Rev. George Miller
“Love of God”
June 29, 2014
For the last 6 months I’ve been faithfully going to Gold’s Gym. As a non-athlete, the first few trips were a bit uncomfortable: where are the machines, do I know how to use them, does this outfit make me look fat and does anybody know me?
Eventually the worries wore off and going to Gold’s has become something to look forward too.
It’s not just a place to lift weights, take classes and get in shape, but it’s the social hot spot for Sebring, a place of community.
First, there’s the recognition of someone’s face who goes at the same time each day, then the non-verbal head-nod that says “I see you.” Then the verbal “hello” or “what’s up?”
Then the exchange of names, the handshake, or the fist bump which really lets you know you belong.
Eventually you start to notice the groups of people who work out together or conversate at the gym.
There’s the juice heads, the jocks, the cops, the high school wrestlers and footballers, the pack of middle-aged men, the youth who sport facial hair and tats, the women who take every conceivable class, those who only use machines, those who only use free weights, those who always seem to be on some type of moving machine.
I enjoy going to Gold’s because even if I don’t know the people there, I know them and that’s cool.
Last Tuesday I took the 6 pm Spin Class, getting there 10 minutes early, finding a bike, warming up.
A young woman came in, possibly early 20s, selected the bike to my right. A guy in his 40s sat on the bike to my left. Another guy, I guess in his 30s sat next to him and then an older man with white hair sat next to the young woman.
Then something unexpected happened: we all started talking. It may not seem like a big deal, but that never happened before, usually people are so focused on preparing for the intense work-out.
The girl joked with me, the guy with the white hair responded, the other two guys chimed in with their thoughts and like that, we had a 5-way conversation going on with people I’d never met before.
For me, it created a moment of belonging, which for a non-athlete is an important emotion to feel when in a gym. And let’s be honest: we all want to belong, to something, kinda like in high school.
Do ya’ll remember what high school was like? That desire to fit in and know you are accepted?
Those school days, when we wanted to belong to a group that would affirm our identity and perhaps the pathway to popularity?
Because regardless if you scored a touchdown, won the talent show, dated the class king or queen or aced the spelling bee you got the chance to hear applause, and applause says “I love you.”
And we all want to be loved.
High school is one of life’s most formative and painful experiences. No one had it easy, no matter what their outside persona may suggest.
The jocks worried about staying on top of their game. The beauty queens worried about keeping up their appearances. The preps worried about keeping up their iconic style. Don’t fumble the ball, don’t gain weight, and look out for that roving zit.
Disappointment in not getting the lead role of the play or the solo in chorus or failing to place in the science fair. The shame if you were caught pregnant or had to drop out to support your family.
Everyone else looking up at one another, admiring them, hating them, wanting to be them.
All wanting nothing more that to be popular, to be accepted: to be loved.
This need carries over into the rest of our lives. For after all, isn’t life just an extension of our high school days?
We seek out a job; doesn’t matter if it’s in an office, an assembly line or in the public eye, we want our co-workers to like us; we often know where we fit in and when we stick out.
We desire to be loved by our children; to be their source of happiness and hope.
We desire to be loved by a special person who’ll be with us for the rests of our days.
We all have a need to be loved, and if we really look at all we do, many times our motivation is to be and to receive love.
We try to avoid things that may make us unpopular or deemed as unlovable, like controversies or making touch decisions for the right reasons.
That need to be loved can be used for the good, inspiring us to be productive workers, pushing us to a level of excellence we never thought possible, inspiring us to try things we may not usually do.
The danger is when we leave behind our true selves in the hopes of being loved; when we go against our principles, when we embark in risky behavior because we think it will bring us closer to that love.
Employers and parents may give up their authority and ability to lead because they think it will make their employees or children love them more.
Partners will try to ignore indiscretions or abusive behavior because they think it will earn them love.
Teenagers will engage in dangerous behavior because they think it will bring them acceptance from their peers.
People will stay quiet and hide their true feelings because they’re afraid that saying what they truly believe will cause a withdrawal of love.
Love is perhaps the most powerful force in the world, controlling and directing where we go, what we do and who we associate with.
But the truth is, is that we can’t be loved by everybody. Not everyone sees us with the same set of eyes and same heart. Not everyone notices us when we walk on by or lift up our voice.
And for some people, that is OK. They look around at what do they have and can proudly say “I have enough love in my life already.”
But for others, that need to be loved is so great they can’t handle the notion of not having everyone falling for their charms or thinking they’re the best.
Being loved by everyone at all times is not a reality. So as we mature, we learn to accept this fact and instead give thanks for those who do indeed love us and the roles they play in our lives.
I believe that is part of what Jesus is talking about to the disciples in today’s reading.
Jesus is sending the disciples out into the world to do the work of God’s Kingdom: to teach and preach the Good News, to heal the sick and to raise the dead.
Jesus uses affirming, positive language, telling them them to pay attention to those who want to talk with them and to receive them.
He focuses the disciples’ attention on the positive when he says “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me...and whosoever gives even a cup of cold water…will (not) lose their reward.”
In essence Jesus is saying “Don’t pay attention to the 9 who don’t like you, but instead be thankful for the 1 person who does.”
Jesus helps the disciples to focus on the task on hand instead of focusing on their own need to be popular and liked. Perhaps most importantly he is also calling their attention to the one who loves them most of all: God.
The work the disciples are about to embark on is not for their own personal glory or for the glory of their group, but it’s for the glory of God.
And the God they are being called to work for is the God of the Utmost Love.
It is the God who was so filled with love that God’s love overflowed into Creation, giving light to the darkness and order to the chaos and confusion.
It is love that prompted God to free the Hebrew slaves, to give the Law, to send the prophets.
The love of God is not something to be ignored or easily taken for granted, because there are too many people wandering through life believing God doesn’t love them or could not possibly love them.
And without that love they feel lost, without that love they feel lonely, they feel they are unable to love back or search for a love that is right for them.
But the love that God has for us is real, the love that God has for us is eternal.
And that is the love that prompted God, in the perfect fullness of time, to send us God’s son, Jesus Christ, bringing us closer to him.
When we accept Christ, truly accept Christ, we actually begin to feel just how real the grace and love of God truly is.
As we grow closer to Christ, the more we seek first the Kingdom of God, the more we can’t help but to feel even more loved by God.
When we feel more loved, when we know and accept that we are loved, we want to do even more for God.
That’s the kind of love I believe was within Joseph: a love that empowered him to go against all cultural norms, to take Mary as his wife even though she was already pregnant.
In doing so, Joseph’s love helped to usher Jesus into our world.
That’s the kind of love dwelled within Mary Magdalene, allowing her to stand before the cross when others had abandoned Jesus, a love that gave her the courage to wake up early Sunday morning and make her way to the empty tomb.
In doing so, Mary’s love helped to report the news of the Resurrection.
That’s the kind of love that dwelled within Paul, allowing him to travel all over, establishing new churches, and to speak the truth with conviction.
In doing so, Paul’s love helped to spread the message of Christ throughout the world.
Love is the basis of Jesus’ teachings; to love God and to love neighbor as self.
It is with this love that Jesus sends the disciples out into the world, and it is love that he asks them to embrace. Not the need to make a name for themselves; not the popularity others crave.
But to be the best they can be, to go out to the lost sheep, to speak the Good News and share with all the love of God found in Christ.
In conclusion, when we become aware of that love, when we are willing to embrace that love, we are able to tell what truly matters from what truly does not, freeing us to do justice, to love kindness and to continue walking humbly with our Lord.
It is not about becoming the most popular or the most liked but it’s about saying “God loves me so much, and that is enough.
Therefore I will continue to seek first the kingdom of God and to share that great, glorious news.”
All thanks and praise be to Jesus Christ who sets us on the journey, to the Holy Spirit that gives us the energy and a voice, and to God, our Creator, for being oh so good.
Amen and amen.