Sermon Text: Love Letters
The kids of this church shocked me last Sunday. When I had them up here with me for Kid Stuff, I asked them if they still do “Show & Tell” in school. And they said no!
I couldn’t get over it! Show & Tell was great when I was a kid. But at least the kids still knew what Show & Tell is, and that helped, because it was what I wanted to talk about.
Last Sunday, January 6, was the day of Epiphany. We are now in the Season of Epiphany. The word “epiphany” means “appearing” or “showing.” I wanted the kids to know that Epiphany is God’s Show & Tell. And what God wants to bring to us in Epiphany Show & Tell is Jesus. God shows Jesus off in Epiphany.
In Epiphany, we have the story of the Wise Men from the East. They were from far away, and the story says that Jesus is for people everywhere, even those outside our usual boundaries.
Today we have the story of the Baptism of Jesus. God shows Jesus off in that baptism in the Jordan River.
Now, a lot of people think of the God of the Old Testament as an angry God, a wrathful God, a divinity who is ready to whack anyone who steps out of line. And there are stories in the Old Testament which make us feel this way.
But the Bible is full of all kinds of voices and images. So we have to choose what we think is central.
For example, Hebrew prophets like Isaiah proclaim that God is in love with his people. In today’s text from Isaiah, God says things like: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. Do not fear, for I am with you. You are precious in my sight. You are honored, and I love you.”
That is a love letter...a love letter from God to the people of God!
Now, when you think about it, who can hurt you the most? The one you love the most!
So if God loves humanity this much, and humanity rejects or ignores God, it really, really hurts! Maybe that helps us put the wrath of God in perspective. The worst fights of all are between those who love each other very much, right?
In a way, the story of God and Israel is a story of getting together, having a fight and breaking up, and then making up. That kind of helps me understand the idea of the anger of God. It’s in the context of these two who love each other.
The First Sunday after Epiphany always celebrates the baptism of Jesus. And in Luke’s version of this story, after the baptism, God says to Jesus, “You are my Son, the Beloved. With you I am well pleased.” Wow — what’s it like to hear THOSE words?
This God is in love with Israel, the people of God, and this God is in love with Jesus, the Son of God. And through Jesus, this God is in love with us.
A love letter can change your life, you know. My happy 43-year marriage is the result of a love letter. Back during my time at the Crane School of Music in Potsdam, NY, Paula and I were dating. But it was not yet clear where our relationship was going. And then one day after I saw her briefly while out walking, I made up my mind. I wrote her a note, and I taped it to the door of her dorm room. That note convinced her I was serious about her. And from then on, there were no doubts for either of us. Our love just grew and grew.
A love letter can change your life. On this Sunday in Epiphany, we hear love letters from God. Jesus hears words of love from his heavenly Father. Israel hears words of love from the Lord who created and formed them as a people. And because we belong to Christ, the same divine love is offered to us. We get the same love letter from God. We, too, are precious in God’s sight. We, too, are honored by divine favor. We, too, are loved.
So — if God loves you — what? If it sinks in that you are loved completely in spite of imperfections, what? If you realize you are treasured by your Creator, what then?
Well, your heart grows and grows. You can give love, as well as receive it. Love is not a resource you run out of the more you give it. The paradox of love is that the more you give love, the more love you have to give. That’s how it works in the economy of Jesus.
God seems to have a strategy for the world. God’s strategy apparently is to use loving, compassionate hearts to change things — sometimes small, everyday things, but once in a while in big, flashy ways. It may not be obvious if you read history or pay attention to the news. But remember that it’s a new thing, because people are a new thing.
Life began on this planet about four billion years ago, according to the people who study these things. And the universe is almost 14 billion years old, according to latest scientific estimates. Human beings have been around for maybe two hundred thousand years. That is a very short time in history so far. And God has only been working with this compassionate heart strategy for maybe three thousand years.
So don’t judge the outcome yet...it’s just starting. For the long term, I’ll bet on the success of God’s strategy. This new experiment of using human hearts of love and compassion will work in the long run, I believe.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: in the short term, violence and power work...but in the long term, love and compassion are a better bet. To say it in two words, love wins.
Today’s young schoolchildren don’t have Show & Tell, I guess. I think they’re missing out.
But they don’t have to miss out on God’s Show & Tell. And you and I don’t have to miss out, either.
God’s Show & Tell is Epiphany.
The big story of Epiphany is showing and telling love.
And a love letter will change your life.