Helpful Bible passages
Hymns to explore
- Brother, sister, let me serve you (StF 611)
- For the beauty of the earth (StF 102) – also consider playing a recording of John Rutter’s setting of these words
- May the mind of Christ my Saviour (StF 504)
- My heart is full of Christ (StF 506)
- Pay heed to the people you meet on the journey (StF+ website)
- Thank God for life – for all that is essential (StF+ website)
- Thanks for friends who keep on loving (StF 619)
- There’s a quiet understanding (StF 36)
- We are not our own. Earth forms us (available by permission on StF+ website)
“And if love’s encounters lead us
on a way uncertain and unknown,
all the saints with prayer surround us:
We are not alone.”
who in Jesus of Nazareth
emptied, humbled, and gave yourself in love,
that we may love more fully
and shine more brightly
in and for your world,
help us when we find the loving hard,
the relationships challenging,
and the road ahead daunting.
As Ruth and Naomi
walked from bereavement to birth,
from famine to harvest,
may we discover something of
Ruth’s determination and Naomi’s acceptance,
forging a relationship that neither had expected,
combining their strengths and sharing their visions,
to craft a new future,
encounters of love,
and a divine opportunity.
And when the way is uncertain, solutions unknown,
support us, nurturing God, to give the best of ourselves,
confident of your companionship that guides our own,
knowing, now and always, we are not alone.
Also see Additional prayers
God in love unites us digs down into the way mutual love between God and ourselves, reflected in our love for each other, informs our relationships. It models how we relate to the world around us, and how we relate to each other, including in our most intimate moments. It explores the purposes and qualities of good relating, and the patterns and practices that support them.
Being co-stewards, companions and co-workers with God
The second creation story, in Genesis 2, gives weight both to the way God makes us co-workers (stewards) in caring for creation; and to God’s understanding that we are made whole by companionship. Our sense of being, purpose and self-worth is informed by our interrelatedness, both with the world around us and with each other.
This interplay of relationships is captured imaginatively in Brian Wren’s thought-provoking hymn We are not our own (available on StF+). His understanding that the stuff of which we are made is the stuff of creation, and that this all grows from “seeds of life divine”, is a profound exploration of God’s joyful declaration in Genesis 1: that all created things are “good”.
“Earth forms us”, Brian writes, echoing not only the making of Adam from dust (to which we will all return) but also acknowledging the forming quality of creation. We are blown by its winds and are shaped by our environment. His hymn develops a line of thinking hinted at in the report, that as social beings we are changed by our engagement with the world around us. We become who we are through relationships: “family and friends and strangers / show us who we are”. (See also Gary Hopkins’ hymn Thanks for friends who keep on loving, StF 619.)
Paul’s letter to the early Christians in Rome (Romans 8: 14-17) takes this understanding of interrelatedness and applies it to the task and reward of discipleship. Not only are we co-workers with Christ (who is God incarnate) but we are also “co-heirs” with Christ – suffering as required, as Jesus suffered, but being drawn into oneness with God also, as Jesus was.
Through our Christian commitment to the world and each other, we are offered the opportunity to embody the reciprocal love of God as seen in Jesus. Is it any wonder that Charles Wesley, when charting his growth in holiness, describes Christ using the passionate (18th century) language of a lover: “Fairer than all the earth-born race, / perfect in comeliness thou art.” (My heart is full of Christ, StF 506)
In For the beauty of the earth (StF 102) Folliot Pierpoint draws many of these themes together. It concludes:
For each perfect gift and sign
of your love so freely given,
graces human and divine,
flowers of earth and buds of heaven:
Gracious God, to you we raise
this our sacrifice of praise.
Developing our vision and widening the practice of marriage
Among the “perfect gifts and signs” that Folliot Pierpoint describes is the “joy of human love”:
Brother, sister, parents, child,
friends on earth, and friends above. (StF 102)
One of the most deeply felt biblical examples of human relatedness is that of Ruth and Naomi in the Hebrew Scriptures. The opening chapter describes the mutual need of two widows. They develop a love born out of hardship and which Naomi takes some time to fully accept or appreciate (she returns to her homeland describing herself as bitter, despite the presence of Ruth at her side). Both women come to understand that “other people help to shape us”, as Gary Hopkins writes (StF 619).
The gift of companionship (as opposed to marriage) is seen by the Marriage and Relationship report as a deeply significant feature of the second creation story (Genesis 2: 18-25), as it is in the story of Ruth and Naomi. This is reflected memorably in Richard Gillard’s popular hymn, Brother, sister, let me serve you (StF 611):
We are pilgrims on a journey,
and companions on the road;
we are here to help each other
walk the mile and bear the load.
Taken as a whole, Richard’s words speak not only of how Christians should be with one another but also how they need to be with those in the communities and world around.
Dominic Grant, too, ponders on what happens when we “open the door and remember the promise: / Christ’s welcome for all, / and a love that won’t fail”, concluding that we are required to follow Jesus’ example: “here is the call now to all who will follow: / live justly, love mercy, walk humbly with God!” (Pay heed to the people you meet on the journey, StF+ website).
Dominic has us sing, “Seek grace that sees past every glib preconception”. Nowhere is this divine openness to others more fully expressed than in the New Testament letter to the Philippians. It encourages us to learn from Christ’s humility, to the extent that we regard others as better than ourselves. St Paul would have us aspire to bear the mark of the love of Jesus, growing in to the likeness of Christ – as expressed by Richard Gillard (above) and in Kate Barclay Wilkinson’s May the mind of Christ my Saviour (StF 504).
The range of human relating implied in Paul’s words and these hymns may be extended to close sexual relating. At its best, the Marriage and Relationships Report argues, this is one manifestation of the fruits of Spirit, revealing wisdom and self-giving: “believing in somebody and entrusting yourself to them”.
Engaging with changing practices and attitudes in contemporary society, the Report affirms that “consent within a covenanted relationship between two persons remains at the heart of our understanding” of sexual relating; it also offers reflections on key concepts such as chastity and fidelity. Different ways of relating are presented; so we praise God “for this great gifting / of relationship and friend: / imaging divine relating; / found in heaven with no end.” (Thanks for friends who keep on loving, StF 619)