this last sunday was my final chance to preach at clinton united methodist church. preparing for this sermon was rather difficult for me. first of all you have the overwhelming pressure of trying to prepare something significant and adequate to be a powerful postlude to four years of ministry. it feels like a much bigger deal than preparing your average sermon. then there's the question of topic. what do you talk about? what becomes the one message that you want to leave people with?
for me that part was pretty simple.
i once had a mentor who told me that every preacher basically has one sermon, and that you preach that sermon over and over again. no matter what text or topic you are tackling, you are always still preaching that one sermon. ever since i heard that, i have found that so compelling, and it hasn't been too difficult for me to put my finger on precisely that one sermon. it's simple:
you. are. loved.
and so that's what i preached on sunday. i used zephaniah 3:14-20 as my text (zephaniah 3:17 is my favorite verse in all of scripture - and that's saying something since i typically resist choosing favorites), and tried to find a way to help people remember again that the story of God and the world is a love story. it's a story of a loving and creative Artist. the story of a loving and caring Parent. it's the story of a love and risk and trust and how love still loves even when the beloved violates that love. it's not a story of sentimentality. it's not a romantic comedy. it is not a disney love. it is a wild and reckless and untamed and and undignified and unfurled and unimaginable love. it is a reckless and rowdy love. it is limitless and eternal and relentless. it is strong, mighty to save. it takes what is hopeless and gives it hope. it takes what is broken and makes it strong in the broken places. it takes what is dead and makes it alive again! it quiets you when you are anxious or angry or grieving. it rejoices over you with loud singing.
in short: God's love for you cannot be overstated. it simply can not. if it is a difficult doctrine, it's because we refuse to believe it. we choose instead to believe the voices of our culture. we choose to be defined by what we do, what we have done, what we have, or what others say about us. we devalue God's love and exaggerate our own role. we try to earn it or deserve it. we try to comprehend it and shove it into a systematic theology. we try to forget about it and rebel. we try to escape it, like jonah. we try to rationalize it, like good grandchildren of the scientific age. we spend a great deal of time trying just about everything but accepting it.
why do we have such a hard time accepting the fact that who we are, first and foremost, is a beloved child of God? why can't we just spend some time basking in our belovedness? why won't we put our pride aside, and open ourselves to receiving the gift of an unashamed and unparalelled love?
when we do, even if just for a moment, even if just to let a drop of that love sink into our hearts and souls and minds and selves, then we will begin to change. we will change the way we talk to others. it will change the way we get ready in the morning. it will change the way we treat people in airport. it will change the way we pray. it will change the way we love our wives and husbands and parents and children and friends.
and so my prayer, for all of those who heard my final sermon at clinton united methodist church on sunday, and for all of you who are reading this, is that you will find ways to begin to accept this fact: you are loved. beyond your comprehension, you are loved. beyond your capacity to receive it, you are loved. beyond your ability to earn it, you are loved. beyond the reach of your rebellion, you are loved. beyond the bounds of good sense or proof or logic, you are loved. beyond the limits of good taste or convention, you are loved by the God who made you, who formed you, who designed you, who journeys with you, who forgives you, who redeems you, who holds you, who quiets you, who sings over you, who would die for you (and did!). i pray you will find ways to accept it: you are loved.
and then i pray that you will find ways to remember it. that every day you will meditate on it, and go back to the witness of scripture which says it over and over again. that you will surround yourself with people who will remind you of it, so that you won't sink back into the raging sea of voices that tell you that you are nothing, or you are too fat, or you are too stupid, or you are not cool enough, not rich enough, not successful enough, not funny enough, not something enough. i pray that you don't listen to these voices, but that you find a way to remember - each day - that you are loved.
and finally i pray that you will find creative and wonderful ways to respond. because you have to. if you receive this kind of love, even if just a small drop, like a tiny taste of honey on the tongue, you can't help but respond by sharing it with others. be this kind of love to someone else, so they can know it too; so they can see it; so they can feel it. help someone else know that they are loved.
i will pray for each member of my family, my friends, my church, my readers, that each one of you will know, without doubt, that you are loved. you are loved. you. are. loved.