Years ago, I read a book by Gary Chapman that made a big impact on me. It changed my approach to my marriage and my parenting. It shifted my perspective as I engaged in conversations at work too. It’s called The Five Love Languages. It wouldn’t surprise me to hear that many of you have heard of it or learned from it as well.
The premise is that each of us express and receive love in a particular way. Chapman calls this your primary love language. He identifies 5 different love languages: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Gift giving, Acts of Service and Physical Touch. Each of us understands these different ways of expressing love but we tend to speak and receive love in one way more than the others. Sometimes misunderstandings and hard feelings occur because we’re not speaking the same love language. What sends a loud message of love for me may register as white noise for you.
My primary love language is gift giving—which isn’t about how much I enjoy giving or receiving material gifts. For me, gifts are a visual sign of love. Their value isn’t in how much they cost but in the thought, they communicate. Could be as simple as an unexpected note received in the mail. Example: years ago I preached a sermon about how I understood my call as your pastor. My job was not to get you to say “yes” to God…that’s the work of the Holy Spirit…my job was to find ways to help you experience God’s unconditional “yes” to you. Later that week I received a postcard from someone in this congregation. No return address. No signature. Just one word: “Yes!” Someone was preaching the sermon back to me. I still have the postcard. It was a loud resounding “You are loved” and it meant the world to me. Put a bounce in my step then and does to this day!
Do you know your primary love language? Do you know the primary love language of those with whom you live or work? It’s an interesting exercise and one if you haven’t explored, I’d encourage you to do so. It’s not the answer to everything; it won’t solve all misunderstandings or forgive all that’s gone wrong BUT it is a helpful tool as we work to better understand one another and to relate in healthy ways with each other.
Today’s reading from Deuteronomy comes from the second of 3 speeches or sermons by Moses that provides helpful, life-giving tools for the people in that day—and by way of faith, it’s a word that’s a gift for us too. He’s speaking to a new generation of Israelites who are about to enter the promised land of Canaan. Many of whom he’s speaking to hadn’t lived as a slave in Egypt but had been born during the 40 years that followed, in the wilderness part of the Exodus story.
Moses knows he won’t be going with them into the Promised Land. He won’t be able to be with them to remind them about whose they are and what’s central to their faith. So this sermon is his going away gift—and it’s a word that reveals something about God. In the Jewish faith, it’s called the Shema, which means “listen up”. It’s still a part of traditional Jewish daily prayers today.
Take a closer look at the text and we learn a little something about God’s love language. It consists of 2 parts. The first part—is a promise: Know that the Lord is your God. The Lord is our God. The Lord alone.
This is the essential truth. God is God. There are no others. You may succumb to other gods but God will not forsake you. God will not abandon you. God who created you and saved you continues to be God for you. God is faithful. When it seems that the world is falling apart, or the rug has been pulled out from under your feet; when nothing makes sense, when fear consumes you, when it seems you are on your own, listen up: God speaks and it’s a promise for you: “You are mine….you are loved…I am with you.”
God’s love language begins with a promise and nothing, not death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. That’s just the first part of God’s love language.
The second part of God’s love language—and this might surprise you– is you. Love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul and with all your might. The Lord is your God. Love God and your heart, your soul, your might—your whole being can be a vessel through whom God sends a message of love. And not just you as individual, but you as all humanity. It’s not a new concept. When the lawyer asked Jesus about the 2 most important commandments…remember his response? Love God. Love others. God’s desire is to be in relationship with all humanity. When we care for and love others, people experience the power of God.
Next week marks the 500th anniversary of a significant event in our history as the church—the Reformation. Martin Luther, conflicted by the church’s promise of salvation, had an epiphany—one of those “aha” moments in which he realized that salvation was only God’s gift to give. With this revelation, he attacked the practices of the church, calling people to “listen up”—to experience God’s word first hand and to be changed by God’s promise: that by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:10)
One of Luther’s most important contributions in this shift of thinking about matters of faith was his discovery that all of life is woven into our identity as Christians. Known as the doctrine of vocation, it’s the conviction that faith in God through Jesus Christ doesn’t separate us from the messiness of the world but instead draws us more deeply into the messiness so that every aspect of our lives becomes a place to ask: how may I best help my neighbor in this situation? Your vocation is every place where who you are (unique child of God) is joined with an act of service (need of neighbor). In your vocation, God blesses you with power to change the world for good wherever you’re at and with whomever you encounter.
Some think that church is in here. But church is actually out there. Everywhere we go we are called to be at work as the church in the world. There’s no church life separate from work life separate from home life. All of life is space to be who you are using the gifts God’s given to make a difference for good.
Of course, every one of us knows we’ve missed countless opportunities to be God’s letter of love. And we’ll miss more. We make mistakes. We sin. We back the wrong solution to social or political problems. We ignore others. We exchange hurtful words. We get priorities mixed up making choices that serve us best. But God doesn’t give up on us. God’s promise holds true: the Lord is our God. The Lord alone! You belong to God and God is continually at work in and through you. Opportunities to act with compassion are countless and through each act—no matter how big or small—God works to heal the world.
God’s love language begins with promise and is heard through you. Sometimes the message is helping a child with homework or listening to another who is lonely or afraid. Sometimes it’s marching to raise awareness around issues of justice or advocating for practices that protect the environment. Sometimes the message is an individual act of kindness or a community-wide response to a need in another part of the world. Who you are–child of God–is not one aspect of your life; it’s the foundation for all of your life.
It’s easy to forget this—just as it was for Israel as they made their way to the Promised Land. So listen up! The Lord is your God. That’s God’s promise to you. Love God with your whole being–your heart, your soul, your might and your life becomes a letter from God in a world that longs to know the language that makes us whole.
Let us pray: Holy God, we hear the words of scripture and are reminded that promise to love us and to empower us to be your people in the world. Help us to begin and live and end each day with you. Remind us to keep Christ at the center of who we are and all we do so that others might hear your word of grace and love for them. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.