her mother, who lived a couple of hours away. "How did everything go?" her mom asked.
"Oh, mother," she began, "The honeymoon was wonderful! So romantic, we had a terrific time. But, mother, on our way back, Andy started using really horrible language. Stuff I'd never heard before. Really terrible four-letter words. You've got to come get me and take me home. Please, Mother!" the new bride sobbed over the telephone.
"But, honey," the mother countered, "What four-letter words?"
"I can't tell you, mother, they're too awful! Come get me, please!"
"Darling, you must tell me what has gotten you so upset.... Tell mother what four-letter words he used."
Still sobbing, the bride said, "Mother, words like dust, wash, iron, cook."
When we speak of four-letter words we are referring to words that are considered "dirty" or "nasty" . . . they are negative words that derive bad feelings in us. They are also words that we use to express dislike and anger. They are offensive words. Whatever the case, they are words that our mommas taught us not to say . . . especially if we were proper ladies and gentlemen. I think that most of us here know what the four-letter words are; and, if you don't we can meet up later after the worship service and I can give you a quick lesson.
In our scripture reading this morning Jesus uses a four-letter word . . . though I do not think that he intended it to be an offensive four-letter word; but, none-the-less, he used a four-letter word. Jesus said, "Love." Actually what he said was, “‘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 neighbor as yourself.’" In other words, love God, love people, love everything . . . love, love, love.
And why does Jesus want everyone to "love"?
He went on to say that "All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” In the mind and heart of Jesus this was the whole foundation of life . . . the whole foundation of faith and being faithful . . . it was what God wants from the children. Everything that God wants hinges on the ability to love . . . to love God . . . to love one another . . . to love, love, love. Everything!
So why would I be standing before you telling you that "love" is a four-letter word . . . a four-letter word along the lines of being offensive? Well, for one thing it is a four-letter word . . . l, o, v, e . . . one, two, three, four letters. For another, I would just ask you to take a moment and to consider the world in which we live in . . . to get a mental picture of the world from all the news that we see on television, read in the newspaper, hear on the radio. It is not a pretty picture when we consider the world in which we live in as it is filled with violence, war, famine, starvation, hatred and prejudice, injustice, abuse, rape, slurs, and on and on the list could go. Ours is not a pretty picture that we see in our minds, nor in our hearts.
Maybe that is too big of a picture to grasp. If that is the case then I would ask you to just picture the world in our neck of the woods. There is not a day that goes by that I do not read articles in the local newspaper telling me about violence and abuse, drugs and alcohol misuse, prejudices, illnesses, injustice, rape, murder, death, hatred . . . just plain ol' nastiness. Even when zooming in on a smaller picture of the world, the world still looks--as my two-year old granddaughter would say, "Yucky."
Does either of these pictures look like or reflect "love"?
Psychologists and counselors, and even enlightened ministers, will tell you that our actions as individuals or as groups reflect what we believe and live. Thus it is that this picture of the world that we see . . . this yucky picture . . . really is not showing "love". In fact, despite the lip service of most of the world towards this idea of "love", the reality is that we--as the children of God, all of us--are still a long, long way from doing what Jesus told everyone to do. We do not love God very well . . . we do not love our neighbors well . . . and, we do not love ourselves. When it comes to love, we cringe at the mere sound of the word . . . especially in the way that Jesus intended us to embrace. It is offensive. It is a four-letter word.
Now you are probably thinking that the pastor is a little off his rocker this morning by insinuating that we are a people who are offended by the word "love". Offended because it is a word that when it is broken down as Jesus as broken it down . . . love God, love others, and love yourselves . . . it becomes something that is quite difficult to do. We are also offended by the fact that Jesus also said that this word . . . this four-letter word . . . was the whole foundation of life and how we are to live it. All the law and words of the prophets hangs on this ability to "love". Love is easier said than done . . . love is tough work. Because of that, I think that "love" is one of those four-letter words we shy away from in our lives. Remember, look around the world . . . what do you see? Do you see "love"?
I have said it many times, we have millions and millions of laws and rules to make us live up to two commandments . . . actually, one commandment--"love". When one gets down to the brass tacks of all the laws and rules there are in life they all come down to how we are going to treat one another . . . with "love". That is what Jesus wants us to do . . . Jesus wants us to "love".
But it is hard to love that person in our life who likes to flaunt and rub our noses in his or her wealth. It is hard to love the team that keeps beating our team. Hard to love the person who looks different than us, talks different than us, and doesn't really care how we look or talk. It is hard to love those who think politically different than we do. Hard to love those whose religion is not our religion . . . whose sexuality is different than ours . . . and our in a different socio-economic class than we are. It is hard to love a Griz when one is a Bobcat fan. This "love" stuff--at least the way Jesus expects it--is tough to do.
Yet, Jesus gave us some clues as to where we are supposed to start. We start with God . . . we start by receiving and accepting the intimate relationship God offers us because, you see, God really, really desires to have a relationship with each and every one of us. We step into the love and allow it to overwhelm us and open in us the ability to love in a like manner . . . we allow it to open our hearts to this mystery of grace. In this relationship in which God receives us just as we are, we learn what it means to love with no strings attached. We learn to love God and love ourselves. If God can love us--just as we are, then why shouldn't we be able to love ourselves?
This is the key to the second part of "love" . . . loving others as we love ourselves. If we love ourselves for who God created us to be and for whom God loves, then we can love others in a like manner.
Upon all of this hinges all the laws and words of the prophets . . . upon this is the foundation of life and living . . . upon this is the key to the Kingdom of God.
If the world is ever going to change . . . ever going to be what God desires it to be . . . then we have to "love". Love as Jesus wants us to love, not as the world wants us to. Jesus never said it would be easy, but he did say that it was the only way . . . and, it begins with us as individuals. I imagine there are times when we just wish Jesus would quit using that four-letter word . . . but, we can't. We are the children of God . . . created in the image of God . . . chips off the ol' block; and, we are the followers of Jesus. Let us go forth and love. Amen.