Fall 2012 Chapel - October 10th

Good morning.  It's time to sing "the president's cheesy song".

Did anybody tell you I love you today?

   Did anybody tell you I love you today?

Did anybody tell you I love you today?

   Put me on your list, let me be the first,

I love you today.

God loves you and I love you

   And that's how it should be.

God loves you and I love you

   And that's how it should be.

God loves you and I love you

   And that's how it should be.

Put me on your list, let me be the first,

   I love you today.

Today I'd like to take a look at Jesus, who he hung out with, the world he lived in and how he acted.  Then I'd like to take a look at us, our world, and God's presence in our lives.

Jesus & the Broken, Bruised & Abused

You don't have to read too far in any of the gospel accounts to realize that Jesus did not come to fit in, affirm the status quo, or live under the authority of worldly powers.  Jesus always seems to be going where folks don't think he belongs, and hang out with people of questionable character and reputation.

Jesus quickly became a magnet for the unloved, the unclean, the damaged, the fallen and the outcast.  Let me illustrate the point by reminding us of several episodes in the life of Jesus.  

As Jesus was going down the road, he saw Matthew sitting at his tax-collection booth.  "Come, be my disciple," Jesus said to him.  So Mathew got up and followed him.

That night Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to be his dinner guests, along with his fellow tax collectors and many other notorious sinners.  The Pharisees were indignant.  "Why does your teacher eat with such scum?" they asked his disciples.

When he heard this, Jesus replied, "Healthy people don't need a doctor, sick people do." Then he added, "Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: "I want you to be merciful" I don't want your sacrifices."  For I have come to call sinners, not those who think they are already good enough."

Matthew 9: 9-13

Do you remember the adulterous woman dragged to Jesus by the Pharisees?  What they intended as a test of the law and judgment for the woman became a test for them, and freedom for the woman.

"Woman, did no one condemn you?"

"No one, Lord."

"Then go your way, sin no more."

Or do you remember the story of "the wee little man":

Jesus entered Jericho and made his way through town.  There was a man there named Zacchaeus.  He was one of the most influential Jews in the Roman tax-collecting business, and he had become very rich.  He tried to get a look at Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowds.  So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree beside the road, so he could watch from there.

When Jesus came by, he looked up at Zacchaeus and called him by name. "Zacchaeus!" he said.  "Quick, come down! For I must be a guest in your home today."

Zaccheaus quickly climbed down and took Jesus to his house in great excitement and joy.  But the crowds were displeased.  "He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner," they grumbled.


Luke 19: 1-7

Or this moving story near the end of Jesus' time on earth:

Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper.  During supper, a woman came in with a beautiful jar of expensive perfume and poured it over his head.  The disciples were indignant when they saw this.  "What a waste of money," they said.  "She could have sold it for a fortune and given the money to the poor."

Matthew 26: 6-9

People in need quickly understood the heart and actions of Jesus.  Yes, some followed him to watch him perform miracles, signs and wonders, but countless others are drawn to him because of one thing:  love, Jesus-love.

God showed how much He loved us by sending His only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through Him.  This is real love.  It is not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.

I John 4: 9, 10

The people who gathered around Jesus gathered around a man who loved them.  They discovered something unexpected, Jesus loved them.  It was part of His very nature, His essence.  His love wasn't something He did, it was fundamentally who He was. Jesus was love and that love drew all the broken, bruised and abused to Him.

You see, Jesus was displaying God love.   And God love, loves before.

God Loves Before

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.  Now, no one is likely to die for a good person, though someone might be willing to die for a person who is especially good.  But God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.

Romans 5: 6-8

The religious leaders of the day, even Jesus' disciples too often tried to analyze the action, instead of watch the extravagant display of love.  Jesus loved the people.  He knew who they were and what they had done and he loved them anyway and they sensed it, they knew it.  He loved them before they were forgiven, before they were bathed in His righteousness.  They came to Him full of guilt and found His grace.  They were trained to expect judgment, but instead they found forgiveness.  They held their heads down in shame and He raised them up with His love.

Jesus loved the people, tax-gatherers, adulterers, lepers, prostitutes and the oppressed, not because of who they were, or what they'd done, but because of who He was, Jesus was God and God is love.

Our Conditional World

Our Conditional Life

Well now, that was then, this is now.  What does all that have to do with you and me today?  How do the stories of Jesus' age transfer to this age?

At first blush we might think that there is not much comparison or too many parallels. These stories are graphic, the sin is severe, the people were societal outcasts.  They were a desperate people hungry for love and acceptance.

I suppose on some levels they are not us.  But the basic desire, the basic need to be welcomed, accepted, to lovingly belong is as real today as it was then.  Their stories were graphic, our stories are camouflaged.

Unclean lepers, tax-gathers and other assorted sinners don't belong.  We on the other hand are valedictorians, performers and all-stars, we belong.  Yet this is what I know about the human condition, love and acceptance built upon condition of performance is not love that lasts, it fades.

We live in a culture that too often bases value and acceptance, and a tainted version of love on performance.  If things are going along well, if we're measuring up, that seems to work.  But as some of you have already discovered the major that you planned and the script written around that major needs to be discarded and re-written.  And you fear that in someone's eyes you won't measure up.  Others of you came here but people at home are calling out to you to perform, to meet their expectations, and if you don't respond or act appropriately they may withdraw or withhold their love and acceptance.  Their love has become a conditional weapon.

God Loves In Spite of

Remember earlier when I described the fact "God loves before"?  Part two of that line of thought is this "God loves in spite of."  Nothing you do or fail to do affects God's love toward you.  Let me state it several ways.

Before there is anything else, there is God and His love.

After everything else, there is God and His love.

Before you do anything, there is God and His love.

After you do everything, there is God and His love.

God loves you. Period

Separate from your performance, God loves you.

Separate from your measure of worldly success, God loves you.

Separate from the things of your life "both your achievements and your failures" God loves you.

The people attracted to Christ Jesus in those stories had failed to measure up and belong in the Jewish culture of their day.  They were clearly outcasts.  And yet, Jesus sought them out.  

I believe with all my heart that though our condition is more subtle and veiled, He still seeks us out in order to love us in the manner only He can.

The love expressed in Jesus is not conditional love.  It is God love.  God love in spite of.  God loves because of.  Let me say it again, God's love is not conditional.  The getting, the receiving of God's love doesn't come to us with condition.  It's not like God decided to be nice to you because you were nice to Him first.

I repeat. God's love is not conditional.  So no matter the circumstances that surround you and your life.  No matter the choices you have made.  Regardless of what others have done to you, even by those who were supposed to love you the most, God loves you before, in spite of, despite, God loves you, period.

You see, my cheesy song has a point.  College is performance-based.  It has majors and grades and curves and scores and acceptance hoops and tests.  All that has its place.  But all those conditions are separate from God and His love for you.

Let me say it again,

God loves you before

Before what? You ask.

Before you did anything that could have colored His opinion of you.  He has always loved you.  He will always love you.

Wait a minute.  Hold on here.

I'm new here.  You don't know me.  You don't know what's happened to me, what's been done to me, what I've done.  You don't know my story.

You're right, I don't.  But this isn't about me.

This is about God. And He knows, and it doesn't cause Him to withhold His love.  Some things may sadden Him, some things may cause Him to express His patience, and pour out more grace, but nothing you have done, nor anything that has been done to you, will cause God to withhold His love from you or for you.

I want you to hear these words penned by Brennan Manning:

With a strong affirmation of our goodness and a gentle understanding of our weakness, God is loving us, you and me, this moment, just as we are and not as we should be.  There is nothing any of us can do to increase his love for us, and nothing we can do to diminish it.

Brennan Manning

The love of God, expressed in Jesus, now present and available through the Holy Spirit is here.  God is here, therefore, love is here.  Available.  Come to Jesus.   Reach out.  Accept it. 

Bow your heads with me please.  I want to invite you to hear the words of Henri Nowen, who has written a meditation as if God was speaking to him, and you and me.  Listen to these loving words from a loving heavenly Father:

I am Your God, you are my child.  How can you ever doubt that I will embrace you again, hold you near.  I am a God of mercy and compassion, of tenderness and care.  I so much want you to be close to me.  I know all your thoughts.  I hear all your words.  I see all your actions.  And I love you.  Do not judge yourself.  Do not condemn yourself.  Do not reject yourself.  Let my love touch the most hidden corners of your heart and reveal to you your beauty, a beauty that you have lost sight of.  Come, let me wipe away your tears, and let my mouth come close to your ear and say to you, "I love you, I love you, I love you."  

Henri Nowen

Sing with me "Jesus loves me this I know"