31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
March 5, 2023
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” Did you ever learn that poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning?
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
“How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43)” Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Our scripture passage today is the first four of the ten commandments, and although it might sound strange, they, too, could be titled “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways” because they are a list of how we show our love for God.
We love God by putting God first, by worshipping and praising only God. We love God by not making objects, idols to worship instead of God. We love God by not using God’s name to curse or in a silly or disrespectful way. And we love God by spending time with God, by setting aside minutes, hours, and even a Sabbath day to be with God.
How do we love God? The same way we love anyone else in our lives – by making God a priority in our lives, by showing our respect and care for God, by being in loving relationship with God.
That is the how, but if we don’t know why we love someone, why we love God, these loving actions become lifeless and dull, simply going through the motions.
Why do we love God? Why do we take the time to worship God when we could be sleeping, watching TV, doing laundry? Why do we spend time in quiet, listening to God and sharing with God the concerns of our hearts when we could be out shopping? Why do we love God? Why are we in love with God?
Have you ever stopped and thought about that question before – why am I in love with God? Why do I adore God?
Exodus 20 gives us a little hint as to why the writer loves God – because God saves. Because God rescued God’s people from slavery – whether slavery to the Egyptians, to the Assyrians, to Americans, or to human traffickers. We love God because God saves us – from physical slavery, from emotional and spiritual slavery, from being bound and locked up by sin and brokenness. God saves us; God frees us from all that binds us.
And yet, that is not the only reason I love God. My heart is filled with adoration for God time and time again when I am out in nature: beautiful sunsets of pink and orange and purple; the sparkling snow frosting the trees; little sandpipers darting in and out of the surf as I walk along the beach. God’s creation fills my heart with joy and love, with gratitude that I get to live in this beautiful world and experience these amazing sights.
There are so many blessings from God that fill my heart with love, and perhaps one of the greatest blessings was one I was reminded of this past week. On Monday, we learned that the underground oil tank for the church is overdue to be replaced. I did not even know this was a thing. We don’t know the price; however it’s likely to be expensive, and as you are hopefully aware, we are already looking at a deficit budget for the year. There doesn’t feel like there is a lot of extra cash hanging around to replace something as unfun as an oil tank.
So Tuesday morning, I had church financial worries on my mind and heart when I sat down to read my devotional. And here is what God said to me through Kathleen Long Bostrom:
God casts out fear. The love of God in Jesus Christ casts out fear….I hand my fear to God, because it’s too much for me to hold. It isn’t too much for God. Anytime we are immobilized by fear, inhibited by fear, or captured by fear, God holds out those beautiful, holy, hole-pierced, whole hands and says, “Hand it over, kiddo. You have enough on your plate right now.” (Finding Calm in the Chaos, Kathleen Long Bostrom, pg 54)
Why do I love God? Because God is still speaking. Because God is still speaking to me, coming into my messy, ordinary life and caring about me as I worry about oil tanks and church finances.
Why do I love God? Because whenever I am feeling overwhelmed, whenever you are feeling overwhelmed, God says to us, “Hand over your fear, kiddo. Hand over your worry. It’s not too much for me. I’ve got this. I’ve got you.”
It makes my heart practically burst with love. Joyful, joyful, I adore You, God. Why do I love you? How do I love you? Let me count the ways!
Marked by the sign of the cross, we belong to God; we are loved by God; called God’s beloved children, and that good news should always result in action. Our lives should show people we are Christians. Our behavior should show people we are in love with God, gladly, joyfully, obviously in love with God.
Jesus sums up these four commandments from Exodus by saying, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30)
How is your love of God made obvious in your life? Do you get up on Sunday, excited to sing, pray, and praise God? Do you talk to others about what devotional you are reading or about your prayer life with God? Do you tell people you have a prior commitment when it comes to your hike in the woods with God? Does your heart and your words overflow with joy when thinking about, talking about a moment when God was real in your life, a moment when God was really present in your life?
The season of Lent is an invitation to be intentional about our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It is a time to reflect upon all of the blessings that are ours, ours because we are marked by the sign of the cross; ours because we are loved, forgiven, and always cared for by God. And knowing we are loved by God, feeling that love in the deepest depths of our being, having faith in Jesus Christ changes us. It changes our behavior. It changes our lives. It changes us into people who live lives of service, into people whose every word and every action shows they are gladly, joyfully, obviously in love with God.
How do you love God? In this season of Lent, intentionally count the ways. Make a list of all of the reasons you love God and allow yourself to be changed by joy, changed by adoration, changed by love.