Sunday, May 31, 2015

God Says, "I Love You"

St. Paul’s Church in Bergen, Jersey City NJ
May 31, 2015

Year B: The First Sunday after Pentecost – Trinity Sunday
Isaiah 6:1-8
Psalm 29
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-17

God Says, “I Love You”
            There are many, many people around us who are so very spiritually hungry.
            It’s something I think about all the time.
            There are thousands of them all around us right here in Jersey City – I bet there are hundreds right here on Duncan Avenue.
            Over the past two years that I’ve been here I’ve tried to meet some of these people – to let them know that I’m – we’re – here. Standing outside before the services is very helpful with that!
            I’ve met a lot of people who love that our beautiful church is here, anchoring the block – providing a small oasis from the noise and concrete of the city.
            Many of them talk to me.
            Some of them will even come to some of our cultural events.
            But, so far anyway, most of them won’t come to church.
            And, there are all sorts of reasons why they won’t join us here.
            I’m sure for some they’d rather spend Sunday morning in the park, or at Wonder Bagels, or just sleeping in. I can certainly understand that, especially considering how hard people work during the week.
            For others, they won’t come because they have been hurt by the church.
            Obviously this makes me very sad and angry.
            And then there are others – probably the biggest group - who simply don’t believe what we proclaim about God and Jesus – and who have the very mistaken idea that somehow you’ve got to believe everything all the time in order to join us here at St. Paul’s.
            I’ve discovered that many of these neighbors are agnostics – they believe that there might be a god or some kind of spiritual energy or force behind all that is – but this god or energy or force is ultimately unknowable by us humans who, after all, are just specks living on this tiny rock in the vastness of the universe.
            I understand and respect that point of view.
            But, the truth is that our entire Judeo-Christian tradition offers a very different message.
            We believe that we can, to some extent, actually know the Spiritual Energy behind all that is – that the Spiritual Force behind everything wants to be known by us – that, in fact, God loves us – little us, just specks living on this tiny rock in the vastness of space.
            God loves us.
            I hope that many of you have had – or will have - the experience of finding the right time to say, “I love you” to someone special in your life.
            Sometimes that can happen fast, right?
            We meet someone and right away we know that this is “the one” – and we share our feelings - we say, “I love you.”
            In other cases it can take a very long time – maybe we’re shy or lack self-confidence – or maybe we’re separated by distance or circumstance – or maybe the other person isn’t ready to hear it – whatever the reason, it can take a very long time before we find the right moment to say, “I love you.”
            In either case, of course we hope that the other person will say it back to us, will say “I love you, too.”
            Sometimes, yes; sometimes, no, right?
            It’s not so different for God.
            God had to wait a really long time until God could begin saying, “I love you” to us.
            God began by choosing Abraham and his descendants, by liberating the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt, by giving the Law and sending the prophets.
            Over and over, God said, “I love you.”
            And, sometimes the people said, “I love you, too.” And, sometimes not.
            Of course we show our love not just by saying the words but through our actions.
            Most of all, we show our love most clearly and powerfully when we reveal ourselves – when we share what’s deep in our hearts – when we invite our beloved to know who we really are.
            And the same is true for God.
            In today’s gospel lesson – the story of the Pharisee Nicodemus visiting Jesus by night – we heard the all-time most famous gospel verse – the words that sum up the entire gospel, sum up Christianity.
            John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have everlasting life.”
            God says, “I love you” not just through words or even actions but by revealing God’s very Self to us - by joining us – us - just specks on a little rock in the vastness of the universe.
            When we look at Jesus we see what God is really like.
            In and through Jesus, God says, “I love you.”
            I love you so much that I’m willing to take all that you can dish out – the rejection, the mockery, the torture, the thorns, the nails, the spear.
            And, after all that, I still love you.
            Thanks to Jesus, what we’ve come to understand is that it’s not just that God loves us but that God is love.
            God is a loving community – a Trinity – of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – God is a loving community who loves us – who wants to share that love with us, who says to us over and over again, “I love you.”
            God says, “I love you” each time we appreciate the beauty of this tiny rock that we get to live on in the vastness of the universe.
            God says, “I love you” each time we mysteriously get the strength to go on when things seem hopeless – each time we get help from family and friends in our moments of need.
            God says, “I love you” each time we gather here in all our beautiful diversity – each time we pass the peace – each time we gather at the Table to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.
            And, yes, God says, “I love you” when we work up the courage to tell someone special in our lives that we love them - and they say, “I love you, too.”
            So, I understand, respect, and, yes, love our agnostic friends and neighbors.
            And, trust me, I don’t have everything figured out – I’m a guy on the road just like everybody else – but, I believe that God so loved – so loves – the world that he gave – that he gives – his only Son.
            Over and over, God keeps on saying, “I love you.”
            The response is up to us.