Stop squabbling and love all with no 'ifs' or 'buts'
I grew up in a home and in a street in which everyone got along well together. The Church of Ireland Church and graveyard were across the street and, from the train station to the bridge, there were lots of shops and small businesses. My family, made up of my grandparents and the families of their four sons, lived closely together and ran their businesses.
My parents were very friendly with the people close by - Rosie Gordon and her mother, who had the sweet shop and where we got our marshmallow mice and lucky bags, and next-door Kit Murphy who sold wallpaper. On the other side was John Hogan and his wife who had an electrical business. And then, Ned Langton who owned a pub which was very busy after hurling matches. Further up the street, there was the barber shop, run by Mr Finn, and the Post Office, owned by Ann McGrath and her sister. All of these, and many other people, made up the people of John Street.
I mention these because of the very happy memories I have of my childhood and teenage years - and particularly because of the contacts and warm friendships between all the neighbours. The people came from various Christian backgrounds - Roman Catholic, Church of Ireland, Presbyterian, Methodist, Gospel Hall, etc, but got along very well together.
I attended the boarding school nearby and appreciated the wonderful sense of community, camaraderie and friendship throughout this small school of 120 pupils and staff; besides the excellent record in studies and games.
Today, we're thinking about the practice of love in our daily lives. As I reflect, I can say that there was a great deal of love, respect and friendship between the people in my home town. And it is there that my thoughts go as I think of the little known, but amazingly challenging, passage of Scripture, 1 John 4. This will be one of the readings in our churches tomorrow.
This reading is one of the most poignant and applicable for you and me in Northern Ireland today! It commands every one of us to love other people without any 'ifs' or 'buts'. 'If any one says, "I love God", and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he as not seen? And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also'.
This charge is issued to all of us. We need to get serious about committing ourselves to loving every person. This must apply particularly to our politicians who, despite differences, have an urgent responsibility to make politics work in Northern Ireland. For example, is it not profligate and indefensible to spend £100,000pa on agency nurses in our hospitals, while we pay NHS nurses £25,000pa. The politicians must get back to work at Stormont to deal with this and other outrages.
In many areas, Northern Ireland is booming - hotels are being built, visitors are being warmly welcomed, tourists are queuing up to visit the number one tourist attraction in the world. Is it not time that, instead of squabbling among ourselves, we all woke up and realised what an attractive place Northern Ireland is?
Is it not time to do what 1 John urges us to do?
"Let us love one another because love is from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love."