I was going to demonstrate what I believe is the essential message God speaks in the Bible. I decided yesterday’s sermon does that for me. So here it is, a little longer than the usual lesson, but…
When Jesus was baptized the writers report the heavens were torn apart, God’s Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus, and a voice pronounced “You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased”. The message was clear: God loves Jesus, and his Spirit will fill Jesus’ life so that he can perform mighty deeds and wonders.
After the crucifixion Jesus’ followers went into hiding, because they were so ashamed and afraid. At Pentecost the heavens were opened and God’s Spirit descended to them. The message was the same. God loves them, and his Spirit will be with them throughout their lives so that they will be able to perform mighty deeds and wonders.
At our baptisms the heavens were opened and God’s Spirit descended on each of us. The pastor proclaimed the message clearly, “You are God’s beloved child. You are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the Cross of Christ forever”. God will be with you all the days of your life so you will be able to perform mighty deeds and wonders.
Today we celebrate confirmation. We remind our youth of their baptisms. In a very broken world we proclaim as clearly as possible, “Do not be afraid. God loves you. God comes into your life to save you from your self- destructive ways. God will act through you to perform mighty acts and wonders. Love one another”
This is the message of the New Testament from beginning to end. We are to do for others what God has done for us. Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you.” Paul writes in Romans, “Bless those who persecute you, bless do not curse” and in I Corinthians, “When reviled, bless… when slandered, speak kindly”. Peter writes, “Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse, but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing.”
Many who claim the Christian name reject this fundamental message. They see our families, schools, industries, governments cracking and breaking and believe the Church is called to tell people what is wrong with them, to establish law and order in society and Church. Like radio talk show hosts they are continually attacking people. We hear their violent abusive, demonizing language every where: in government, at the office, on the street, in school and most sadly of all in the home. These people say our problems have been caused, because we love too much. We give our kids and everyone else too much.
The truth is we give our kids and everyone else things, not the love they need. People around us are frantic to know they are loved. Young adults report their greatest need is feeling lovable. They say they are so needy, they find it hard to accept true love when it is offered. They are so desperate, they engage in inappropriate sex hoping they might be lovable if someone is willing to perform the act with them.
I was always amazed when women entered an impossible marriage. When the marriage broke, I often asked the women why they went ahead when everyone could see it was headed for tragedy. The answer was always, always the same. They reported, “I was afraid I could never find anyone else to love me”.
The secret of a being a good mother, a good teacher, a good friend, a good Christian is love. Richard Everhart was a dear friend and a great artist. Once I told him, “You have a wonderful gift, Richard.” And he replied, “No, I had a wonderful mother who said everything I brought to her was beautiful. I learned to believe her and learned how to make beautiful things.”
We teach our children to be good by telling them they are good so many times they begin to believe it, begin to see themselves as good, and eventually begin acting good. On the other hand, if we constantly tell them they are bad, they soon see themselves bad and act bad.
Teaching love is an ongoing calling. Catherine Ann Porter wrote, “It is true that if we say, “I love you”, it may be received in doubt, for there are times when it is hard to believe. Say, “I hate you”, and the one spoken to believes it instantly, once for all. Say, “I love you” a thousand times to that person afterward and mean it every time and still it does not change the fact that once we said, “I hate you” and meant that, too…Love must be learned and learned again and again, there is no end to it.”
Teaching love is an ongoing calling that never ends. One year my whole family forgot Valentine’s Day. Nevertheless, when we got to the dinner table we all had a stack of valentines. I had one from each member of the family. One read, “Dear Dad. I love you, signed Franz”, but I could see Franz had not written it. Each member of the family had one from me, but I knew I had written none of them. For instance, one read, “Dear Mother. You are my Valentine, signed Dad”. My youngest daughter, Frances made cards for us all and in doing so taught us how to love.
Teaching love is an ongoing calling that never ends, so we must always be ready. I learned that at a Martin Luther King celebration decades ago. A lady from the very small Ebenezer Baptist Church stood to sing “He touched me” before maybe a thousand people. She sang ‘a cappella, filled with the Spirit; however, the size of audience overwhelmed her, and she began to flounder off key. As I prepared myself for an embarrassing tragedy, I noticed Nathan Carter, the director of the world famous Morgan State Choir very slightly nod his head in a motion to his piano player. The piano player got the message and began playing, first softly until he led the elderly lady back on key and then in crescendo as he raised her to the heights, the piano booming and the elderly lady singing as if she were lead soprano in the heavenly choir. At the end the audience cheered and cheered, the elderly Baptist lady bowed and bowed, and the piano player, sitting on his work bench, quietly smiled. Be ready when God nods for you to rescue the floundering. Be ready when he motions for your love.