SUNDAY 12TH AUGUST 2018 THEME: Omnia vincit amor
Welcome, call to worship + prayer. Hatred stirs up conflict, but love conquers over all wrongs (Proverbs 10:12)
Bears all things,
Believes all things,
Hopes all things,
Endures all things.
Love never fails.
(1 Corinthians 13:7)
Hymn: All heaven declares
Reading: 1 Kings 19:1-18
On our holidays I read a book called “The tattooist of Auschwitz” by Heather Morris. It is the true story of Ludwig (Lale) Sokolov, who becomes known as the tattooist. It is a remarkable story of survival, optimism, kindness, love and humanity. The story is made even more remarkable as it is set in the grimmest environment and circumstances imaginable, inside the most infamous concentration camp of World War II, Auschwitz.
The story begins in April 1942 when 24-year-old Lale is on the first transportation of Jews from Slovakia. In Auschwitz the nightmare really begins. Each prisoner is painfully tattooed with a number using a crude needle embedded in a piece of wood, and ink subsequently rubbed roughly in to the wound. Despite the shock of his desperate circumstances, Lale makes a bold promise to himself that he will live to walk out of there a free man.
Within weeks of imprisonment, Lale is struck down with typhus but is nursed back to health by his fellow prisoner, the camp tattooist. Due to his ability to speak many languages, Lale is asked to work with him. Lale is reluctant to take the job due to the pain he knows he will have to inflict on his fellow prisoners. However, he eventually agrees as he knows he will perform the task more gently than others.
While it is not a job that he enjoys, Lale is able to use the small privileges that come with it to his advantage. He is given extra rations and some freedom of movement around the camp. He manages to smuggle food, which is the most valuable of commodities in the camp, as well as other necessities such as medicine to help others. With his charm, dignity and respect for others, Lale becomes a friend to all prisoners. What is so inspiring is his optimism, determination and will to survive which is summed up by the motto he lived by, "If you wake up in the morning, it is a good day".
In July 1942, while tattooing a group of female prisoners, Lale meets a young lady named Gita and is instantly smitten. Lale describes the moment they met - "I tattooed the number on her arm and she tattooed her number in my heart". Their inspirational love story is a central theme in this book.
What struck me most was that at times both of them were so ill, or so desperate that they thought they were going to die. What kept them going was their love for each other, a love they believed conquered all that they had to face in the camp and beyond. I won’t tell you what happens, but I do suggest you read the book.
Love conquers all is the theme to our service. In Latin it is “omnia vincit amor”, taken from the Greek poet, Virgil, but made famous by the writer Geoffrey Chaucer. The words can be written in almost any order and they still mean roughly the same, though there is a story of a young man who wrote them “Amorem vincit omnia” which means “everything conquers love” – which isn’t quite what we’re trying to say.
Love conquers all – for anyone who’s been married and those who haven’t, we know that at times love doesn’t conquer all, even if we set out with the best of intentions! So what I want to say is while human love doesn’t always conquer, because our human mistakes and faults get in the way, God’s love always does.
We could have used many readings from the Old Testament this evening about the children of Israel, but the story of Elijah from 1 Kings speaks of how God’s love.
Throughout their Biblical history the children of Israel have a reputation for trying the patience of God. They moan and complain, they complain and they moan, over and over again. From the stories of the Exodus we see how they complain to God about the lack of something to eat and drink in the wilderness and then when God sends the quail at night to fall around the camp, they still complain! They are incredibly trying! We’ve seen it in the story of Jonah, we’ve been studying for the last 4 weeks. Jonah is a right complainer. Had we been God (thank goodness we’re not) our reaction might have been to say “be blowed to the lot of you”, but not God. His love for them is so deep and they are given what they need.
The story in 1 Kings is a familiar one. Jezebel and Ahab are killing the prophets of God. Elijah challenges them to discover who is the greatest god, Baal, the Canaanite god they follow, or the one true God he follows. After a dramatic sacrifice Elijah kills the prophets of Baal and Jezebel threatens his life. He flees to Beersheba, then to the desert and final to Mount Horeb. There like Moses before him he meets with God.
Elijah is frightened for his life. He is desperate, alone, full of self-pity, fed up and wanting to give up. We may understand how that feels. Into this mix of emotions for Elijah, God comes to him and speaks with him – not in the mighty wind or the thundering storm, but in the still small voice. He offers comfort, assurance, confidence and most of all the encouragement to get up and continue with his mission.
This is the love of God that conquers. This is the God of the universe and the God who knows everyone by name and nature, and yet when the chips are down – not just for Elijah, but for us, He is the God who draws alongside us and his love conquers all the emotions we feel in order that we can get up and carry on.
The God of the universe but our personal God and saviour too.
Hymn: Love divine
Reading: Philippians 2:1-13
The story of God’s love for the Israelite nation is written large across the whole of the Old Testament, no matter how much at times it is tested to the limit. In the New Testament through a short conversation with a thief on a cross, we discover that God’s love is for all – for those who are innocent and now for those who are guilty. We discover too, that God’s love isn’t just for his chosen people, it is now for everyone – no matter the race they are born into. This is now a message of love for everyone. It’s for you, and it’s for me. It is the most inspiring story of love there is, for as the slide says “Jesus stared hate in the face and met it with love.
In Philippians Paul sees his life, and the possible sacrifice of it, as a love offering – love is at the centre of his Christian faith – love for God, because God loved him first, and love for humanity.
To practice love that conquers all is incredibly difficult. If we can’t always do it with the people we are closest too, then how on earth can we do it with others?
Paul wrote: If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.
So, only through fellowship with the Spirit are we able to conquer and love as Christ loved. I came across a phrase in a book the other day “the person that needs your love the most, probably deserves it the least.” And isn’t that the truth, but the hardest thing to do. The murderer, the rapist, the paedophile, those who take advantage of others, the people we know who are impossible to find any redeeming features in, who we find so hard to love – are those who may deserve love the least, but need it the most. Which makes me realise that only with the Holy Spirit am I able to even begin to try and do that. It is for me how we put into action the words Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13 - Love …. Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, Endures all things. Love never fails.
I have to ask myself “Do I practice real love that never fails on a daily basis?” Of course, unfortunately the answer is no, I don’t. Do I really love as Christ loved? Do people look at me, or you, and say “See how these Christians love.” What do you see when you look at people? What do people see when they look at you or I?
The person that needs your love the most, probably deserves it the least.
“Who shall I love?” I want to ask Jesus. “Love your enemies”, Jesus says, and I want to say “are you kidding”?
“What is the best way to get even with an enemy?” I ask him. “Feed them. Love them and make them your friend”, he responds.
We must see beyond the faults and weaknesses. Looking for the best and the ideal will always leave us empty. Never just love the lovely, the world does that, but those who are deeply unlovely by the world’s standards.
The person that needs your love the most, probably deserves it the least. But as God’s love conquered all on the cross, the Holy Spirit living in his children will help us day by day to grow into people who learn to love like that.
Hymn: I the Lord of sea and sky
Open mic…. how people have felt God’s love in their lives
Prayers – God of the moon and stars
Hymn: Be thou my vision