Sunday, June 24, 2012

Following Jesus: We Are Loved

(A sermon based on Luke 3:21-22 & 6:20-26. Second in a series...)

Brennan Manning told the story of a woman who came to see him at a retreat he was leading. She told him of a life of mental anguish and spiritual suffering because of the long-term sexual abuse by a relative that she had endured as a child. He advised her to repeat the following to herself every morning: “I am Abba’s beloved child.” Her later testimony was that the practice had helped to heal her spirit.

We all have our hurts and wounds; some are deeper and more painful than others. We all need help and healing.

I have told you before of my morning routine. I get a cup of coffee and head to our home study to read Scripture and pray, a process that ends with my writing of the daily prayer that many of you receive via email or Facebook. Then, I go outside to walk a prayer path made up of a series of sets of three pavers, two small ones then one large one. With each step I say one word of the first part of the Jesus Prayer: “Lord. Jesus. Christ. Son. Of. God. Have. Mercy.” When my saying of the word “Mercy” coincides with my standing on a large paver, I stop. The first time they coincide, I raise my hands to heaven and say, “Praise you! Thank you! Praise you!” I then resume my walk until they coincide again; this time I wrap my arms around myself and say three times, “I am Abba’s beloved child.” I start walking again until the third coincidence when I drop my hands toward the ground and give every aspect of my day—those I can anticipate and those I can’t—to the Lord. I then repeat the whole process two more times.

I find the entire experience very meaningful but I must say that I have found the part where I tell myself that I am Abba’s beloved child, where I imagine my heavenly Father wrapping his arms around me and whispering in my ear that he loves me, the most meaningful.

When Jesus was baptized by John the Baptizer, he heard his Father’s voice say, “You are my beloved Son.” It was as if the Father put his arms around his Son and affirmed that great love; it was as if the Father whispered “I love you” in the Son’s ear.

So what kind of life did being God’s beloved child mean for Jesus? Naturally, it meant the same kind of life that we parents try to secure and insure for our beloved children: a life of ease, of comfort, and of safety, right? The Father satisfied all of Jesus’ yearnings and granted all of his wishes, just like we parents do today, right?

No, not hardly.

Jesus once described his life in this way: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). His life involved deprivation, rejection, and, finally, crucifixion. Jesus was God’s beloved child and so he reflected and lived out the nature of God’s love and life in the way he displayed his love and lived his life.

But don’t you think that Jesus was blessed, that he was happy, living as God’s beloved child? Don’t you think that he was blessed, that he was happy, living God’s kind of life and sharing God’s kind of love? Don’t you think that he was blessed, that he was happy, living in costly and sacrificial ways if that’s what it took to be God’s child?

We too are God’s beloved children. We are loved and claimed by God and God wants his children to live his kind of life, the life that is the best kind of life, in the world.

What kind of life does that mean for us? How will we live if we live as the beloved and happy children of God? What will our lives be like if we follow Jesus in his way of being a beloved child of God? Jesus described such a life when he said to his disciples,

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.”

To live as God’s beloved children is to live out the truth that God is about the business of turning things upside down and inside out; it is to live out the truth that God is about the business of doing for people what they cannot do for themselves; it is to live out the truth that God is about the business of the eternal.

Notice that Jesus uses both present and future language. “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” But also, “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled” and “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.” The poor will be blessed then but they are already blessed now. The rich are burdened now by what they have and they will be burdened then by what they do not have.

Why should we—why do we—live as if what we say is not at all valuable in eternity is most valuable here and now? It’s funny how we ascribe ultimate value here to things that we say will have no value there, as if somehow the things that will have value in eternity—trust in, joy in, fellowship with, life with Jesus—don’t have as much value here as our stuff, our prestige, our reputation, and our power do.

“Blessed are you who are poor.” Why? Perhaps the most important of the many reasons is that they realize their need and they are able to accept help.

“Woe to you who are rich.” Why? Perhaps the most important of the many reasons is that they do not realize their need and are not able to accept help.

Think of the Parable of the Two Sons. In the end, the one who had nothing experienced having his father fling his arms around him and throw him a party but the one who had everything experienced having his father trying desperately to explain to him what he had always had because he was in the father’s house.

We tend to thank God for our stuff but it’s God we need, not the stuff.

We thank God best when we don’t have much stuff because it’s God we need, not the stuff.

Hear now a modern parable.

There once were two sets of parents, each of whom had a child, one a daughter and the other a son. The son’s parents were financially successful and so he had everything he needed and more; when he was small he had all the latest toys, when he was a pre-teen he had all the latest games and gadgets, and when he was a teenager he had the newest and best car. Given that he had the time and the means, he pretty much did whatever he wanted to do and he had little or no time for his parents. They longed to put their arms around him and hug him and tell him they loved him, but he was too busy enjoying his life with his stuff and making plans for how he could get the education and career that would insure that he could have even better stuff as an adult.

The daughter had little to call her own. Her very basic needs were met by her hard-working parents but they could afford to give her little of the best things in life. When she was little she had some toys but nothing expensive; she didn’t have a cell phone when she was 13 and the only electronic games she played were at her friends’ houses; she still didn’t have a car when she left for her need-based scholarship funded college years. All through her growing-up years, her home life involved dinner at the table with her parents and siblings, playing board games with her family, and quite often just sitting around, talking. Every day, many times a day, she gladly received and gratefully accepted the hugs and kisses and words of loving affirmation offered to her by her mother and father.

You are God’s beloved child; you are God’s beloved daughter or son.

Here is God’s love.

Can you receive it?

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