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God loves me – always

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Tenth Sunday of Pentecost – July 29, 2018

2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145:10-18; Ephesians 3:14-21 and John 6:1-21

Every once in a while a young man falls in love with a woman, we all know that. You might be in your twenties and then there’s this woman that appears all out the blue and she knocks all common sense out of your life. How does this man make it known? He pursues her with his love and pursues her with his love, until he thinks his heart has captured her heart. So he asks her to be his wife, and she says no.

He was unrelenting and asked her again, pursuing her with his love, and pursued her with his love until she said… “yes.”

You might notice, he did not send his brother, nor did he send a friend. For in issues of love, you must go yourself.

This is the story of God: God pursues you with God’s love and pursues you with love, and you have perhaps not said yes. And even if you reject God’s love, God pursues you ever still. It was not enough to send an angel or a prophet or any other, for in issues of love, you must go yourself. And so God has come.

This is the story of Jesus, that God has walked among us and God pursues us with love. God is very familiar with rejection but is undeterred. And God is here even now, still pursuing you with love.”

The story of Jesus is not about who is right and who is wrong, what God’s name is and who God’s prophet is, but what exactly God’s motivation toward humanity is. If the message that God wants to get across to us is just about getting our beliefs right, then God didn’t need to come in person. If the ultimate end was simply to overwhelm us with the miraculous so that we would finally believe, then even God’s taking on flesh and blood and walking among us were far from necessary. There is only one reason for God to come as God self, because in issues of love, you just can’t have someone else stand in for you.

When it comes to love, it has to be face-to-face. There has to be contact. Love cannot exist where there is only distance. Love can survive distance, but only by the strength of what comes through intimacy. 1)   This intimate relationship becomes very clear in John’s gospel.

For five weeks we’ll immerse ourselves in just this one chapter in the gospel of John, chapter six. John 6 abounds with some significant understanding of the sacraments and of how God shows love through Jesus. I suggest that immersing ourselves fully into this chapter would be very helpful as this a very complex and symbolic chapter. This is merely because it may help us connect Sunday worship and the sacraments to our daily lives more deeply.

We can kick off by putting ourselves in the place of the crowds following Jesus. They must’ve been both disappointed and confused. Disappointed that Jesus did this miracle of feeding 5000 people in front of them and were expecting greater things from Him and now He abandons them. They were also confused as they couldn’t get why Jesus would leave them if there was so much appreciation for all He was doing for them. The imagery in the feeding of the crowd speaks volumes about so much that the Holy Communion could mean for us. Do we really comprehend the down-to-earth significance of pouring water at the font, and of gathering around the Table of the Lord?

In an attempt to clarify the connect between the sacraments and our daily lives, let’s look at a phrase from St. Augustine: “visible words.” What a great way to describe the sacraments—they are the visible, physical counterpoint to what we preach and teach in the church. The sacraments are the gospel given shape in water, bread, and wine. The same gospel that is preached, is also given to us so that we may taste, touch and feel with our hands and mouths and bodies.

They share the same character as the proclaimed gospel. The sacraments are telling the truth. As we know, truth is almost never welcome.

Frederick Buechner, in his book, “Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale”, describes why: “Before the gospel is good news,” he writes, “it’s just news. Let us say that it is the evening news, the television news, but with the sound turned off. Picture that, then, the video without the audio, the news with, for a moment, no words to explain it or explain it away, no words to cushion or sharpen the shock of it, no definition given to dispose of it with such as a fire, a battle, a strike, a treaty, a beauty, an accident. Just the thing itself, life itself, or as much of it as the screen can hold, flickering away in the dark of the room.”

This is what news is, describing things the way they really are. The gospel, Buechner, writes, confronts us with who we really are.

Such truth is “bad news before it is good news.”  

The news about ourselves first tells us about law before it is gospel. It doesn’t tell us what we want to hear. It tells us about our failures, such as how badly we might have treated our loved ones, by wanting our own way, instead of thinking about the other’s needs. But then the wow-effect comes when we learn of God’s loving response. 

The first thing that the sacraments show us, is that we are not in control. Often we try to arrange our own lives, we tend to delude ourselves that we are masters of our own destiny, until every single thing in our life gets turned upside-down. Such things happen when a loved one becomes ill all of a sudden. It can show up in teenagers acting out in ways we never anticipated, or even a spouse acting up in unexpected ways.

This truth is described in John’s gospel—the crowd and disciples who witnessed Jesus’ miracle of feeding 5000 people saw in Him their salvation. Now Jesus should free them from their political tyranny, they wanted from Him some more of his miraculous power.   

Jesus withdraws. We read, “When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He withdrew again to the mountain by Himself” (John 6:15). Jesus’ response came with harshness, it was the word, “No.” The answer to their ambitions and delusions of power and control was “not at all.”

When we baptise infants, it becomes clear, children simply have no say in the matter of their baptism. God’s love in Jesus just chooses them. God chooses to make us God’s own, no matter what we may experience later in life, no matter what our attitude may be toward God, through baptism we receive the new life.

At the Lord’s Supper the same happens. When we come to the Table of our Lord, we come on God’s terms, not ours. You see, Christ comes to us in Holy Communion bodily, physically, visibly, first to say “no” — “no” to our desire to be in control, “no” to thinking we are all that smart. This is all so that we hear Christ’s “yes” to the person we actually and already are. We are Christ’s beloved.

In the sacraments we are invited to drop all pretense, become helpless and powerless as a baby about to be baptised. It is precisely to such helpless and uncomprehending persons to whom Christ comes.

It keeps on happening in our lives. We might hear the bad news that we never actually were in control, but that’s okay. God loves us nevertheless. God loves me, God loves you, regardless. Come as you are, in your weakness, in your illness, come without pretense. You won’t be rejected. This message comes to the disciples who were fearful of not having enough to feed the 5000. It comes to you and me, we are not in control, even in God’s act of loving us. 

1.) Erwin Raphael McManus in “Soul cravings prequel”, pp. 28ff

 

Copyright 2018 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church

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