May 9, 2021
"Beloved – Be Loved – Be Love"
Pastor Scott Landis
When I was a little boy, somewhere around the age of 9 or 10, I would frequently go over to my grandparent’s house and spend the weekend. Many an afternoon – after all the chores were done – Grammy and I would sit at her big, black, upright piano and sing as many songs from the Sunday School Hymnbook as our voices could muster. “Climb, Climb Up Sunshine Mountain,” “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” “I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy Down in My Heart,” “Onward Christian Soldiers.” You get the picture. I remember that time as if it were yesterday. Grammy in her housedress, hair pulled back into what she called “her bun.” She looked ancient to me, yet somehow pure and beautiful at the same time. I can still see her kind, radiant, smile.
“Oh, Love That Will Not Let Me Go.” It was one of her favorites – and why I wanted it sung today. We sang it over and over. She in her pretty awful alto voice and me in my squeaky little-kid voice. We did our best singing our praises to God, but none of that really mattered. For in those moments, I knew, when she looked over at me sitting next to her, that we shared a lot more than our singing. What we shared was love. [Pause]
Jesus said, “I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love.” That’s exactly how I felt, sitting next to Grammy on that hard piano bench – my feet dangling unable to reach the floor – singing at the top of my lungs. Unknowingly, I was making myself at home in her love – and, in a beautiful way, the words we sang gave me a fuller understanding of God’s love for me – an understanding I didn’t really appreciate until much later in my life.
Oh, Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee,
I give thee back the life I owe,
And from its ocean depth’s doth flow,
May richer, fuller be. [Pause]
The story from our gospel lesson today takes us to the time in Jesus’ life where he was saying “good-bye” to his closest friends – his disciples. They didn’t fully understand his message at that point, nor did they understand where he was going, but I’m convinced they had a clear sense that these words were very important words to heed. And so, they listened with greater intensity.
“If you keep my commands, you will remain intimately at home in my love,” he tells them. It was a challenge that really entailed two things: 1. Understanding and accepting the fact that they were loved. AND 2. The need to offer that same gift to ALL others.
It’s the essence of the gospel. It’s Jesus’ central message in a nutshell. [And if I had only one sermon left to preach – this would be it. It’s that important] Now, I’m hoping this isn’t my last sermon, but just in case: Let’s consider these ideas – one at a time.
First, as we listen carefully to Jesus words, we are invited to accept the fact that God loves us: FOR – WHO – WE – ARE – PERIOD. We don’t have to measure up to any predetermined standard. There is no perfect or model Christian. We are who we are: male-female, black-white-or brown skinned, gay-straight-bisexual-transgender, rich-poor, fully-abled—differently-abled, chubby-skinny, tall-vertically challenged, smart-not so bright, Jew-Christian-Muslim-Atheist (just to name a few) – the list is endless AND – NONE of it matters to God. God has created this garden of variety called the human race and cannot help Herself from loving us – completely, and endlessly. And there’s not a thing we can do to stop that. That’s just the way God rolls. Because GOD IS LOVE. [Pause]
I cannot begin to tell you the number of conversations I have had over the course of my ministry with folks who simply cannot accept this truth that is clearly spelled out in the Bible. Their disbelief stems from a whole host of life experiences involving shame, guilt, and bad theological teaching that does little more than cultivate fear and deepen feelings of inadequacy over somehow having to prove oneself worthy to God. That’s not the way it works.
Please hear me loud and clear, there is nothing of which I am more certain, God loves you for who you are – Furthermore – there is not a thing you can do to separate yourself from that love. That is a given. If you have any doubt, take another look at Romans 8.
Does that mean you should live a fully selfish, hedonistic life – doing whatever you want – and expecting God to love that. No! Not at all! God loves YOU and wants the best for you. It’s up to you to determine what you will do with that love. How you cultivate it and allow it to grow. What you do with it. But I’m getting ahead of myself. [Pause]
There is a reason God is so intent on loving us beyond our wildest dreams. The reason was personified in the life and teachings of Jesus. In his words, “So that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature.”
Do you hear how incredible that is: God wants our joy to be the same as God’s joy! All of which may have implications for the way we live our lives. [Pause]
The third verse of that hymn Grammy and I sang (and believe me, we sang all the verses), though not as familiar speaks to this in a lovely way:
Oh, JOY that seekest me through pain
I cannot close my heart to thee
I trace the rainbow through the rain
And feel the promise is not vain
That morn shall tearless be
God’s love results in our joy – a joy that sustains our lives so that we can live: fully, gratefully, and in loving relationship to others despite any life circumstance.
And it gets even better. This gift of love is even more radical and extravagant – because there is NOTHING we can ever do to earn it. It’s not of our doing. Jesus is very explicit about that. Listen, once more to his words,
“Remember, you did not choose me, I chose you,
and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil.”
So, all this love coming from God is not about us. It’s not of OUR doing. God is the one who pursues US. All we can do is accept the gift. Isn’t that amazing? Let go of your guilt. Let go of competitive urges to measure up and be “good enough.” Simply accept the love “that will not let you go.” The love that will constantly pursue you and bring you joy. Wow! It simply doesn’t get any better than that.
Ohhhhh, but there is a catch. Perhaps you remember some other words of Jesus, “to whom much is given, much will be required.” It applies here. The first part of being “The Beloved” is simply to “Be-Loved” to realize this grace gift of God, and to be grateful. The second part is to “Be Love,” to bear fruit. To continue the offering of God’s gift to ALL others. To pass it on.
THAT was what Grammy was giving to me. It took me a long time to realize that. And it took years before I understood the connection between her love and God’s, but once I did, it made all the difference in the world. Then I knew it was no longer enough to “Be Loved.” Now it was my turn. It was and is my responsibility to “BE LOVE.” As Jesus said very simply,
“Remember the root command: Love one another.”
My prayer for you today is that you realize deep within you God’s insatiable desire to love you for who you are. Abide in that love. Be Loved – And then, “Be Love” – not just in our `ohana at Keawala`i. That’s easy. Be Love to all others. Be love to a world starving to receive the good news. Be love for the healing of divisions that surround us. Be love to assure, especially those on the margins, that their lives matter. Beloved – Be Love.
Remember the root command.
Love one another.