About Me

My photo
Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Friday, August 19, 2011

You are LOVED By God

2011-08-14 Come As You Are
You are LOVED by God
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

Jeremiah 31:1-9
New International Version (NIV)

1 "At that time," declares the LORD, "I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they will be my people."

2 This is what the LORD says:

"The people who survive the sword
will find favor in the wilderness;
I will come to give rest to Israel."

3 The LORD appeared to us in the past,[a] saying:

"I have loved you with an everlasting love;
I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.
4 I will build you up again,
and you, Virgin Israel, will be rebuilt.
Again you will take up your timbrels
and go out to dance with the joyful.
5 Again you will plant vineyards
on the hills of Samaria;
the farmers will plant them
and enjoy their fruit.
6 There will be a day when watchmen cry out
on the hills of Ephraim,
'Come, let us go up to Zion,
to the LORD our God.'"

7 This is what the LORD says:

"Sing with joy for Jacob;
shout for the foremost of the nations.
Make your praises heard, and say,
'LORD, save your people,
the remnant of Israel.'
8 See, I will bring them from the land of the north
and gather them from the ends of the earth.
Among them will be the blind and the lame,
expectant mothers and women in labor;
a great throng will return.
9 They will come with weeping;
they will pray as I bring them back.
I will lead them beside streams of water
on a level path where they will not stumble,
because I am Israel's father,
and Ephraim is my firstborn son.

John 3:16-21
New International Version (NIV)

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.


We're now at the second week in a summer sermon series, called, "Come as you are, be empowered by God." Last Sunday we introduced the series and said that if you're going to come as you are, then, it helps to know how you are. Kind of makes sense. Come as you are? Well, how are you? We talked last week about how you are. Not you, specifically. So if you weren't here, don't panic. We talked about how we all are CREATED by God, in Christ Jesus, to do good works according to God's plan. So, in answer to the very common question, "How are you?" we said the most right answer is, no matter how you're feeling, or who your parents were, or how awesome appear to yourself to be, or how messed up you think you are, the most right answer, the answer that never, ever changes is, "You are CREATED by God." You are created by God and nothing, and nobody, can take that from you. You are created by God.

This week, to Come as We Are, we're talking about another related but different answer to the question, "How are you?" You know, it's possible to be more than one way at the same time. Not to be gender-biased, but women are much better than men at being more than one way at a time. You ask a guy how he is and if he says, "Fine," he probably is. "Anything else, Bubba?" "Nope. Just fine. Quit asking me." This week, the correct answer to "How are you?" is, "You are LOVED by God." So, you were CREATED by God (last week), and (this week) you are LOVED by God. Maybe this is not a big, exciting headline for you. Maybe you hear, you are LOVED by God, and you say, "You tell us that every Sunday." Well, yeah. Sorry. It's kind of like, my job. We all know the song, "Jesus loves me, this I know; for the Bible tells me so." We all know it. We've all sung it. But for some reason, people keep singing it, and people keep wanting to hear good news in church. So, preachers have some degree of job security built-in. People seem to especially like hearing the very good news that you are LOVED by God. Funny. For something so known, and so accepted as truth, we sure like to hear it an awful lot. Maybe it's because sometimes it seems to good to be true. Especially given what we know about ourselves. Love that good, love that defies explanation, love that seems too good to be true can be a little scary. You sometimes wonder, Is it REALLY too good to be true? What if it is? What if, given what happened on Saturday night, you're not so sure on Sunday morning. Maybe love you can't comprehend is a little scary. Maybe it should be. If so, then maybe news that you are LOVED by God should always be delivered the same way the angels delivered it on the night when when Jesus was born. They started off on the assumption that things might be getting a little freaky for the sheperds. So they didn't sing, "Jesus loves you, this you know." Instead they said, "Fear not. For behold I bring good tidings of great joy." You ARE loved by God. So fear not.

When we were at the beach on vacation, we went outside about midnight. We walked into a clearing and stared up at the sky. You can do that on the beach, when there are no human-made lights blocking out the God-made stars. We all stood there, leaning backwards, staring up at creation. Not just earthly creation. But all creation. And not even all creation. It was only the part of creation you can see with human eyes. You know the people who wrote the Bible did that a lot. Psalm 8, "When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established (dot, dot, dot); what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?" Yeah. It defies understanding. The moon and the starts and all the heavens defy explanation. And all the stuff out there we know we can't see, that the Bible-writers never even dreamed of, stuff that we can't even dream of, it's all out there. And you know why?

Love. Love that's scary-big.

The three best days of my life were the day I got married, and the days our two daughters were born. I've had other good days. A lot of real good days. More than I deserve. I've had a lot of pretty good days. More than I notice. But there's no doubt I'll go to my grave knowing marriage, birth, and birth were the best days of my life. And the reason they're the best is really simple. They're the best because they're days of love. They also happened to be days I was really, really scared. Love is, at once, the most enduring, most wonderful thing in the world, and the most fragile. Births and weddings ought to be scary. Whenever I do a wedding, I always tell the groom, "Your hands are going to be sweaty and they're going to be shaky. So if you drop the ring, we'll just pause, while the best man crawls under the second pew to retrieve it." I've never had a bride or a groom pass out on me. Or throw up on me. But I know it's coming. So much love, it's scary. And births. When you hold a newborn in your arms for the first time, you ought to be scared. Here's a human life staring back up at you, completely dependent on you, who someday will be riding in cars with boys just like you used to be. If that's not scary, you're not paying attention. Days of our greatest loves can also be days of our greatest scares. And that's OK. Even on a small scale, love is scary-big.


We live in a world that understands the fragile nature of love. How can something so big, so overwhelming, be so delicate?

When I do a wedding service, I don't conclude by saying, "I now pronounce you husband and wife; you've got a 50-50 chance of making it. So, see you soon, one way or the other." When we do a baptism, we don't say, "You're sure they're completely perfect, but pretty soon they'll be sure everything you do is completely wrong." And they'll break your heart. And you'll do your best to unbreak theirs someday. Love is so strong, and so fragile. We know that. We know it because we see it, we live it.

There are a million songs about love. "Love is a Battlefield." "Only Love Can Break Your Heart." "Love Stinks." There's an awesome new movie out: "Crazy, Stupid Love." (It's rated PG-13, but I wouldn't want to take my mom to see it, if you know what I mean.) But on the other hand, there are so many positive songs about love. "Love is a Many Splendored Thing." "All You Need is Love." "A Groovy Kind of Love." "I'd Do Anything for Love (but I won't do that)." (Ah, Meat Loaf.) The radio, or Pandora, will go from one extreme to the other in the blink of an eye. And so do we. The excitement, the fear... the love.


The Bible sings of God's love. The Bible sings of God's love for creation, God's love for the moon and the stars, and the sun, and the earth. God even loves the creeping things that creep along the face of the earth. Which is really cool, if you like creeping things.

(By the way, Cheryl found a little, tiny dead snake in one of the Sunday School rooms last week. I won't say which room, because it might hurt attendance. It was so sad. As I swept it into a dustpan and took it out to the yard, I tried to explain how God the Bible is clear that God loves all the creeping things. As a good Christian, I'm sure Cheryl loves all the creatures of God's creation, too, in a hypothetical kind of way.)

But here's what the Bible says. God doesn't love in a general, hypothetical kind of way. God loves precisely, and with laser-point focus. We read that in the prophet Jeremiah's words, when God says, "I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness." (I have "drawn" you. It makes God sound like an artist. God is an artist who draws, and paints, and speaks, and sings creation into being. According to the Bible.)

God doesn't love generally. God loves precisely. And how the creator of the moon, and the stars, and the earth and everything in it, even the creepy things, can love so completely and so accurately at the same time boggles the mind. We just can't comprehend it. Stare at the billions and billions of stars, and then look into your heart. God is out there. And God is in there, too. God has drawn you with unfailing kindness; God loves us with everlasting love.

But even there. Even there's a fragile nature to God's love. When God wanted to show us how much he loves us, God didn't send chariots and lightning bolts; God sent his only begotten Son. A baby. Born just as dependent and scary as we are.

So we hear from the words of the Apostle John: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."

God sent a Son whom he knew not only could die, but a Son who would be killed. Because humans just can't comprehend love, love that has no fear.

The first letter of John, chapter 4, verse 18, says, "...perfect love casts out fear." The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans, chapter 8, says, "For now we know only in part." For now we even love in part. Our love isn't perfect. Not because it fails, but because it always contains that tiny (or sometimes big) ingredient of fear. Perfect love casts out fear, but our love fears. And so it's fragile. It's delicate. Our hearts can be broken. So we fear love's loss. We fear the hurts love can bring. And yet we keep loving. We keep trying. Why? Because love is what we're made of. The Bible tells us so. God made us in love. God loves us with an everlasting, personal, individual love. You are created by God. You are loved by God. That's just how you are. How are you? You are LOVED by God.


I'm pretty sure that most of the time, we take God's love for granted. Don't you? If not, then, awesome. But I think most of the time, God's love is like oxygen; we live surrounded by it, it's part of our every moment of live, but we don't often think about it. Until we get in the hospital, or develop asthma, or sleep apnea. We don't think about oxygen; we're not ungrateful for it. We tend to just kind of tune out our dependencies. We depend on air to live. We depend on God to live. We figure God's love is always there. So, we don't think so much about it.

I'm pretty sure that you take God's love for granted. You don't mean to. You just do. I'm pretty sure you don't love God back the way you want to. I'm pretty sure you don't live the life of gratitude and thanksgiving - and Christian love - that you're capable of living. I'm pretty sure you don't love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself the way you want to. Why? Because there's always tomorrow. Why? Because Jesus loves me, this I know, I know, I know, I know. I'm pretty sure it takes something you don't know, something you don't expect, to jog loose the love you know and I know is in there.

Psychologists tell people who have panic attacks, "Face the fear and the fear will disappear." Maybe. After you stop screaming and regain consciousness. But you see, in Jesus, God faced our greatest fear, the fear of death. God faced that fear in Jesus. And it disappeared. Your love, the love that made you, the love that keeps you going, the love that keeps you moving forward in the face of your fears - your love - casts out fear. Because your love, is God's love, reflected back. Your love is part of the love that created the universe. Chew on that for a while. Your love is what God used to make you. Your love is what God will use to save you, to make you new and born again, even if - and especially when - death in any form raises its awful head. Your love comes from God. You are LOVED by God.


When we as a church get together and share the love that God has placed within us, love magnifies. In seventh-grade math this year, we've been doing exponents, already. And the homework is really hurting my brain. Kristen helps with math. When they get to creative writing and drama, I'm your guy. Exponents - for those of you who remember them without getting a headache - are when you double a number. And then double that number. And then double that number, so the numbers get very big, very fast. And Daddy remembers the dog needs to be walked. When we get together as a church, love grows. I don't know what's bigger and faster than exponential growth, but when we get together as a church, love grows that big, and that fast. Someone drops a prayer concern in our bucket, and pretty soon, it ripples out so 150 people are helping carry that person's concern. And helping carry it to God, who's carrying an infinite number of people's concerns. And carrying these on, and on, in love.

When we as a church bear each other's burdens, and share each other's joy, love expands beyond the particular, and into the community, into the communion of the saints. When we share Communion, like we will in a few minutes, we touch the spirits of countless souls who have gone before and will come after. As the Scots say, we enter a "thin" place, where the boundaries between this world and the next get thinner, get nearer.

When we as a church proclaim to a world that doesn't normally look for God... when we proclaim good news to an earth that's not normally used to hearing it... to people who more often than not take God for granted, if at all... when we proclaim the prophet's words that God loves you with an everlasting love, and has drawn you with unfailing kindness... we pass through the thin place to there where love casts out fear. When we share the the gospel, when we give it legs, and hands, and heart, the fear will disappear. At least for a while.

You are created by God. You are loved by God. And so are you, and you, and you. And so are we. Come as you are; go out in love. Be empowered by the Spirit.

- James