First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Date: May 5, 2019
Scripture: |Acts 17:24-28n
Sermon: “Living into Love”
“For the God who made the world and all that is in it, the Sovereign of heaven and earth, doesn’t live in sanctuaries made by human hands, and isn’t served by humans, as if in need of anything. No! God is the One who gives everyone life, breath—everything. From one person God created all of humankind to inhabit the entire earth, and set the time for each nation to exist and the exact place where each nation should dwell. God did this so that human beings would see, reach out for, and perhaps find the One who is not really far from any of us—the One in whom we live and move and have our being. As one of your poets has put it, ‘We too are God’s children.’”
“When love beckons to you, follow him, Though his ways are hard and steep. And when his wings enfold you yield to him, Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.” Khalil Gibran, “On Love,” from his book The Prophet.
Today’s readings are an invitation to realize that we are children of God, beckoned by Love.
I understand that recently, some of the young people of your church made a bold stand for such an awareness of this identity. They know, like Jesus did, that none of us is separated from God— even if some of our churches teach otherwise.
Their courageous step of solidarity with those who some want to ostracize and marginalization, reverberates through our society that nothing can separate any of us from the Love that is God. Their spirited example is a living and breathing sermon.
Seems fitting for this moment in the historical church calendar. We are in the Easter season.
Way back in December, Christmas marked the incarnation—God became human.
Incarnation is a profound mystery. We can’t easily wrap our minds around it. God, the creator of the universe, the Source of all that is, took on flesh and blood and became like us, in the person of Jesus. God and humanity, united as one.
The months following Christmas, were meant to prepare us for the second profound mystery of Christianity—Easter. Easter reminds us that Jesus, a human being, became the Christ. No longer centralized in the body of Jesus, through the resurrection, God demonstrated divine presence in all of life. This is the Christ mystery.
Historical church fathers and mothers put the mystery of Incarnation and Easter this way: “God became human so that we might become God.” This is a matter of consciousness or awareness—realizing that we are in God and God is in us, there is no separation.
But this is a difficult consciousness for us to live into. We think that God is somewhere out there, separate from us. And so, we toil our days trying to somehow bridge the gap so we can get to God.
All the while, the story of Jesus reverberates through the centuries attempting to help us realize that nothing can separate us from God. We are not, after all, separate. We are inseparable from God. We just don’t know it.
Jesus is an icon, revealing to us the way to ultimate freedom from our limited views of self, others, and God.
Let us think of salvation in terms of the good news that we have an eternal home in God, the Source of our life, the Ground of our Being. We are safe, loved, and have no need to fear. So, how do we ground ourselves in the truth that we are in God and God is in us? For this awareness changes everything—our behavior, how we relate to others, and ultimately how we care for our shared life and home, Planet Earth.
Today’s readings instruct us that to be grounded in our identity as children of God, we must begin with Love and end with Love.
It’s not enough to believe that God loves us. Belief systems produce little change. We must awaken to God’s love or–like Jesus–experience a very personal realization of our belovedness, like a voice from heaven or the descent of a dove.
It’s unlikely the majority of us will have as dramatic an experience as Jesus’ baptism. But we all have the capacity to awaken to Love and our identity as children of God.
Spiritual traditions across religions have all emphasized the importance of spiritual practice in the process of awakening. And Jesus’ example holds to that wisdom. Scripture tell us that he often withdrew to solitary places to pray.
But what kind of prayer helps us realize our belovedness?
Let me suggest to you 3 aspects of prayer:
For the first twenty years of my adult life, I co-directed an international nonprofit for people living in unthinkable poverty: survivors of trafficking, children of war, abandoned widows and orphans.
At the peak of my social justice work, we were 300 staff working in 13 cities of the majority world. And as time went on, we began to notice a few not-so-attractive things about ourselves:
1. We took better care of others than we did of ourselves
2. Many of us teetered on the edge of burnout
3. Some of us lost our faith
Initially I was driven into service by what I thought was love for God. Only later, after a crisis of faith and a long dark night of soul, did I realize that I wasn’t even sure God was love.
At a crucial turning point, I was forced into solitude, silence, and stillness because God seemed deafening quiet.
It was in the silence, over time, that I awakened to my need for God to do for me what I couldn’t do for myself.
Solitude helped me become more present to my inner pain. I could no longer avoid it in service of others.
Silence helped me listen to emotional wounds of a lifetime that were ready to be acknowledged and healed.
Stillness allowed for divine therapy, which led to greater discernment about where and who to give my time and attention.
The Prophet Isaiah, in chapter 30, verse 21 says: “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it.’”
This is the kind of clarity that is possible when we take time get grounded in the Ground of Being. Only there do we tap into the wellspring of our life that is Love.
When we are grounded in the awareness that, like Jesus, we too are in God and God is in us— then we become like a well of living water that satiates the thirst of others; a channel of love that brings healing to others. It’s from this rooted identity, that the life of Christ, the life of Love, can flow through us.
You see, when we are transformed, the world is transformed.
Today’s readings invite us to realize that we too are Beautiful, Beloved. We come from Love, Love is the flow of our life, and we will return to Love.
But make no mistake. When we are rooted in Love and aligned with the flow of God in our life, there will be pain. I’m sure the young people of your church who took such a courageous stand recently, know how piercing Love can be.
You see, life in God, does not promise an easy, pain-free life. Rather, life in God promises connection to the Flow that helps us live a life that begins and ends with Love. Contemplative practice helps us stay connected to that flow.