Broken, ashamed, shattered, guilty, dejected, alone, empty, unloved and unlovable, truly unlovable. There was a time in my life when I wore all those words. It didn’t happen over night nor was it the result of one catastrophic incident. It was the slow, incremental descent into personally authored disenchantment in life. I was, as Shakespeare said, “A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. I was in a self-imposed cocoon and while I would not have admitted it at the time, I was miserable and saw no way out. And then one beautiful warm and sunny spring day, a day that I wanted no part of, I got the call to go to church. God called me to go to church. It was quite, quite out of the blue and to be frank unsettling, even frightening. I tried to reject it, but God would not let me go. I tried to shake it, but God’s love for me would not let me go. For the next four Sundays I made four aborted attempts to go to a church. I would park my car, walk around the building, acting cool of course just in case someone spotted me and think I might be interested, and then get back in the car and made a beeline for my cocoon. But God’s love wouldn’t let me go and I eventually, obviously did make it into an amazing Christian community.
My adult conversion experience was wonderful and wonder filled and it led me to where I am standing here and now. It is certainly a longer story than I have time to detail at present, but I want to share with you the hardest part. The biggest barrier I had to breach was the concept that God really did love me. I struggled with that because I did not feel worthy of that love. I struggled with that because I was stating to feel the real presence and the enormity of God’s love and it felt uncomfortable because I knew I could not reciprocate that love; it was so much more powerful than what I could pathetically muster. I struggled with that because I was being called out of my comfort zone, and safe and miserable seemed easier than feeling loved and vulnerable. What I was feeling was God’s amazing grace, and the amazing thing about God’s grace is that we all get an equal measure of it, that is to say and endless supply. God’s love never ends, it never fails, and it changes lives.
I did accept God’s love, slowly, and it did change my life. To paraphrase Paul from the Letter to the Corinthians that we heard today, ‘then I did see through a mirror dimly, now I begin to visit God face to face’. It has been a slow and ongoing process for me to genuinely and completely accept the love of God but when I was studying at VST I experienced a significant leap forward. For this one new idea I have to thank the recently departed Jim Cruikshank. And if I may I would like to dedicate this sermon to him.
One of Jim’s favorite books in the bible was The Letter of Paul to the Ephesians. Jim loved it because the letter explains the spiritual blessings found ‘in Christ’. It says, in part, that we are in Christ and that Christ is in us and that this was the plan from the beginning of time. Another way of putting this, Jim said, is that when God looks at you, God sees Jesus. When God looks at you He sees His beloved one - when God looks at you She sees the one with whom She is well pleased. When God looks at you He sees the saviour of the world. It is that simple and it is that amazing. When the repercussions of this percolated through my brain the information filled me with a passion to act and a personal peace borne through matured perspective. For me Christianity became in one way about freedom. Jesus said, “And you will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free”. The truth you need to know is that you are free to just be you. God is with you and for you and loves you, come what may. You may be wearing the words broken, ashamed, shattered, guilty, dejected, alone, empty, and unloved but God will peal them away with a grace that is patient and knows no limitations.
But, there is just one more thing and it is a big thing. When you accept God’s unconditional and never-ending love, as I finally have, that is not the end – in many ways it is just the beginning. God’s nature is love and God loves you as if you were Her very own child, because you are. Nothing can stand between God and God’s love for us. But God doesn’t want us to stop there. God wants us to love each other as much as He loves us. In order that we might understand this in real terms God sent us the rejoicing truth of love in Jesus. In Jesus, love hit the ground running and he taught us the radically transformative power of love. His ministry testified to the fact that God loves all people and wants Her children to live in peace, justice and an all embracing and unconditional love for each other and for our world. The message that was sent to us was that this kind of peace, justice and love for all is possible. It is not an abstract idea. It is not beyond our comprehension. It is well within our capabilities.
War is a human construct and as such I strongly believe it can be eradicated. We live in a world where there is enough food and clean water for everyone, but not everyone gets their fair share and we can and must do something about that. No one is born with hate in his or her heart, hate it is taught and as such it can be untaught and better yet, not taught at all. I know these problems are complex and that real solutions seem ever so elusive. Particularly when we look at these problems form our individual point of view they look like mountains that will not be moved.
But, here’s the good news. Here’s the very good news. Love inspires miracles; real ones, I believe it. Jesus’ ministry was not meant to be put in a bottle so that we could longingly admire it from a safe distance. For Christians Jesus’ ministry is the way. When Jesus said, “And remember I am with you always”, to be sure He meant for all time, but He also meant in all respects, in all circumstances, in all ways. God gave us the miracle of love, and for me this means the individual and collective capacity to imagine a better world and then act accordingly. God is powerfully with us in all ways when we stand up for those who have been crushed down.
To paraphrase First Corinthians from today, ‘love bears all things and it gave Terry Fox the courage to try the impossible. Love believes all things and it moved Mahatma Gandhi to peacefully resist violent oppression. Love hopes all things and it has inspired a group of churches on the North Shore to sponsor three refugee families. Love endures all things and tenderly courses through the caring hands of millions of people who every day help to lift up the shattered, the broken the powerless and help them through that day. And it is love that fills and empowers every one of you and me and stirs us with the feeling of new hope. I deeply and sincerely consider that unconditional love can move mountains. I have seen it, I have lived it in my lifetime.
But the transformation does not stop there. I truly believe it is a part of God’s plan that when we love and help others, we help and heal ourselves in the process. Whether being on the frontline and aiding the hungry, sick, exploited and the shattered get through another day, or acting as advocates and exposing the root causes of social injustices in order to affect real and lasting change, I believe we are called to look after the members of the human family who find themselves strangers in a world hostile to their existence. When we accept this mission and love all others as God does, as Her dearly beloved child, we at the same time help transform our own brokenness. We are called by love out of our comfort zones to help others and in so doing we are made more fully alive.
And what makes me so sure it is a part of God’s plan is that a transformative act of love can be so seemingly small. Indeed, I have come to realize the extraordinary influence of small things. I believe small things can and regularly do change lives. Love is kind and kindnesses are full of potential. The word of encouragement to a colleague, returning a harshness with a gentleness, listening, seeing the other’s way; they all add up and I think they have a remarkable cascading effect.
A few weeks ago I was standing on our front porch on a cold and starry night. The moon’s light was casting an incredible silhouette on a few clouds that were quickly moving on their way to somewhere. In that moment I had a communion with God that filled my whole being with a passion and energy beyond expression. It was a different feeling than when my journey began; perhaps, as Paul suggested, I have put and end to childish ways. But the words God was making me wear that night were: completeness, inspiration, filled and loved, truly loved. And God reminded my heart in a most stunning way that I should try to share this love with the whole world, the whole of creation.
My prayer for you all is that sometime in the near future you to will again have one of those moments where you feel so fully alive that you are literally trembling with joy. And when it happens take time to enjoy the blessing of that moment because that is what it was meant for. In that moment God is talking to you with the language of love. And then in your own special way, with words that work for you, return the favour and say, “Thank you God, thank you so much. I hear you”. And then, through love, as you are able, one moment at a time, help God transform the world. Amen.
The Rev. Patrick Blaney