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1 John 4:7-8, 17-21
John 15:12-17

        Love is love.

        As far as I can figure, the saying came out of the gay pride movement, more specifically out of the push for legal recognition of same-gender and non-binary-gendered love. The point was simple: The romantic love two lesbians have for one another, the passionate love two gay men have for each other, the committed love two trans or bi-sexual or non-binary or questioning people have for one another is just as romantic and passionate and committed as the love a wife and husband have for one another—so why not let everyone get married? Why not recognize all partnered loving relationships equally?

        Because love is love.

        I couldn’t agree more.

        This sentiment was everywhere to be seen and felt at yesterday’s Pride festivities in Northampton. It was on signs and stickers and T-shirts; it was even in the air. Some of the T-shirts went so far as to say “Love is love is love is love is love.”

        Hmmm. On that I am not so sure.

        Think about it: Your love for a friend, however dear, is not the same as your love for your partner. Your love for your faithful dog or cat or guinea pig—however genuine—is probably not the same as your love for your child. Your love for your parents may be different than your love for your siblings. Your love for your favorite piece of music is different from your love for your  favorite food is different from your love for your favorite flower is different from your love for your favorite poem is different from your love for your favorite place. Your love for the Red Sox may be slightly different from your love for the Pats. Your love of working with your hands in the dirt may be different from your love of your fingers on piano keys. Your love of travel is deep and real, but you also love the coming home. Your love for power and control is different from your love for security. Your love for the things money buys is different from your love for giving money away. Your love for the baby green leaves of spring is different from your love for a snowfall’s quiet beauty. Your love for this church, however real, is probably different from your love for your family. Your love for your job, if you are so lucky, is different from your love for sleep. And your love for God, if you are so blessed, is likely different from all the rest.

        I could go on, but you get the point. There are different kinds of love. There are different qualities of love. Chances are you’ve experienced the difference between puppy love and mature love, the differences between healthy, boundaried love and neurotic, co-dependent love, unrequited love and mutual love, self-giving love and controlling love, unconditional love and qualified love, appreciative love and passionate love. And there are different feelings and expressions of love—from the sublime to the raucous, the unspoken to the poetic, the passive to the productive, the unacknowledged to the fully owned and expressed.

        Most languages recognize these distinctions with different words for different kinds and qualities of love. The Japanese language and American Sign Language have two different words for love; Spanish has three; the Greek language, four; Arabic, 11; and Sanskrit has an amazing 96 different words for love.

        So love is love is love is love—and not so much at all.

        What is the love that brings you here today? What is the love that gets you up in the morning? What is the love that keeps you going when you feel yourself at the end of a rope? What is the love that motivates your action when you are tempted to despair? What is the love that risks brokenheartedness? What is the love that keeps giving when it knows the beloved will someday die? What is the love that keeps pouring itself out and speaking the truth when it knows the price will likely be death?

        This is the love of God. This is the essence of God. And God is the source of it all. Love comes from God and, because we come from God, because we were created in God’s image, we were made in love, for love. We are hard-wired for relationship, created to care for people and things outside of ourselves; we are shaped and re-shaped by those who love us; made and broken and healed by the love we give and the love we receive.

        God is love. We love because God first loved us. We love because God’s lovingkindness is part of parcel of each and everything thing and person we love. We experience love from our pets and witness the love animals have for their own. And science continues to reveal the love and caring trees and other plant species have for their communities.

        We love one another because love comes from God and we come from God.

        Now perfect love is hard to come by. Indeed, some would say that growing and deepening and purifying our love is what this life journey is all about. And perfect love casts out fear. And yet our politics, our finances, and even some of our relationships are filled with fear. But love banishes fear.

        One kind of love may not be exactly the same as another kind of love—but it all comes from God. Love comes from the God-shaped hole in every heart; love comes from the God-shaped squiggle in every strand of DNA.

        Love one another the way I have loved you, Jesus says. Completely. Unreservedly. Unconditionally. Universally. Selflessly. Equally. With action. With joy and without fear.

        It has become fashionable, in 2018, to say that love is love. But that was not the case 31 years ago, when this church proclaimed that love of all kinds was of God and that people of all kinds with their different loves would be welcomed and affirmed here. In 1986 that was a bold and brave thing to say. And 31 years after becoming an Open and Affirming church, we are still learning what that means, still broadening our understanding of the many ways God’s love is expressed, still growing our love by casting out still more fear.

        What a wonderful—and sometimes challenging—journey to be on together. And how absolutely essential it is to remain connected to the source of Love, to continually open ourselves to the still-speaking Spirit of Love.

        I know the Pride Parade and Festival is not for everyone, but every year I find myself wishing you all could be there. Not just to march in the parade behind our beautiful banner, but to witness and experience love poured out, love laid out on the line for all to see, for all to know, for all to have.

        Yesterday I offered Blessings to Go, almost nonstop, for more than three hours. So many people wanting to know that they were loved. So many people—and kinds of people—needing to be reminded of God’s love for them. It bowls me over every time. It blesses me every time. There was the woman who rolled back the cover from her stroller and asked me to bless her almost 2-year-old daughter, and then told me that two years earlier she had asked me to put my hands on her pregnant belly. There were the four people who flagged me down for blessings on my way from our outreach table to the parking lot.

        But the thing that moved me most yesterday were the words I heard between the blessings, the words coming from the amazing crew of folks staffing our outreach table. Again and again, I heard:

        “Hi. We’re First Church Amherst, where everyone is welcome.”

        “Hi. We’re First Church Amherst. Help yourself to whatever you want.

        Take as much as you want.”

        “Hi. Welcome. We’re First Church Amherst. What can we do for you?”

        “Hi. Welcome. Services are at 10:30. Check us out on Facebook and the web.”

        “Hi. No pressure. Welcome.”

        “Hi. Welcome. Come as you are. Everyone at our church is treated like everyone else.”

        Beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Let us continue to love all the world since love is what we all need. Since God’s love is what heals, God’s love is what unites, God’s love is what transforms, God’s love is the most powerful form of resistance.

        I leave you this morning with the blessing I offered a hundred or so times yesterday:

        Blessed are you, beloved child of God. May you always know that this is the essence of who you are. God made you the way you are, and God loves you the way you are. There is nothing you have to do to earn that love and there is nothing you could ever do to lose it. God’s love is poured out on you fresh, brand new, every morning, as a free gift. May you know this truth so deeply that it fills your heart with peace, joy, and love that flows out from you to all the world. Amen.