You may already know this, but I’m going to let you in on a little secret about preaching. Preachers typically have just one sermon they preach over and over again. It’s the same message, said in different ways. It’s not because preachers are lazy or lack creativity.
All of us preachers proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, but each of us has our own perspective on that good news. Some aspect of the good news transforms us, and we spend the rest of our lives sharing that part of the larger Christian message. We may preach many sermons, but most of the time they’re a variation on a particular truth of the Gospel that has captivated us.
You can see a similar dynamic in other professions. For example, an author might have written many books, but their unique identity and experiences interpret reality in a particular way. It’s common to recognize the same tone, perspective, and style throughout a writer’s many different works. The same could be said for artists and musicians, but it’s not only true for creative types. It’s true for all of us. You can see the perspective and style of a person in how they walk through this world. How they conduct themselves at work. What they post on social media. How they raise children. How they treat other people. Each of our lives constitutes a great body of work that communicates a message to the world.
God loves you and me more than we can begin to imagine. That’s my one sermon. Knowing the love of God has transformed me and continues to bring me healing. The love of God is the message I want to share with the world. And you can see why I’m drawn to today’s reading about God’s love from Paul’s letter to the Romans—it’s all about the love of God.
So there you have it. The secret is now public knowledge. The cat’s out of the bag. I have only one sermon. God loves you and me more than we can imagine. There it is.
Now I hope this isn’t too much of a spoiler because I’m still at the beginning of my sermon and you already know what I’m going to say, but I’ve got to tell you that God’s love isn’t a message that’s always welcome.
Some people immediately resist the message because they are sick of hearing about God’s love. They feel it’s too mushy and sentimental, an escape from reality, or just a way for us to feel better about ourselves. And I know where they are coming from. Because often times the love of God is used as an escape and a way to make us feel better about ourselves. But the love of God is so much more than that. Love is how we understand who God is.
John writes that God is Love. And God isn’t a feeling. God isn’t an escape. God isn’t just a way to make ourselves feel better. The God who is Love is the source of our being and is ultimate reality.
If we don’t know God’s love, how can we know God? Love isn’t sentimentality. Love isn’t escapism. Love is the ultimate reality that is stronger than hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and sword. The love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord is a bond is stronger than death, life, angels, rulers, things present, things to come, powers, height, depth, or anything else in all creation.
The love of God isn’t escapism or a good feeling to be chased. It’s the strongest force in the universe and the very nature of God. And it’s the love of God that heals us.
There’s a saying in the helping professions that you may be familiar with and it goes like this: Hurt people, hurt people. It means that individuals who are hurting or in pain, usually hurt others. And what is typically the root of our pain? It’s not knowing that we are loved. I think this is the root of many sins: we aren’t secure in God’s love for us. Hurt people hurt people.
When people feel they are unloved, they can become resentful and lash out at others. And that lashing can be verbal, or physical, violent, or passive aggressive.
Others feel they are unworthy of love and belonging, so they feel worthless and retreat. They hide themselves from truly being known, and in some cases the sense of being unlovable is so great they imagine life would be better for everyone else if they were no longer around.
When we don’t live into the truth of the good news of Jesus that we are loved, we can use others to make ourselves feel better. We can break relationships. We can turn against a God we doubt could really love us. But the love of God is what heals us and makes us whole. When we know we are loved, we are able to love God and others. We become more kind, compassionate, and strong. Our healing comes from learning to trust that God sees us as worthy of love and belonging, no matter what we may have done in our past.
Do you know how satan is described in the book of Revelation? He’s called the accuser of the children of God. He’s like a figure in a courtroom who hurls accusations against us in front of the judge. Many of us, unwittingly join in with his work. His accusations that we aren’t worthy of God’s love, and his laundry list of all our past sins, actually become how we think about who we are.
In contrast to Satan, Jesus plays a different role. Instead of accuser, he’s intercessor. He doesn’t condemn us before God the judge, Jesus pleads our case. He advocates for us.
A story is told about Fiorello LaGuardia who was the 99th mayor of New York City during the Great Depression and World War II. He was short man and a larger than life character who used to ride the NYC fire trucks, raid speakeasies with the police, take entire orphanages to baseball games, and whenever the New York newspapers were on strike, he would go on the radio and read the Sunday funnies to the kids.
In January of 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court that served the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself. Within a few minutes, a tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told LaGuardia that her daughter’s husband had deserted her, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop the charges. “It’s a bad neighborhood, your Honor,” the man told the mayor. “She’s got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson.”
La Guardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said, “I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions – ten dollars or ten days in jail.” But even as he pronounced his sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He extracted a bill and tossed it into his famous sombrero, saying, “Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore, I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.”
So the following day the NYC newspapers reported that $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered old lady who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren, fifty cents of that amount being contributed by the red-faced grocery store owner, while some seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and NYC policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation.
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.
Mayor LaGuardia was a flawed person just like you and me. But that story is a moment of grace, that gives us a glimpse of what the love of God looks like. It looks like God seeing us through eyes of compassion and paying for the sins we have committed. It looks like God dropping the charges against us and letting us know that we are worthy of belonging no matter what we may have done in the past. It looks like the voice of Jesus pleading our case and drowning out the voice of the accuser.
If God is the judge, he’s already forgiven us. If he’s given his Son for us, what could we imagine God withholding from us? Who can condemn us when God the judge justifies us and Jesus our advocate lives to plead our case for us? And why do we continue to live in the courtroom of accusation and shame when God has already set us free?
The love of God frees us from the abuse of the accuser, and invites us to live as those worthy to be called the children of God. It isn’t sentimentality or escapism. It’s the strongest force in all of creation that can heal us and make us whole, conforming us to the image of God’s beloved son.
So here I am, standing in this pulpit today sharing my one sermon with you. But there’s a much more important message that’s being shared today, and that’s the one you and I are writing with our lives.
What’s the perspective and style and tone of the message you are writing as you walk through this world? Is it more like the accuser of the children of God or is it like Jesus whose love is stronger than death?
The message you are writing with your life is unique to your experience and personality, but be sure to write the love of God all over it, about a love that makes each of us worthy of belonging. Write it out in big and bold letters, for yourself and everyone else who reads it—that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.