DUE TO THE LEVEL 3 SNOW EMERGENCY, SERVICES WERE CANCELED. This is the sermon that would have been given at both services 🙂
This June, Penny and I will celebrate our 34th wedding anniversary. We were two very naïve people as we stood in front of the altar and offered our wedding vows to each other.
We had no idea of how hard it would be to move from our families and try to make it on our own. When we left Pennsylvania to come to Ohio all we had in our pockets was honeymoon money and a little bit of savings in the bank. That was it. I had no job lined up when we came to Ohio. And here we were, trying to stuff as much as we could into our little Ford Escort.
The honeymoon money and the savings lasted us about two months and I still didn’t have a job. So I started working at a gas station in Dayton, making some money, just to get by.
We lived in a tiny two room apartment for the first three months. By the grace of God, I found out about a student pastor position that was opening up in Lima, Ohio. The pay was $5,000 a year, but it came with an old house located in a rough section of Lima. Actually, even though it was a two story house, the church board told us that we would only be allowed to live on the second floor because the United Methodist Women sometimes held their meetings on the first floor where the kitchen was located. That was kind of weird for a newlywed couple.
The other big drawback of this house was that it had an enormous sign attached to the front of it that said in very large lettering, “Fellowship House.” The sign might as well read, “Anyone who needs money, or gas for your car, just go ahead and knock on the door at all hours of the night.”
We budged $25 a week for groceries which didn’t go very far. This was basically our life together during our first year of marriage.
And do you know why our marriage made it through those lean years? We love each other. Without love, our marriage would never have made it.
I’ve been thinking about our early years of marriage because of our scripture reading from Isaiah this morning. The prophet Isaiah is telling the people of Israel that God loves them like the love of a bride and a groom. This image of God’s love for his people being like the love of a bride and a groom is a powerful image for us in thinking about our relationship with God.
And I love the word that Isaiah uses in describing God’s relationship with Israel. He uses the word, “delight.” What a great word! “The Lord delights in you” Isaiah says. The last verse of our scripture reading says, “As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”
I have the privilege of officiating at weddings throughout the year. During the wedding ceremony you can just see the delight that the bride and groom have for each other. Granted, the groom is very nervous, but when the bride walks down that center aisle, it’s fun just to watch his response as he first makes eye contact with her.
They’re not thinking about the little bit of money in their checking accounts or moving into a tiny apartment. Or about making ends meet. Or anything else in that moment. It’s all about rejoicing over each other.
Isaiah is saying that God does the same thing with us. God delights in us. God rejoices over us. God loves us.
In other words, our relationship with God is not to be an impersonal, detached, business like contract between two parties – ourselves and God. Instead, our relationship with God is more like the delight and love of a bride and groom.
So it’s no wonder that Jesus’ first miracle was at a wedding celebration where he turned water into wine. Jesus delighted in these kinds of celebrations and why wouldn’t he if Isaiah is telling us that God delights in us as a couple delights in each other?
Now, if you’re a little embarrassed about thinking of our relationship with God in these terms, the love between a bride and a groom, that’s probably a good thing, because Isaiah is trying to make a point of just how much God really loves us.
Sometimes, we get so busy in our day to day living that we forget this very basic message that God delights in us and loves us.
This hit home with me one day in particular when I caught myself giving my standard parting words to someone as I was leaving the church one day. I said“God bless” to someone as I walked out the door. Now, there’s certainly nothing wrong with saying “God bless you” to someone, but people do not always take notice when those words are offered.
So I thought to myself, “What if I would say, ‘God loves you’ instead of the standard, ‘God bless you.’ Maybe that will have a bigger impact.”
So, I’m in the hospital visiting with a church member. A nurse comes in and I’m about ready to leave. I say to the church member who’s a patient, “God loves you.” And then I turn to the nurse and startle her by saying, “God loves you too, Karen.”
I took her by surprise and she didn’t know exactly know what to say back to me. But that’s OK because God wanted Karen to know in that moment that the creator of the universe loved her.
A remember a friend telling me several years ago that he read a study that said how everybody needs five hugs a day. Five hugs a day. “But that’s not all,” he said. “People also need to be told that they are loved at least three times a day.”
I’ve been thinking about what my friend told me, because there are a lot of people who don’t even get one hug a week, let alone three hugs a day. And I know that there are people who very rarely hear the words, “I love you.”
Now it’s true that some people don’t want to be hugged and we need to respect that. So maybe a simple tap on the shoulder or a handshake will do.
On popular talk show several years ago, someone was offering free hugs to people over a two year period. Nothing improper about these hugs – they’re just hugs to remind people that they are loved.
Studies also show that the two groups of people who are the least hugged in our society are senior citizens and teenagers. That’s important for us to remember.
Five hugs a day and three “I love yous.”
One of the most basic human needs is to know that we are loved so why wouldn’t God want to go to great lengths to hug us, to delight in us, to rejoice over us, and to say, “I love you.”
A Puerto Rican woman who knew very little English went to her pastor and asked him to help her find a ministry through the church.
The pastor couldn’t think of anything for her to do at first but then he said, “I’ll get you on one of our church buses so that you can ride with the children and just love them. Then the next week, I want you to get on a different bus, and you can show love to those children.”
So every week, this woman who knew very little English, would ride a different bus each week – each week showing love to the children. She would find the loneliest looking kid on the bus, put him on her lap, and whisper over and over the only words she had learned in English: “I love you. Jesus loves you.”
After several months, she became attached to one little boy in particular. “I don’t want to change buses anymore. I would rather stay on this one bus,” she told her pastor.
This boy never said a word. He came to Sunday School every week with his sister and sat on the woman’s lap, but he never made a sound. Each week she would tell him all the way to Sunday School and all the way home, “I love you and Jesus loves you.”
One day, to her amazement, the little boy turned around and stammered, “I – I love you, too.” Then he put his arms around her and gave her a big hug.
That was 2:30 on a Sunday afternoon. At 6:30 that night, the boy had died unexpectantly. It was devastating.
“I love you. Jesus loves you” were some of the last words this little boy heard in his short life – from the lips of a woman who could barely speak English.
I don’t know if I would be in the church today if it wouldn’t have been for Sunday School teachers, youth volunteers, and people in the church, who consistently told me that they loved me, who hugged me, and who reminded me again and again and again, that Jesus loves me.
Sometimes I so easily forget of just how many people outside the church as well as inside the church, need to hear those words. How can we let others know that God delights in them? That God rejoices over them? That God loves them?
Maybe it begins with us hearing scriptures like this. Scriptures which make us blush.
The God of the universe is saying to you and to me…
“I love you.” “I love you.” “I love you.”
Sermon Discussion Questions
(FYI: The sermon & discussion questions are always posted online each week. These can be used individually, in a small group setting, or with your cat on snow days like this.)
Our scripture readings from this Sunday both focused on marriage. The prophet Isaiah speaks of our relationship with God as the love between a bride and groom. In our Gospel reading, Jesus’ first miracle was when he turned water into wine at a wedding. The Bible frequently uses the image of marriage as a way to describe the unconditional love that God has for us.
What helps you to remember that God loves and delights in you? Why do you think we so often forget this basic truth and good news of our faith?
A study indicates that most people are not told and shown on a regular basis that they are loved unconditionally. It suggests that each person hear the words, “I love you” at least three times a day and receive at the minimum 5 hugs a day. The heartbreaking part of this study is that teenagers and senior citizens receive the least amount of “I love yous” and personal touch than any other age group.
In what ways can we share the good news of God’s love with the people around us?
Our church is known for encouraging us to share “thin place moments” with others. Thin place moments are those times when we experience God’s love in a very real way.
Share a recent thin place moment when you experienced God’s love in your everyday life. How did it have a positive impact on your day?
Loving God, there’s still more than three weeks to go before Valentine’s Day and you are already telling us how much you love us. You have spoken to us this morning from the prophet Isaiah just so that we won’t forget that you delight in us, you care about us, and you truly love us.
You love us unconditionally. You love us for who we are. I guess that makes sense because after all, you are the one who created us. You are the one who breathed life into us. Why wouldn’t you love your creation? Like an artist who prizes her masterpiece, so you prize and cherish us.
You have given each one of us unique gifts and talents and passions and you always seem to see our fullest potential far better than we can see it in ourselves. So keep reminding us. Keep reminding us of just how much you love us because we often forget for some reason. You already know this but we tend to get down on ourselves. We often put way too much pressure on ourselves to fit in or to be someone we’re not.
And so thank you for sending us Isaiah today who just wanted to make sure that we knew on this cold winter day how much you love us. And you know that by tomorrow, we’ll probably need to be reminded again. Maybe it will be a teacher at school, the director of a choir, a Sunday School teacher, a pastor, a friend who will be like Isaiah and remind us that we are loved by you.
And in turn, we pray that we would share your love with those around us, especially to our confirmands who begin their journey to membership tomorrow evening. We also want to share your love with the ones who need to hear it the most like the growing number of children needing foster care because of the Opioid crisis, the many people who are impacted by the government shut-down, teenagers struggling with anxiety and depression, college students as they are away from home, and anyone who may be feeling discouraged and in need of some hope.
We pray this in the name of the One who demonstrated your love for us by dying on the cross, Jesus Christ, who taught us to pray together…
“Our Father, who art in heaven…”