Whilst in Watford today I came across a lovely Hare Krishna couple sat singing and playing their tiny cymbals. They weren’t hurting anyone and were happily sat singing, it wasn’t even that intrusive. As I walked closer I realised that stood around them were 5 young men shouting ‘Jesus loves you’ at the couple. In shear amusement the couple sat looking at them whilst trying to play the tiny cymbals and sing, but they did this with a slight fear in their eyes. As I walked by I noticed that one young man was handing out ‘Jesus loves you’ cards telling people that they were sinners and would be going to hell if they didn’t repent. The other 4 were slipping cards in the Hare Krishna’s robes and into the books they had in front of them.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen a sight like this, very often we see people in Harrow shouting ‘Jesus loves you’ and handing out similar colourful cards or tracts. I do admire the guts of those guys doing this kind of work but it has always bothered me that it somehow never felt comfortable or even real in some ways. It somehow made the situation with the way people saw the church worse.

It hit me today what the problem was. This group of young men were right Jesus does love the Hare Krishna guys. That’s never been in doubt; Jesus has always loved people beyond religion, creed, colour and sexual orientation. There isn’t any boundary for his love. This isn’t what is in debate. His love is limitless. It isn’t the message that Jesus loves the couple that’s wrong, it’s that the young men don’t love the couple.

To love the couple would mean you didn’t shout at them in public and embarrass them in front of everyone in the street. Shouting Jesus loves you whilst standing over them isn’t love, it’s trying to get the higher ground. Shouting over someone, doesn’t say I love you it says I’m louder than you. The loudest message isn’t always the right message. To force cards into their books and clothing doesn’t reveal any love to them; it reveals that the message is a forced oppressive one.

Whilst walking in and out of toyshops I decided that as we walked back if they tried to say ‘Jesus loves you’ to us then I would say something…

And they did. As we walked by one of the older guys spoke to us and gave us the turn or burn card.

‘Jesus loves you’ he said

‘I know he loves me. The problem is you don’t.’

…shock on his face.

‘If you truly loved me the way Jesus does you wouldn’t do it like this. You would get to know me first, find out what I was going through, what my issues were, where I had been damaged and ultimately what my feelings were on the issue anyway’

…confused face

‘to love me means to get to know me and to be interested in me’.

…really confused face

The guy didn’t know what to say, neither did I really so we just walked on. Now I know the argument that to love someone means to tell them about Jesus. But you can’t tell someone without loving them first. Jesus said love God and love your neighbour. Loving people doesn’t start with a little card and snappy Christian cliché. To love means to want to spend time with someone. To love them means to know them and to see where they are coming from. To love them means to get off your high horse and sit with them and hear their story before you tell them yours. To love them means to stop sticking cards in their clothing and to find out what cards they have to hand out.

I think for me the reality is that loving someone means involving them in your life. If you don’t want them in your life then you don’t love them. And if you aren’t willing to involve them in your life before they become a follower of Jesus then that too isn’t loving them. To love someone means to really love them, to want to know them and to make your contact with them more than just a cliché and a card.

As I write this I can already hear the response of some of my friends. Some will say but you can love them once they join your church. But that isn’t love, that’s love with a catch. Love has no catch. Others will say you need to start somewhere and they’re right but it can’t start with you standing over them having the moral high ground. Love means to stand side by side in the day-to-day of life. Others will say that people just need to hear the message that they’re a sinner, but people also need to see the message of good news too.

The message was always about an invitation into a relationship with a God of love. But we have a problem when it becomes about nothing more than a divisive message of who’s in and who’s out. Love doesn’t divide it unites.

We need to be careful that we aren’t pushing people away with a message that says you have failed, you are wrong you are out but masquerades as ‘good news’.

Good news has to really be good news.

As Paul said…

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love”. (1 Corinthians 13:1-13)