Word of the Week

You are Beloved

Lessons from the First Family: You are Beloved

A sermon preached on Genesis 1:26-27 at the Federated Church, Weatherford, OK

I’ve had one of those weeks when my message to you could be summed up in one sentence.

Let me explain there’s a story . . .

In my tradition, ordination is a function of the local church. During a special service the pastor-to-be is called out, charged with words of exhortation and endorsed by a congregation. On the day of the event, the candidate comes forward (usually at the end of the worship service), kneels and the entire congregation is invited forward, one by one to place their hands on the candidate’s head. Each congregation member speaks a word of blessing toward the candidate.

On the occasion of my dearest seminary friend, Abby’s service, I was so excited. I had watched her embrace her call to ministry. I loved the woman she was becoming. I couldn’t have been prouder to be her friend. Since I am a person who loves words and not just any words, but the right words, I wanted my blessing on her ordination to be perfect. For the entire week leading up to her service, I practiced what my words might be.

But, then the emotions of the ordination service got to me. I started crying tears of joy and crying more tears of joy.

So when the time came for me to lay hands on Abby, I could not get my thoughts together at all. All those long speeches I’d created in my head about the beauty of her gifts for ministry and how God was going to be with her wherever she went did not come to my lips.

As I approached her all I could come up with to say was, “God loves you and so do I.” And then sat down.

Abby and I still laugh about this shared moment even today about my snot and tear filled blessing.

But in even in its simplicity, it’s one of the greatest gifts I could ever relay to you: God loves you.

Yes, God really loves you. Not just some of you, my Federated Church friends, but all of you.

It’s a simple statement, but it’s one that I fear few of us, myself include actually internalize.

Because when so many of us think about God, it’s often not God’s overarching, unending, unconditional love that bubbles up in our minds and hearts. Rather, it’s words like judgment, sin or even righteousness.

Though we know that scripture tells us that God has loved us with an everlasting love from generations to generations . . .

Though we know that God has called us God's children . . .

Though we know that God is slow to anger an abounding in love . . .

It’s another thing for such a deep truth to seep into our being.

For our culture and the stories from which our lives come are full of messages much to the contrary.

Our culture says love is conditional. If we do ____ then we are loved.

Our culture says love is moody. The love of others can come and go as fast a Oklahoma wind sweeps across the plains and the temperature can change from 25 to 75 degrees.

Our culture models love is self-centered. People love us based on what they can get out of their affection for us instead for the sheer delight of loving.

But, yet from the very beginning of the creation story as told in Genesis, God shows us what love us way that dispels all of these misrepresentations of love.

Our reading for this morning tells us this about how humanity came to be. God says: “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness . . .  So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.“

Of all of creation, God wanted there to be a creation that was beloved, that was special, that would be called out to be in relationship with the Creator.

And this is the bottom line: We are told that God creates us in God’s image.

As we begin our Lenten series this morning—focusing our attention on the first family— and their experience of being human, what a great place to start to land on this passage.

Though the word “love” is not used in these verses, I could not help but title our first descriptive sermon today, “You are beloved” because love is a theme spoken yet unspoken in these verses.

Remember the last time you were around a child around the age of 4 or 5—in my opinion some of the most delightful years of childhood where the imagination is full active and the possibilities of articulately bonding in relationship with others is possible.

Several years ago when a nephew of mine was in this stage of life, the time I spent with him couldn’t be more delightful.

He’d follow me around the house when we came to visit. He’d bring books to me to read and snuggle up with him in bed. He’d want to hold my hand as much as he could. He’d sit in my lap bounding up and down with happiness when I’d promise to watch a show with him.

But, then he’d do performances modeling my tone of voice and mannerisms and wearing my jacket or scarf. He’d say, “I’m playing a game pretending to be Aunt Elizabeth.”

Because isn’t the popular expression true: “Imitation is the best form of flattery?”

And such is also true in how God feels about us. For you don’t create something, my friends in your image if you don’t like them!

And God more than likes us. God loves us. Not just part of us, but all of us.

To be told that we are created in God’s image, in God’s likeness is more than being told that we part of us is acceptable or part of us come from this holiness.

No, God says, our whole being is created in this love.

So, this means it’s not just our spirit that comes from the Divine.

And not just our heart—or what we deem to be the best part of who we are.

Or not even a body part or two—you know our especially good side we want to show in photographs.

No, scripture tells us that we were created in the image of God. All of us are a part of this.

If you or I were to go and stand in front of a mirror right now, one of those full-length mirrors what would we see reflected back to us?

Would we see our hands only? Or just our feet? Or just our pretty faces?

No, we’d see ALL of us. Our likeness in the mirror would be our entire selves.

And it is exactly in this manner that we are told our being came into existence.

For the story of our humanity—how you and I came to be—began in the fullness of love. And we come to know that this is true as we study the pronoun used in this passage. Verse 26 begins with these words, “Let us”

It seems confusing at first, doesn’t it? Plural pronouns are not used are they when only one person is present? So what is this “us” business all about?

Biblical scholars throughout the centuries have helped us know that this word actually refers to the Trinity. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit-- the existence of God who was with us from the beginning of time until now—the God who came to us and abides in us in community.

In C.S. Lewis’ monumental text, Mere Christianity he writes this about what our creation story has to do with our beloved status saying, “All sorts of people are fond of repeating the Christian statement that ‘God is love’. But they seem not to notice that the words ‘God is love’ have no real meaning unless God contains at least two Persons. Love is something that one person has for another person. If God was a single person, then before the world was made, He was not love.”

Or in other words, we KNOW how much God loves us when we realize that we were created in the context of an “us.”

God loved before God first loved us. And out of that great love we came to be. In creation we were given God’s likeness.

Not merely to be stamped with an “mark” as if we were branded in some way, marked as property out of the context of relationship, BUT created in the very image of God.

One of my favorite spiritual teachers who died recently is Maya Angelou, an American writer, poet, actress and famed speaker. A couple of years ago I watched an interview with Maya where she was asked to describe one of the most significant moments in her life.

The interviewer was on the edge of her seat waiting for that moment when Maya would say something profound, I could tell. What the interviewer expected was something about a famous author or a poet she loved or even an encounter with a person she’s met during her travels all around the world.

But instead Maya tells this story of taking an online class at her church. “There’s a book called Lessons in Truth” she said. “And in the book there’s a line, which is ‘God loves me.’ And when I came to read it to my then-mentor, Frederick Wilkerson, I read, ‘God loves me.’  And he said, ‘read it again.’”

She continued, “I said, ‘God loves me.’ He said, ‘read it again, read it again.’ And finally, I said, ‘God. Loves. Me.’”

To the interviewer, Angelou then became emotional and leaned over for a moment to make sure she got the point. “I want you to really hear this,” Maya said.

“It still humbles me, that this force, which made leaves and fleas and stars and rivers and you, loves me -- me, Maya Angelou. It’s amazing!”

Maya went on: “That’s why I am who I am,” she said.  “Yes. Because God loves me and I’m amazed at it and grateful for it.”

So today, my friends at Federated Church, I want you to hear this message loud and clear: God loves you.

From the first moment that our species came into being—from that first moment that our Triune God said, “Let us make humankind in our own image” we came into existence in love.

And though soon in our human story there will be mistakes made by us that separate us from God’s perfect love—the gospel truth is no matter what God never stops loving us.

Romans 8 tells us this about God’s love, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Nothing. No nothing my friends throughout the history of humanity can ever take this truth about who you and I are away: we are beloved by God.

Such a gift is such a hard one to receive from God sometimes, isn’t it? We all so easily take on falsehoods about our identity that ignore our beloved status.

But today, church, I want to tell you this simple but profound truth: God loves you. God really loves you.