These blessings and curses are really hard to hear, aren’t they?  At first reading, or hearing, we have to wonder at the harshness.  One is either happy or filled with woe, blessed or cursed.  But it seems to me that today’s scriptures are about the importance of relationships, both to God and to each other.  What is it that we declare at the beginning of each service?  God is love!  All the time!  All the Time!  God is love!  And so, to trust in God is to trust in love, to live our lives in a way that honors and glorifies God is to live lives of love: compassion, empathy, humility, and peacemaking.  And to meditate on God’s law is to study love, to learn its ways and to make them our own.  

According to Jeremiah, to do so makes us like a tree planted by a river, soaking up the water it needs to flourish and bear fruit. To fail to live a loving life is to be like stunted vegetation in the desert, or, as the psalmist put it, like chaff that is scattered by the wind, never finding a place to put down roots.  So this learning the ways of love involves changing our selves and how we relate to God and to the world.  We have to recognize and accept that we are God’s beloved, just as we are, and allow that knowledge to nourish us, to change us, in such a way that we become deeply rooted by the life-giving water and are able to bear the fruit of love to everyone and everything we encounter.

I went to hear a production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music at the Tacoma Musical Playhouse yesterday.  The very last song was Love Changes Everything from a musical I had never heard of: Love Never Dies.  I’m not sure what Webber had in mind when he wrote this song, but I think the words fit what our scriptures are telling us.

Love, love changes everything
Hands and faces, earth and sky
Love, love changes everything
How you live and how you die
Love, can make the summer fly
Or a night seem like a lifetime
Yes love, love changes everything
Now I tremble at your name
Nothing in the world will ever be the same 

Love, love changes everything
Days are longer, words mean more
Love, love changes everything
Pain is deeper than before
Love will turn your world around
And that world will last forever
Yes love, love changes everything

Brings you glory, brings you shame
Nothing in the world will ever be the same 

Off into the world we go
Planning futures, shaping years
Love bursts in and suddenly all our wisdom disappears
Love makes fools of everyone
All the rules we made are broken
Yes love, love changes everyone
Live or perish in its flame
Love will never never let you be the same
Love will never never let you be the same

But Jeremiah claims that the heart is deceitful and sick.  Sometimes it will lead us to things that are in our own self interest.  It is difficult to maintain a life centered on love in a world that fosters isolation.  In our human existence, we build walls:  walls to keep us separated from others, walls of fear, walls of bias, walls of insecurity, walls of conceit, walls of self-centeredness.  Walls, fences and barriers are structures that break or restrict relationships.  Today’s scriptures challenge us to embrace interdependence. The virtues of interdependence are humility, gratitude, compassion, empathy, generosity, and love. Connected with one another, energy, like the sap of a tree, flows through us, we are nourished as we nourish each other, and there is always room for one more at the table.

James C. Howell in Feasting on the Word wrote

“The alternative to the deceitful heart is a tree.”  “The secret to the life of a tree is not what we see, but what we cannot see: the roots, thirsty tentacles reaching deep into the earth where even a hard shovel cannot penetrate, finding hidden moisture.”  

In Luke’s gospel Jesus and his apostles came down from the mountain to a level place where there was a crowd.  Because it was level, all people had access. There were people from all over, even as far away as Tyre and Sidon by the Mediterranean Sea. There were people with mental illnesses, disabled people, and people who were sick, tired, or sick and tired.  They had all come to touch Jesus because they wanted to be healed, they wanted to become whole.  Jesus allowed them all to touch him.  He did not turn them away.  Then he spoke directly to his disciples saying, you who are poor, or hungry, or are weeping, or are hated are blessed.  

Peter Eaton in Feasting on the Word wrote,

“Our God is the God of those who have nothing but God.  That actually includes us too, even if our need of God is masked in part by our comparative prosperity.  In the final analysis, we are as naked as the poorest of the poor, and our possessions are not tabernacle for everlasting….Right at the beginning of the journey of discipleship, Jesus tells us the truth, plainly, of what faithful living is going to be like.  We cannot say after today that we have not been plainly advised.”

And, although this journey toward discipleship is not and will not be easy, we do not travel alone.  We are sustained by God’s grace-filled love and the love and encouragement of others who are on the path with us.  Remember, we are not called to become someone we are not.  Thomas Merton wrote “a tree gives glory to God by being a tree.”  You and I give glory to God by being us, growing ever more rooted in love.  God loves each of us, just as we are.  But God wants us to transform our hearts with the experience of God’s love so that we can share it with the world because, I believe, that only love can change the world into the kin-dom that God envisioned for us.  According to the psalmist, a happy person doesn’t take from the world, but contributes to it.  Each of us should bear fruit for the sustenance of other beings and leaves that provide air to breathe and shade in which others can find reprieve.  But we don’t all bear fruit at the same time. Just like trees, each one of us has a season of productivity.  Then there is time for others to bear fruit in their own season while we rest under their leaves of their trees.  This cycle of seasons allows us time to refresh and renew ourselves, a time to meditate on God’s words of love, to deepen our roots, and to recognize how truly blessed we are.

Like a tree with roots nourished by the water, hearts are nourished by love.  As we journey, our roots grow deeper and stronger, enabling us to weather the storms that will surely come.  And our trees will stand taller and bear even more fruit for having lived and helped others through the struggles that we know exist in this world.  Happiness, or blessedness, comes from having roots, being grounded in the love of God and the understanding of what God requires of us:

“to love kindness, do justice, and to walk humbly.”

We cannot effectively relate to people without love. We cannot be present to our brothers and sisters who are victims of domestic and other types of sexual violence, racism or religious intolerance, who have differing abilities, or our sisters and brothers who are poor, homeless, or seeking asylum without love.  We can’t effectively dismantle the systems that keep injustices in place without love.  As the song asks “What’s love got to do with it?” it is the root, the sap, the leaves, and the fruit of our lives. It is not a “secondhand emotion,” but the way of life that God wants for each of her children.  It is my belief that we cannot effectively be peacemakers, justice advocates, care givers, without being grounded in love. We need to be trees so deeply rooted that we cannot be moved, just as the protest song says.  So, sing with me if you know it:

“We shall not, we shall not be moved.
We shall not, we shall not be moved.
Just like a tree standing by the water,
We shall not be moved.”

May it be so.  Amen.