Sunday, July 28, 2019

Sermon - 7th Sunday after Pentecost - Farewell to UniLu

Luke 11:1-13

                                                            Jesus Loves Me – This I know

Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to him belong, they are weak but he is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me.  Yes, Jesus loves me.  Yes, Jesus loves me.
The Bible tells me so.

Was it a book?  Or a bumper sticker?  Or merely a moment of honest reflection which served to remind us all that “Everything I needed to know, I learned in kindergarten?”  How old were you when you learned the words to “Jesus Loves Me”?  I can’t remember not knowing this song.  It has been with me from the very beginning.  Everything I learned in seminary or from reading books has only served to reinforce the undeniable truths revealed in this simple children’s song.  Jesus loves me, this I know….

My hope and prayer for this final sermon I preach as your pastor, is that nothing else I have said or preached or taught has implied that anything is more important in understanding what it means to be a Christian.  Jesus loves us.  Loves us so deeply that he steps in and takes the pain and suffering upon himself which was intended for us.  The whole of what it means to be a follower of Jesus is to know that we are loved and loved this deeply.

I did not pick the lessons for this farewell sermon, but I could not have picked a better one.  Luke 11:1-13 is all about being loved.  The giving of The Lord’s Prayer and the content of The Lord’s Prayer reinforce an understanding of relationship built upon love.

The Lord’s Prayer is shared with the disciples when one of them comes to Jesus and says:  “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.”  Jesus tells them to speak to God as they would speak to a loving parent.

We don’t know the style or content of the prayers that John taught his disciples.  We do know some of the things that John preached.  We would have to wonder whether the things he said in his sermons impacted his prayer life and his instructions on prayer. 

John is the fiery preacher who warns everyone to repent.  He regularly greets those who come out to him with questions like “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”  We do not know the style or content of the prayers taught by John, but we do know the style and content of the way Jesus says his followers should pray.

 “When you pray, say: ‘Our Father’…..”  And every petition which follows is an invitation and an instruction on what it means to have a God who loves us and cares about us and is attentive to the cares and concerns and celebrations of our lives.

“Our Father in heaven……”

Again, we don’t know the content of John’s prayers nor do we have the content of the prayers which would have been heard in weekly worship.  But we do have what Jesus says about the religious elite who liked to stand in public places and impress others with their long prayers and self-congratulatory expressions of piety.

This is not good, nor is it the model one ought to follow.  When you pray, you need not have lofty expressions of religious zibber-zabber.  Speak to God as you would speak to those whose love you have the opportunity to experience every day.

Look back at your bible, or the printed verses in your bulletin.  Luke follows the giving of the words of The Lord’s Prayer with instructions from Jesus on how this prayer might be lived out or experienced.  There is the story of the friend who has need – even in the middle of the night!  There is an acknowledgement of what earthly parents will do to provide for their children.  Luke then asks, “If you then, who are evil (perhaps a bit of an overstatement), know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Everything every preacher might want to say or attempt to say you have already learned.  You had it down pat, memorized, as soon as you could sing, Yes loves me, this is know…..

I don’t mean to take swats at paper tigers, but I would like to devote a few paragraphs to how easily this core affirmation is placed in peril.  It is way too simple.  And, as a result, there have been and will continue to be attempts to add just a little bit more or to pretend there is another side to the coin. 

“Jesus loves you – but do you love him back?”
“Jesus loves you – does your life reflect that love?
“Jesus love you – therefore he has to punish you when you fall short or back-slide.”

It is true and it is undeniable that when we know we are loved and when we receive the gift of love our lives are changed.  There ought to be a change or many alterations in the life of someone who is loved by God and experiences that love.  Now, it is possible (and does sometimes happen) that even when someone is loved, they are unable or unwilling to receive that love.  When love is not received, it is often possible to see the ill effects of that rejection in the life of the one for whom the love was intended.  But what the intended recipient of the love does has no effect or capacity to alter the love being offered or the lover who freely gives. 

God does not love us only if we love in return.  God does not punish us for failing to recognize the gift being extended to us.  It is a missed opportunity.  And those who live without the constant assurance that they are loved break the very heart of God.  Never do they anger God and result in God’s withdrawing that love.

At the core of this theological movement and tradition associated with the name of Martin Luther is that one simple message:  God’s grace is freely poured upon all the earth.  That grace will continue to come to us, regardless of how we receive or respond.

Jesus loves me. 

Another retiring preacher wrote: “As I grow older I believe fewer things, but I believe them more fervently.”  It is tempting to try to pour as much information and knowledge as possible into the hearts and minds of one’s fellow congregants.  But as with last week’s message to Martha, “Only one thing is needful.”  Know that you are loved. 

My hope and prayer for this farewell sermon is you will remember how deeply I have loved you and how grateful I am for your love of me and Laura and our family.

It is a gift, to be asked to serve as “Pastor.”  The gift is the opportunity to spend every day and every moment and every exchange basking in the ability of God’s love to change lives and to change the world which God has created.

Thank you for giving me this gift.  My hope and prayer is that my words my actions my work has made it possible for you to know…..

Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to him belong, they are weak but he is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me.  Yes, Jesus loves me.  Yes, Jesus loves me.
The Bible tells me so.


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