LOVE OF GOD: A MISSION SERMON
“I LOVE YOU” means “I DONT WANT YOU TO DIE”
I promised myself that I will tell this story at every single mission I preach. It is the story of a little girl who changed my life. Once I was on mission in a parish. It was the week of visitation and I was visiting homes. I came to a particular home and as I was knocking at the door, a little girl opened the door and stood in front of me, just staring at me with a look that says ‘What is this man doing in our house?’ I quickly asked after her parent and she told me her parent were not at home. Then she asked where I came from and I told her I came from the church. Then with excitement on her face, she asked ‘Are you the mission priest?’ and I proudly said ‘Yes I am’. Then I jokingly asked her ‘And who are you?’, to which she answered ‘I am just a little girl’.
The question ‘Who are you?’ is often asked by someone who wants to tell you that you are below his/her level. Many of us are very busy trying to show that we have arrived. We want everybody to know that we have advanced in life. This is shown in how we introduce ourselves. Sometimes if the proper title is not used, then we will be angry. But no matter what title we have in life, there is nothing like the title of being the Lover’s Beloved (BCOG). I use that title because I consider it the highest title in life, to be called a Beloved Child of God. No matter what else we achieve in life, that remains the highest of them all. On the day of His baptism, God the Father declares Jesus His Beloved, who enjoys His favour. All baptised persons are baptised into Christ, and so we enjoy the same title as well the same privilege. To come to an understanding of myself as someone eternally beloved by God is the starting point of my christian journey.
Why is love to important to us? Love is more important to us that we realise it. Most of the things we seek in life are indirect ways of seeking for love. For example, if a person is working hard to take care of his family, in the end, he will be so hurt if he does not receive love from the same family. The answer to this is that we are created by a God who is not just loving, but who is Love. We are told in 1 John 4 that God is love. The God who is love created us in his image and likeness. This means that we are also created with the image and likeness of love. The capacity to love and be loved is therefore part of our DNA.
If God is love, then His words are words of love. This is why it is important to read the bible, not so much as a constitution, but as a love letter. There is a sense in which the bible tells us what to do and what not to do, but these instructions are loving instructions the same way you love a child enough to tell him not to go close to the fire. The reason for such instructions is not so much to control the beloved but to preserve the life of the beloved. To say to someone ‘I love you’ is to say ‘I desire what is best for you’, ‘I want you to be always happy’, ‘I don’t want to ever see you cry’, ‘I dont want any harm to come to you’, ‘I dont want to lose you’. Another way to say ‘I dont want to lose you’ is ‘I dont want you to die’. Our first reading can be read as a love letter from a God who says to us ‘I love you’, which means ‘I dont want you to die’.
Thus says the Lord: Behold, I create new heavens and new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping or the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the child shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.: We are serving a God who is not a slave master, but a loving father. He tells us that He will make all things new for us again. He will wipe away our sins and no longer remember them. That is why during this mission, confessions are very important. Confession is not a time of judgement, but a moment of grace. It is that joyful moment when Go says to us ‘I shall not remember your sins’. A story is told of a woman who said she had a vision of Jesus. When the bishop heard it, he sent for the woman. When the bishop asked her she agreed to the fact that she had a vision of Jesus. The bishop then said to her ‘Well, the next time you have a vision, I want you to ask Jesus to tell you the sins that I confessed in my last confession.” The woman was surprised that the bishop didn’t mind her knowing about his sins. Ten days later the woman went to report back to the bishop. She said ‘I asked Jesus to tell me the sin you confessed in your last confession. But these are his exact words…’I can’t remember.’ That is how much God loves us. Those who have been in love knows that it is very easy to forgive someone you love. Sometimes after confession, we can’t imagine that we have been forgiven just like that. That is how madly in love God is with us.
If you love someone, you want that person to always be happy. God also promises to give us joy. He promises that there will be no tears in our eyes. Many of us will be wondering ‘If all this is true’, then why am I so unhappy?’, ‘Why am I crying?’. But that is the result of the freewill that God has given to us, without which love will not really be love. If you love someone, you will not force him/her to do anything. God does not force us and that is why we are free to accept Him or reject Him. In this same reading God tells us that to die a hundred years old will be to die young. Many of us like that. What God is saying is, ‘I love you’, which means ‘I dont want you to die’.
But let us not forget that this passage is in the Old Testament. In the past, people did not have the idea of eternal life the way we have it today. They understood, as some people still do, that if someone dies, then that person’s life is over. But Jesus, who did not even live to be 50, has given us another understanding of a long life. If all we achieve in life is to live for 150 years old, as much as that will be reported by all the national newspapers, so much will it be a thing of shame. God’s love is not a love that will just make us live long in this world and that is it. His love is eternal, and because His love is eternal, His desire for us to be alive is also eternal. His desire is not for us to die above 100. The Love of God is stronger than death. The physical death is not what we should be worried about. We should be most concerned about eternal death. His desire is that you will never die. The man in the Gospel gives us an image of God.
At that time: Jesus departed [from Samaria] to Galilee. For Jesus himself that a prophet has no honour in his own country. So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomes him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast, for they too had gone to the feast. So, he came again to Cana in Galilee where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When he heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went and begged him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. Jesus therefore said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Go, your son is alive.” The man believed that word that Jesus spoke to him and went his way. As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was living. So he asked them the hour when he began to mend, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live”; and he himself believed, and all his household. This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.: This man has a son. He loves his son, and he does not want his son to suffer. Above all, he does not want his son to die. This is why he had to travel a long distance to beg Jesus to come heal his son. This is an image of God the Father who says to us ‘I love you’, which means ‘I dont want you to die.’ Jesus challenged the faith of this man by telling him that it is hard for him to believe without seeing signs and wonders. I dont know if Jesus can say the same of any of us today. Our faith is so dependent on signs and wonders that it becomes very easy to lead us astray. All the miracles of Jesus were performed out of love. None of them was performed to show that He is a great person or a powerful person. Jesus healed many people of their sicknesses and raised some from the dead, but they later died. When we die, the love of God for us does not nie. Jesus says to this man ‘Your son will live’, ‘Your son will not die’. God is saying the same thing to you and I. He is saying ‘I love you’, and what that means is that ‘I am committed to your welfare’, ‘I dont want any harm to come to you’, ‘I dont want you to die’, ‘Dont want for signs and miracles to believe this’.
Our constant desire for signs and wonders is strongly linked with fear. Love and fear do not go together. We often say we love God, but do we trust Him? Do we believe He wills our ultimate good? God wants your good more than you want the good for yourself. We often live in fear of tomorrow, in fear of people, in fear of dreams, in fear of evil spirits, in fear of the future. Some people are even afraid to relate to other people because they think someone is planning to kill them. God does not want His children to live in fear. He wants His children to live in a loving confidence. God does not want any harm to come to you. He wants your good more than you want the good for yourself.
A story is told of a little boy who was traveling on a plane with other passengers. At a point the pilot announced that there was a problem which could cause the plane to crash. Everybody on the plane was very worried and in fear and panick. But this boy was going about his normal business as if he did not hear the announcement. In the end, the plane landed safely. Then some people wanted to know why this boy was not worried during the turbulence. When they asked him, he told them that his father was the pilot and that he knew his father was aware he is in the plane. He knows how much is father loves him and he was very sure that his father will do everything possible for him to live.