This blog contains excerpts from the sermon “Beloved” by Rev. Dr. Shelly Wood.
A sermon about love – now there’s an original idea. How many sermons can one hear about love, before it falls on deaf ears? Yet, “love” is the chief verb of the Christian faith. Ironically, I am hesitant to preach about love because the topic is so overused. It has been so over-handled, love has been so endlessly pawed that it’s worn thin – like an old coin too long in circulation. Love has been handled by so many preachers and poets and romance novelists, it has so over-dosed on sugar that it sometimes sinks to merest sentimentality.
But love is not defined by Taylor Swift or Frank Sinatra, any more than the true meaning of Christmas is defined by Black Friday and Rudolf.
You know we talk about love being something that happens to us, like its something we catch – we say we fell in love. There’s a difference between lust and love. There’s a difference between passion and relationship. There’s a difference between infatuation and love. I don’t think love is something that happens to us, but rather it’s something in us. And most importantly, love is verb. It’s an action.
Love is the highest commandment. In the Gospels, when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he named two: “love God, and love neighbor.” Jesus commands love. He doesn't suggest it as a way you ought to feel. He doesn't recommend it. "This I command you,’ he says, “that you love one another."
Love is work. Love is honest. Love is sacrifice. When we love someone, really love them, it means we experience pain with them. It means we are fully human with them as they are with us.
The late Madeline L'Engle, best known as the author of A Wrinkle in Time, wrote a wonderful book about her long marriage to actor Hugh Franklin shortly after his death a number of years ago. She entitled it A Two-Part Invention. One passage reads: “Vulnerable, the moment we are born we are vulnerable... When I married I opened myself up to the possibility of great joy and great pain and I have known both. Hugh's death is like an amputation. But would I be willing to protect myself by having rejected marriage? By having rejected love? No, I wouldn't have missed a minute of it, not any of it.”
This is the way God loves us and the way we are called to love each other, in the messy, earthy, honest, open ways of life. In the truth telling of our loneliness, in the honesty of our addictions, in openness of our fears, in the quietness of our thoughts, in the acceptance of our weirdness, in the pain of our embarrassment, in the confession of our failings, in the humor our humanity, that’s how we love each other and that’s how God loves, and beloved this is how we are called to love each other. Point number one – Love is a Verb.
A Second Point I want to make is this: if we want to experience God, it always happens in Beloved Community.
I attended a board meeting in Carmel last week. I was moved by the parents who spoke about their neighborhood schools and how much the loved their community, the safety and feeling of home and picture of children riding their bikes to school. They painted a picture of beloved community.
I have taken kids on mission trips and seen them transform before my eyes as they have moved from focusing inward to outward, and start loving people in their youth group as they spend time actively working for someone else. They come home and their sun-tanned faces remind me of Moses after he comes down off the mountain, as they have gotten closer to God. They shine because they have painted a picture of beloved.
God’s love always happens in community. It always takes shape in generosity, openness and grace.
Lastly and most importantly, in case it has slipped your mind, or in case no one has told you lately, you need to know you are loved. Now just think about for a minute, and accept that as the Gospel truth. Allow some of that active, love to pour in you from the top of your head to your toes. Let God’s love fill you up, until there is no room left in your body for anything but.
You are loved because God loves, period. God loves you, and all of the people of the world, not because you believe in certain things, but because you are a beautiful mess of sin and saintliness. He loves you in your loneliness. He loves you in your joy. He loves you without hesitation and or complication. God loves you crazily for your marvelous messy self.
You are beloved. You didn’t earn it. You aren’t loved more than anyone else. You aren’t loved any less either. The love God has for you isn’t passive, it’s active. It’s ever present. It never dies.
Yes, this word is thrown around quite a bit in the Bible, but maybe that’s because without love, there is no God.
God is love. Beloved. Let us love one another.