You Are Loved. Pass It on”

Isaiah 2:1-5 The Future House of God

2 The word that Isaiah son of Amoz envisioned about Judah and Jerusalem. 2 And it will be in coming days the mountain of God’s home shall be the highest of the mountains and shall be elevated beyond the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. 3 Many peoples shall come and say, “Let us go and ascend the mountain of the Holy One of Sinai, to the home of the God of Jacob, of the line of Rebekah, that God may teach us God’s ways and that we may walk in God’s paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction and the word of the Holy One from Jerusalem. 4 God shall judge between the nations, and shall decide justly for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war any more. 5 O house of Jacob, line of Rebekah, come, let us walk in the light of the Holy One of Old!

Psalm 9:1-2, 7-11, 13-14

1 [a]I will give thanks to the God Who Saves with my whole heart;

    I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.

2 I will rejoice and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High. …

7 God, who is majesty, sits enthroned forever; she has established her throne for judgment.

8 She judges the world with righteousness; she judges the peoples with equity.

9 She Who Is Faithful is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.

10 They trust you, they who know your name, for you, do not forsake those who seek you, Redeeming God.

11 Sing praises to the Holy One, enthroned in Zion. Declare her deeds among the peoples. …

13 Be gracious to me, Gracious One, See what I suffer from those who hate me. You lift me up from the gates of death,

14 so that I may recount all your praises and, in the gates of Daughter Zion, rejoice in your salvation.

1 Corinthians 1:25-31 25 Now God’s foolishness is wiser than mortal wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. 26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: since not many of you were wise according to human flesh,[a] not many powerful, not many highborn. 27 Rather, what is foolish in the world is what God chose to shame the wise, and what is weak in the world God chose to shame the strong. 28 Also what is of low status in the world God chose along with that which is despised, That which is nothing, in order to bring to naught that which already is, 29 so that no mortal flesh might boast in the presence of God 30  who is the source of your life in Christ Jesus became for us wisdom your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in[c] the Holy One.”

John 1:1-5 The Word Became Flesh 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The Word was with God in the beginning. 3 Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word not one thing came into being that came into being. What has come into being 4 in the Word was life,[a] and that life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the void, and the void did not overtake it.

Good morning, St. Matthew!

We gather on this morning in Itasca on the unceded tribal lands of the Kickapoo, Peoria, Ka-skas-kia, Potawatomi, Mya-a-mia, HoChunk, Winnebago and O-che-thi Sakowin nations, acknowledging that hard past and praying our way into a better future.

And so we pray.

Holy loving God –

You are the fullness of love and life. All that exists, and all that we are, flows from that love. This morning we gather your name to discern the best way to proceed with how to best represent and share that love with the world to which you have called us. Help us to keep that love as our focus, that even as we consider what looks like reversals and endings, that we are granted the eyes to see how your love is best manifested in the world to which you have sent us. You have been in all things always – and as we know you to be love, love remains here, love continues to manifest, love continues to call and send us. Give us eyes to see, hears to hear and hearts to respond to your love. Amen.

A dear friend shared a little cartoon that I have included in your bulletins this morning. The theme throughout is how do meet a hurting world? And the answer comes – we meet it in love. So this morning I want you to turn to each other and say, “you are loved. Pass it on”. (hopefully folks do so!)

That theme is going to be echoed throughout today’s sermon. We have gathered this morning to worship and then after our worship to consider the path before us. There will be big changes decided today, there will be grief and there will be some real pain. BUT there will also be love. One of the central things that the Christian church confesses is that God is love. In 1st John 4, we read:

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.

So what defines our faith is love, just like that old camp song – They Will Know We Are Christians by Our Love. It is only when we get caught in the weeds of shoulds, and try to regulate that love according to our limited understanding that we lose the plot. The theologian Richard Rohr talks about this confusion in one of his daily devotional posts:

WHAT I BEGAN TO see was that the Bible is not essentially, as I had always more or less supposed, a book of ethical principles, of moral exhortations, of cautionary tales about exemplary people, of uplifting thoughts—in fact, not really a religious book at all in the sense that most of the books you would be apt to find in a minister’s study or reviewed in a special religion issue of the New York Times book section are religious. I saw it instead as a great, tattered compendium of writings, the underlying and unifying purpose of all of which is to show how God works through the Jacobs and Jabboks of history to make (them)self known to the world and to draw the world back to himself. … For all its vast diversity and unevenness, it is a book with a plot and a plot that can be readily stated. God makes the world in love.

Ok – so once more – let’s say to each other “You are loved, Pass it on.” Our Gospel reading this morning is the great majestic opening of John’s gospel – affirming that the story of Christ is not a new and invented thing in the faith, but a continuation of the story that God has been telling since Eden. A story of creation, life and loving involvement – we do nothing apart from God – we are always in God’s heart and always within God’s being. So there’s no getting right with God, no returning to the Lord – there is nowhere we can go that God is not! So no matter how far we think we have wandered, no matter how stupid the choices we have made – God is still there! And has been from the beginning.

The words of Isaiah come to us to affirm that God is capable of changing things in ways that we are not – we live in a time of great conflict that far too often reaches for weapons to resolve the issues. The mass shootings, the free floating anger, the sheer fragility of the entire world being on our last nerve – we all are acutely aware of the turmoil that meets us in our everyday lives. And we certainly aren’t unique in that journey of frustration, tumult and rage. That’s why the words of Isaiah give us hope – God can meet all of that stupid and repurpose that energy for good – swords become plowshares, spears become pruning hooks and our entire warlike mindset gets recalibrated to serve instead the love of God and neighbour. So once again, let’s step into that promise and say to each other, “you are loved. Pass it on.”

As we think about being repurposed, we come to a moment when we have to acknowledge that we are not the biggest most powerful ones in the room – and that’s ok. Because we don’t operate in our own power, or rely on our own cleverness – we are servants of God. And in being a servant, that means that we find ourselves relying on a power that is not in our control. And if we don’t have love, then acknowledging that lack of control is terrifying. The relationship we have God is one of love – but there’s a reason we name God as Our Father, Our Mother, Our Creator. We are the beloved children of God – and within that relationship, we have only the power that God grants to us. Now if we approach that relationship as God is controlling and out for their own power – we chafe and struggle and push against those boundaries; “Nuts to you, God! I’m gonna do what I wanna do!” And in that foolish rebellion, we pretty much make a mess of things.

BUT if we decide that we are going to live in response to God’s love, recognising that that loving relationship frees us to access power that is far greater than anything we could do on our own – then WOW! We get to stand with Paul and proclaim:

the source of your life in Christ Jesus became for us wisdom your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in[c] the Holy One.”

The great good news is that we aren’t operating from our own strength – rather we are plugged into the great power of God’s love, feeling that love flow into us and through us. And we get to boast about that love like the beloved children that we are – I may not have all the toys in the store, but my daddy loves me! And because we can be so confident in that love, we can do all the things we are called to do! We will probably never be able to explain faith this side of heaven, but the fact that God is always present and walks with us no matter what allows us to proclaim with the psalmist that “She Who Is Faithful is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.” Which echoes the faith of the 23rd Psalm –

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2     God makes me lie down in green pastures;

God leads me beside still waters;[a]

3     God restores my soul.[b]

God leads me in right paths[c]

    for their name’s sake.

4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,[d]

    I fear no evil,

for you are with me;

    your rod and your staff,

    they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me

    in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil;

    my cup overflows.

6 Surely[e] goodness and mercy[f] shall follow me

    all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

    my whole life long.

I want us all to hear the love in that Psalm – and to hear how it moves from relating the nature of God to detailing our relationship with God. God is declared to be defined by love and care – and then God swoops in to love me. No matter what – I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. That promise was true then and remains true today. I am loved, you are loved, we are loved. And in that God filled love, we can walk the path to which we are called, and in that journey, we are forever going to be known by living into that love. No matter what happens today, that love and the call to proclaim that love will never end.

So once again, turn to each other and say. “You are loved. Pass it on.”