I am pretty certain that all of us have seen them . . . they have been syndicated in the newspaper since the early 1970s. They were a single panel comic strip written and drawn by a New Zealander named Kim Casali since the 1960s. At the top of the comic were the words, “love is” . . . then came a simple drawing of a male and female character--usually giving each other googly eyes . . . and, and then, the rest of the phrase, “. . . being able to say you are sorry.” For over 50 years this simple little comic strip has graced the pages of newspapers all over the world telling its readers what love is.
One of the defining qualities of these simple little comics is that when describing what love is it seems that love is defined as an action. Rarely is it defined as an object or thing, but as an action. With this in mind, I think that whoever said that love was a verb, not a noun, probably had it right. Love is defined by action . . . defined by what one does . . . by how one lives. It is not a state of mind. It is not a feeling. Love is a verb. Verbs denote action.
In the beginning of God’s covenantal relationship with Israel the relationship was to be marked--to be chosen--to be God’s people. In return for being chosen as God’s people, the people were to love God. This was the foundational piece of their faith . . . it was their greatest commandment . . . “Hear, O Israel! The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) This is what the Jews know as the Shema. This is what stood as the heart of the Jewish faith. It was a familiar to the average Jew as the Lord’s Prayer is to the average Christian. Recited twice a day by the faithful. And yet, the children of God in our story this morning are reminders that the chosen could not do it. They are in exile because of their failure to simply love God. It was all in their heads and not in their hearts. It was ritualistic and dogmatic. It was a noun.
But we all know that love is not a noun . . . love is a verb . . . love is action. The actions--or in this case, inaction--betrayed them. They did not live out their love of God in their daily lives, and in return they were not really loving God. The prophets tried to warn them, but they did not listen. The end result? Well, they were exiles in a strange land . . . far from the homeland they loved . . . far from the temple where God resided . . . they were exiled. In their minds they were forgotten . . . the last of the chosen people. The consequences of their sinfulness of not loving God was brought down upon them as a whole . . . as the children of God.
Last week we heard the prophet Jeremiah implore the people to make the best of their situation; but, more importantly, he implored them to be faithful. This week he continues to push hope upon the people in the words that are shared. He continues to push the people to be faithful. And, he pushes the people to understand that things have changed. Yes, they are still the children of God . . . yes, they are still the chosen ones . . . and, yes, God loves them, forgives them; but, God also ups the ante. There comes a twist in the covenantal relationship . . . no longer is the community viewed as a whole for their actions, now each individual would be viewed individually for their love of God. From the communal ownership of faith now comes the individual ownership of one’s love for God.
“The time is coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke the covenant, though I was a husband to them. This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel at that time. I will put my law in their minds and in their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me. From the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
No longer would the relationship between God and the people be defined by what they knew, but it would be defined by how they lived. People would know them by their love, not their words or rituals. This would be upon each person’s heart. He emphasized this through his answer to the question about which was the greatest commandment. He began with the Shema and then added, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” He declared that from these two came all the laws and words of the prophets . . . it was the call of the faithful. To love God and one another. After the resurrection was this not what Jesus admonished Peter to do three times . . . to show him . . . to show him his love in how he acted and lived his life?
From loving God to loving one’s self to loving others . . . it is written upon the people’s hearts. It is responsibility of each of the faithful. If it is lived out faithfully then the Kingdom of God exists. What becomes the responsibility of the individual also becomes the responsibility of the community . . . of the whole family of God. To love God and one another.
No more . . .
No more shall we live our faith in our heads.
No more shall we only live our faith through the words we proclaim.
No more shall we live our faith through rituals and going through the motions.
No more shall faith be noun.
Instead our faith will be shown in the way that we live our lives. Our love for God will be expressed in how we treat ourselves and one another. Our faith will be in our actions. Our faith and love for God will be a verb . . . something that demonstrates how great our love really is. As the hymn states, “And they will know we are Christians by our love, and they will know we are Christians by our love.” They will know that we are the followers of Jesus by our actions of how we love one another.
Nothing has changed since those words of Jeremiah. Nothing has changed since those words of Jesus. Nothing has changed since the actions of Jesus. And, yet, I think that many of us wonder if we are any closer to realizing this dream of God’s of paradise . . . a place we call God’s Kingdom.
In Jeremiah’s words the sun is breaking the darkness and bringing hope. In Jesus the light shines a little brighter casting shadows upon what could be. And, in our time we have the opportunity to move out of the shadows into the light of a new day . . . an opportunity that can only be realized if we truly begin to love God, ourselves, and others through the way we live our lives. When we allow our faith . . . allow our love . . . to move from being a noun to being a verb.
May God grant us . . . all of God’s children everywhere . . . the wisdom to embrace and live this covenant, and the courage to live it in action each day, so that it may go well with us and with our neighbors. May we be strong in our love for God to say to the world around us, “No more.” Jesus has shown us the way. Amen.