SERMON from 9-9-12: “iGod Am All-Loving”

 

*This is the 4th and final sermon in a series inspired by Nelson Searcy called “iGod.”

 

Ephesians 3.14-21 (NRSV)

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16 I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

 

iGod Am All-Loving

Jim Carey is a good actor.  He has done a wide variety of films throughout his career, that includes some dramatic and horror type films.  However, we all know him for the comedies he’s done–like Liar, Liar and Ace Venture: Pet Detective.

Rachel Ray is trying to become the next Oprah.  She has a talk show, a magazine and still does TV shows on various other TV networks.  However, we all know her as the cook who tells us–with her raspy voice–how to spice things up in our kitchens.

Michael Jordan plays a few sports.  He is most often seen on the golf course now, but we all remember the fact that he had a very mediocre run as a minor league player within the Chicago White Sox farm organization.  However, we all remember him as the best player to ever step onto a basketball court–and win an NBA Finals game while battling a very severe bout of the flu.

In the same way, you all know me as a minister of the gospel.  I take various passages of scripture, study them and figure out the best way to present an understanding of that scripture to you each week.  I preach on all types of themes and spiritual topics, but I love preaching about God’s love.

That particular topic is–how you say–right in my wheelhouse.

There’s a reason for that.  I came to the United Methodist Church on a slow trip through fundamentalist Christianity.  That’s not to say that my family always went to church, but we did spend more time in church that our of it.

My earliest memories of really attending church come from Trinity Assembly of God in my hometown of Ligonier.  They have since added on a brand new sanctuary and beautiful common space, but it was a small church that had been carved out of a cornfield.  After my parents divorced, it was a place that offered loving and compassionate nurture during a difficult time in my life.

Unfortunately, the love and compassion appeared to stop at the sanctuary door.  Pastor Bill–who was a kind and gentle guy to know–turned into the ghost of Billy Sunday behind the pulpit.  He was fiery, and his sermons were even more so.  It was the first real introduction I would have to “fire and brimstone” preaching.  The wages of sin was death and God would be well within his power to strike me down and send me to the bowels of hell for my sins.  However, if I prayed a particular prayer, I would satisfy God’s demands and escape that terrible fate.

God’s love was something that rarely came up.

We didn’t stay at Trinity for long.  Shortly thereafter, we began to attend Big Lake Church of God–north of Columbia City, IN.  While they weren’t nearly as Charismatic as Trinity–worship there often included speaking in tongues and running up and down the isles–it was even more concerned with the depravity of the human heart.

I became very involved with the youth group in that church.  The pastor’s daughter was the first one to greet me, and welcomed me with open arms–I guess I’ve always had a way with pastor’s daughters (a wink to my wife).  There were group trips to great places, mission trips with plenty of downtime for fun and great fellowship with people I still maintain contact with to this day.  The problem came in when we would actually discuss God and his dealings with humanity.

To be clear, I am well-aware of the human condition and propensity to sin.  Because of our pride and susceptibility to temptation, we sin.  Hank–our youth leader and someone who would become very important to me–believed it, too.  His lessons would always talk about the average life of a teenager and how much sin was inherent therein.  The best lessons were the ones around Valentine’s Day–where he would get anonymous questions from the youth and answer them.  Typically, the answers would be about how this or that behavior was sinful–and end with the urgent need to repent of those sins.  That was key.

You see, it wasn’t enough to have asked Jesus into your heart, and it wasn’t even enough to continually ask God’s forgiveness when you slipped up.  The line was always, “If you died in your sleep without having been forgiven of each and every sin, God would have no choice but to banish you to the lake of fire.”  As an impressionable teenager, I took this very seriously.  I was up at the alter every Sunday, asking forgiveness for my biggest sins of the week.  I also spent each night, lying prostrate on the floor, praying that God would forgive me–all so I would go to hell if I died in my sleep.

While I wouldn’t say it was an all-consuming fear, I did spend a great deal of my time fearing for the fate of my mortal soul.  I was scared when I thought about the God I learned about there.

Once I started high school, I got involved in the theatre.  My first role was Mr. Drysdale in a stage adaptation of The Beverly Hillbillies.  That would change my life.  Not because I was a 16 year old boy playing a 65 year old man, but because I met a gorgeous redhead who would eventually become my wife.

She invited me to her church, where her father just happened to be the pastor.  It was a little weird for me.  This church was not quite a mile from my house–I was once kicked out of it for horseplay during kid’s club (fun fact: the same pastor that kicked me out was a pastor I followed at my first appointment).  It was also weird because so many people I knew from school and the community attended that church.  Including Mr. Baker, who was infamous for yelling and throwing erasers at kids in my school.  Not only was he there, but he was singing in the choir.  It was like in Home Alone, when Kevin found out that Old Man Marley was not “the South Bend Shovel Slayer,” but a really nice guy.

More importantly than that, the God I heard preached there was one of grace.  Rather than viewing humanity as polished mudballs that God reluctantly accepts because they prayed a prayer, God was a loving God that desired a relationship with me.  God was a loving God that would–through the Holy Spirit–work in my life to transform me into the person he desired me to be.  After coming from the frigid wasteland of human depravity, it was like slipping into a warm bath.

I think that’s what makes God all-loving.  We begin with how awful humanity is and work from there.  He begins with how much he loves us, and works in our lives to create a disciple.  Of course, one could take just about any passage of scripture they wanted and create their beliefs from there.  The fire-and-brimstoners can point to any number of passages to say that their way is the only way to salvation.  Those of us who believe more in the grace-filled God can do the same.  I, as I believe God has the desire to do, believe that we should err on the side of love.

Our scripture for today shows Paul marveling at just how incomprehensible the love of God is.  He prays that the church at Ephesus might be given the gifts to understand the breadth, depth, the height and length of God’s love.  He goes on to say that God’s work through Christ is essential to understanding just how all-encompassing that love is.  He refers to “the fullness of God.”  We won’t know the fullness of God without understanding God’s love.

So, then, if we understand it, what do we do with it?  An understanding of God’s love is not complete with understanding that we don’t have to do anything to earn it, but what do you do with good news once you know it?

A few years ago, there was a jewelry commercial that caught my eye.  There’s a couple who appears to be walking through a public square.  Given the architecture and age of the buildings, we can safely surmise that they are somewhere in Europe–probably Italy.  They are talking and the guy looks like he’s gonna burst.  All of the sudden, he screams out “I love this woman!”  She looks embarrassed but overjoyed.  Then the guy pulls out a box with some jewelry in it.  The end.

He knew he loved her–and he couldn’t hold it in–so he shouted it at the top of his lungs.

While there are Christians that stand on street corners doing about the same thing, most of us don’t.  We aren’t called to do that, but we are called to share this good news with the world.  That’s sort of the rationale behind Back to Church Sunday.  We have this tremendous gift, this tremendous news, so why aren’t we sharing it with the world.

Just as with all the other topics in this sermon series–God’s presence, God’s power, God’s knowledge–God’s love is something we can surely count on.  Maybe more than all the others.  It is all-encompassing.  No matter what it is you have done.  No matter how long you have strayed.  No matter how much you may think yourself unworthy.  God loves you.  God is love.  Luckily, I learned that while I was still relatively young.

God’s love is something we may never fully grasp of understand, but it is something every single one of us can take hold of.

And thanks be to him for that.

AMEN

 

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