May the Words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight oh God our strength and our redeemer.
I feel that I would be remiss if I didn’t, before anything else, mention the events of yesterday. Steve and I in the company of 9 others in this diocese, and many more around the country, were blessed with the privilege of devoting our lives to the service of God and to the Church. The journey leading to the events of yesterday has been long and challenging, in so many ways, and I want to thank you all for the support and Love that this church has offered us, and continues to offer us as we take our ministry into the world.
“God Loves us just as we are.” This is a statement that I hear people say quite a bit, it is meant to bring comfort and security in times of pain and doubt, and it is a true statement, God does Love us just as we are. But I must admit that it is a statement that has always bothered me, I think, because it stops short of saying something truly substantive about God’s action in our lives. Again I want to emphasize that the sentiment is not wrong, but As a statement of God’s Love, it is incomplete.
So what does it mean when we say that God Loves us? On one hand, Divine Love defies definition, to try and define what God’s Love is like would be to try and define the unknowable, incomprehensible essence of God.
Still, as Christians we believe that in Christ we encounter, and are able to comprehend, the true and living God, and by that God’s Love for us. And today’s Gospel passage tells us something about what God’s Love actually looks like.
In today’s Gospel reading we are able to see what it means when God, in Christ, meets people where they are. The widow of Nain, her dead son, even the gathered crowd, all of their lives are surprised, and brought up short by their encounter with Christ.
When Christ meets this woman at the city gates, the scripture says that he has compassion for her, this compassion is not some passive feeling that Christ has inside, it is an active reaction to the suffering he sees in front of him. And he acts, he does not pass by on the other side of the road, Christ meets this widow and her son where they are, in their darkest moments, in the midst of their pain, their despair, in the midst of death, Christ reaches out and with a mere touch brings the entire procession to a halt. He restores to the widow the son which she thought she had lost.
There is a freedom to this miracle; it does not require faith, or even understanding on the part of the widow or the crowd. None of the people in this story went looking for Christ’s help; none of them thought that their lives were going to be completely changed that day as they went to bury the poor widow’s son.
Christ does not give the widow back her living son and then burden them with loads of expectations, no, out of Love and compassion Christ gives freely to those he sees in need, regardless of their faith.
In many ways this story is a microcosm of the entirety of God’s work through Christ in the world. We are not different from this funeral procession. Just as Christ met this crowd as they walk towards the grave, so too Christ meets all of humanity in the midst of its descent into darkness, breaking the hold that death has over us, restoring our hope and illuminating the glory and wonder of God in our midst. We are all the widow in need of hope and compassion, the son in need of new life, and the crowd in need of good news. And in all of this, Christ does indeed Love us the way we are, but the amazing thing about that Love is it does not leave us unchanged.
Christ Loves us - humanity - without any assurance that his Love will be returned, and it is a Love that will not be removed no matter how many times we may turn away from it or reject it.
Still, this Love that is freely given and never removed is a Love that calls us as well. It calls to something deep within us, covered over, perhaps even forgotten, but always there. You see, through the incarnation God reveals to us both the perfect image of God and the perfect fulfillment of humanity, which itself bears upon it God’s image.
There is a Russian Theologian named Vladimir Lossky, who wrote a book called The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, and if you want to better understand the breadth of theological thinking that has influenced the Anglican tradition, this book may be a good place to start. In this book the imago dei is presented as a central component of theology. According to Lossky the very nature of humanity is the image of God. Through sin this image has been mutilated, cut up and misrepresented, but it is always there, part of all of us – all of us together.
Love, Divine Love, calls to itself within us, urging us to respond by actively following Christ. The image of God in us is that very Love that is given freely, Love that expects nothing, but changes everything.
God Loves us as we are, a true enough statement, this is certain, but it cannot end there, because the Love of God does not leave us where we were found, Divine Love urges us out of the rut of life, the spiraling downward with our vision on things of this world: reputation, wealth, power. God’s Love finds us and will change us, if we let it. When we choose to respond to Divine Love we allow the image of God within us to be restored and we are better able to see that image in others, because that image does not belong to us as individuals, but to all of us as humanity. According to the incomparable Eastern theologian and mystic Maximus the Confessor, “Love gathers together what has been separated, binding human beings to god and to one another.”
God does indeed Love us as we are, because we are, in our very essence made in God’s image, and are in our true nature truly lovable. God sees this Love in us; we need only see it in ourselves, and each other.