Known and Loved

This spring I have been coaching a baseball team of ten 6-years-olds.

We signed our son Samuel up for the league
but it’s all volunteer coached
and we found out there weren’t enough volunteers
and if someone didn’t step up there wouldn’t be a season… so I’m the coach.

With this particular league, it really is about fundamentals.
Everyone gets a chance to hit.
There are no outs.
We don’t keep score.

But strangely enough, part of the program is that after every game
a medal is given out for sportsmanship and there’s only one.

After the game I have to select one, and only one, child to receive the medal,
And they all know it’s coming so they’re looking at me like a pack of hungry dogs.

By the second practice,
I would be trying to show them about fielding a grounder
and individual kids were stopping me to ask if they could have the medal.

After a game, as I put the shining gold medal,
Slung on a ribbon of stars around one of their necks
the whole group goes wild.

For them, this is glory.
It is as significant as knighthood or beatification.
The selected child, in this moment, has been ratified as “as special as it gets,”
And he or she is lifted up above their peers,
singled out to be called great.

Jesus receives his glory in God
and is singled out and lifted up as the one above all.

Gathered with his teammates under the stars
Jesus says, Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him.

And yet Jesus’ glory comes not from being superior in and of himself
as we usually define glory.

His glory doesn’t come from accolades and awards
but in the way he gives himself away for others in obedience to the will of God.

Jesus’ glory is given to him by God
And it is a glory he shares with God.

And When Jesus is lifted up on the cross
and suspended between heaven and earth
it is THEN that he is ratified as great.
THEN all things are made new
THEN God’s glory shines out to the world.

Jesus lifted up is God’s love given and displayed for all to see.

Of course, there are so many kinds of love. Between friends, between spouses, between family.

What kind of love is this? How deep is it?

If there was any doubt about the character of Jesus’ love
we only need to refer to first verse of our gospel and read again the words:
“When he had gone out.”

Do you know who “He” refers to?
“He” refers here to Judas.

Judas had gone out to betray Jesus and to set in motion his arrest,
his hour of humiliation and agony,
the cold iron through his hands and splinters from rough wood
laced through the skin of his back.

Jesus sees this moment of his betrayal as the moment of his greatest glory
because now he gets to show you and me how much God loves us.

Jesus gives and desires us to give a love that lays down our life for the sake of another.

Because, the truth is, the command from God to love one another was not new.
The scriptures of the Old Testament compel us to love our neighbor as our self,
but Jesus’ command is new because through his death and resurrection
he is with us to share his power to give ourselves away for the good of the other.

This is a love that demonstrates itself.
A love that is costly.
A love that risks.

We see this love displayed in Peter
who risks his place and standing to wade into the dis-ease
between the circumcised and the uncircumcised factions in the early church.

Hebrew followers of Jesus, from his same culture and creed,
Peter and all the apostles,
just weren’t sure about the new Gentile converts.

There was a long history of separation between the groups,
a long litany of real or perceived grievances between the two.
Like Washington and Dallas football fans,
Or Capitals and Penguins fans,
these two groups really weren’t supposed to keep company with one another.

The Hebrews followed the laws of Israel that the Gentiles didn’t keep.
Hebrews definitely weren’t supposed to be around Gentiles,
Much less share a table together,

yet Peter sees a vision from the Holy Spirit showing him
that the distinction that had been made between the two groups should die
and a new community should rise.

The Holy Spirit breaks down the wall that divides the two groups
and make them one.

Its amazing that Peter, a betrayer of Jesus, could come to this place.

He too had been a part of this deep-seeded perspective
of looking at the Gentiles as outsiders and non-entities,
and yet he sees what God is doing and says, “Who am I to oppose God?”

And this was a witness to the world of what it meant to be a Christian:
To welcome people who were different,
And to lay judgment aside for friendship.

And in this significant action of table fellowship between Jews and Gentiles,
The course of church history and world history
Was forever altered and Jesus’ words came true:

By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

This is what love looks like.

If you’re out driving on the streets of Chesterfield county
and you come to the place where Wood’s Edge Road ends
at a crossing with Ramblewood Drive you’ll find
a large, homemade sign at the intersection
painted with a message to share with those driving by.

The sign’s made of plywood, about my height and painted in bright colors and it reads:
“I love you. You’re probably thinking, you don’t know me.
But if people can hate for no reason, I can love.”
It is an arresting message. It is specific and personal.

It has been getting a lot of attention
and some drivers even stop to find out who is behind the message,
including the Channel 6 news team who featured the sign and its creator, Tina Wells,
in a story this week.

Tina lives across the way from the busy intersection
and was inspired to put the sign up by to road because, she says,

“here’s so much darkness in the world nowadays
and if you listen to all the negative, you’ll get brought down.

My husband was back behind the house and found a sheet of plywood
and I painted the sign to share some joy.
I want to plant some positive seeds.
I hope that just like songs get stuck in your head,
this message will get stuck in people’s head.”

I have to say that I think what Tina says is true –
negative messages are copious around us.
They come from the world and they come from within us
and get stuck in our head making us think negatively about ourselves
and about the state of things.

It is easy to get frustrated by the cruelty
and the hate and the darkness of sin in the world.

But God has a sign written for the world:
“I love you!” in the cross.

Big and Bold and Bright: I love you!

You’re probably thinking – at least of you’re like me –
That the difference between Tina’s love and God’s love is that
Tina’s saying she doesn’t know me and God definitely does.

For me, I actually find it easy to love people I don’t know, in many cases.
I can hold a door for a stranger.
I can give someone I just met my undivided attention.
When a person is a clean slate to me, I am at my best.

It is actually when we know one another that love is costly.

And God does know us.

God knows all the ways we have spoken poorly of one another
and failed to pass on God’s generosity to others,
and all the way we have misused the gifts God has given us.
And God still loves us.

And so my friends,
Please hear this:

Whatever other forces and voices may accost you, God loves you.

If it feels as if the whole rest of the world hates you.
Excludes you.
Doesn’t let you sit at the cool kid’s table.
Won’t look at you. Or treats you as diseased.
If, and when, that happens to you. God loves you.

God thought you important enough
and God loved you enough to suffer and die for you.
God has blessed you with gifts to share.

You are the recipient of God’s medal of love,
You are the song stuck in God’s head that God can’t forget.
You are deep down in God’s heart.

And God will supply you with the love to give to others.

Jesus and his cross are the sign by the road inviting you and me
And all the world into a new kind of love the world has never seen.

Peter experienced a conversion in this love that leads him to take huge risks,
Just like Paul who goes from persecuting the church to building it.

Our experience is that we need ongoing conversion.
Every day we are in need of the power of our baptism.

Sin is so deeply rooted in us, we are so centered on the self in our human thinking, and the gospel’s demand of us is so different, that we need a lifetime of conversion to be made into the new creation God has in mind for us.

And in baptism, every day is new for us. Just like Brielle Lenhart.
Every day we are born fresh in God.
And we need it.

I can’t think of a family member or a friend in my life
who I have not hurt or who has not hurt me in significant ways,
and yet by God’s grace we can love people
beyond the barriers that would otherwise bring fraternity to an end.

This is what a congregation is.
A group of people God has called to love one another for the long haul.

Not because we’re perfect.
Not because we’re the same.
Not because out political views align.
Not because we have the same hobbies or interests
or even because we all want to make the world a better place.

But because Jesus’ love calls us together in love
and for love.

Love that doesn’t forget the people at home who are a part of this body
And who can’t join us in worship,
But goes to them with the meal of life.

Love that promises to walk with Breielle
and all those who are claimed by God in baptism.
No matter what unfolds.

A love that reaches out to neighbors
and even to enemies
to care for them more than we do ourselves,
not because they are like us or the same as us,
but because they are God’s holy and beloved creation
in whose face God promises to meet us,

and because God can and does make a new beginning in relationships
that seem broken beyond repair.

This love, Jesus’ love, is the only power to erase distinctions between people
and to bring healing to the divisions in the world.

This love, Jesus Love, is God’s gift to us
and shared through us,
God’s gift to the world.

In Jesus Christ every day is new,
no relationship is ever beyond healing,
no community is beyond transformation,
and no story has reached its end,
because we are still waiting for the return of the one
who says, “See I make all things new.”

All glory to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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