Never Give Up On Love

Transcribed from this sermon at the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington DC on September 15, 2019.

from Farid Iqbal, blankqo on Flickr

Revival is all about getting back to love. Getting back to that first love, that divine love, that self-love, that hopeful love. Loving God more.

How far would we go for love? Some of you are already playing some stories in your mind. Some spare no expense for love: expensive romantic dinners, new perfumes and colognes. Some would even go so far as to travel for love. Maybe even to meet someone you’d not yet met in person. My brother found love in Beijing, all the way from Nampa, Idaho. After several months on eHarmony he thought, “You know, let’s just go for it” and so he went to Beijing where he met Lydia. To make a long story short, they are now married and have a beautiful daughter Dakota Su. She has both an English name and a Chinese name. Dakota for the U.S. and then Su for for China.

Love can be expensive. I can tell you, I almost ended up in Czechoslovakia once. Another time, I almost ended up in Singapore. Somehow I kind of lost my mind. Then I found it again and ended up not going. But my heart was still lost and all of that.

Love can also be time-consuming. Any of you ever downloaded one of those dating apps? It’s easy to get obsessive on those dating apps and you’re just continuing to — every five minutes — see if the perfect match has just happened to show up. There is this undying hope that just by swiping right, you’ll find the love of your life.

How far will we go for love? Many of us have had some of our greatest pains related to our search for love. It’s easy to search for love in all the wrong places. Remember that song from the 80s?

Been there?

We have a need for love. God created us for love, and yet love can be such a journey. There’s another song that speaks to this longing. It’s a song by Charles Wesley, “Jesus, Lover of My Soul.” The line from that song says “Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to thy bosom fly.” It’s speaking of a God who wants a love with us that is close and intimate. A God who can be our divine lover. The kind of God who will come up behind us when we’re brushing our teeth and embrace us and let us know that we are unconditionally accepted.

Love! Relationships rise and fall on love. I’ve been in ministry long enough to know that, at times, this search is painful. It’s challenging. I’ve seen people in ministry who it seems like they always have to be in relationship to even begin to feel complete — even when the relationship itself is not complete. I’ve known folks who it seems like they always have to have a relationship on the burner. So they have one that’s kind of going hot and strong for a while, but when it starts to cool off, they get another pot and put it on the stove — just in case the first one goes out. Always something on the stove! I’ve seen the pain that people go through in this search.

A few times, when folks have come to me seeking pastoral support, I have asked the question “Have you ever thought about taking a sabbatical from dating?” By sabbatical, I don’t just mean “Take a break.” Sabbatical is drawn from the word Sabbath, which means to take a spiritual time to seek and to search. Take time, first of all, to know yourself so you’ll know who you’re bringing into a relationship. That sometimes is the issue. People lose themselves in relationship after relationship and relationship and they never really fully know who they are. So take time to get to know who you are and in the other six months, think about Jesus Christ, lover of my soul.

Relationships really rise and fall on our relationship with God. Earlier this week, in fact, someone asked “Have you ever thought about asking God whether you should or should not date this person?” and I can tell you that I’ve had that kind of prayer at different points in my life. In fact, after I’d gone through several troubled relationships, I found myself praying “God, you know how it is when I come to relationships. Please save me from myself.” It wasn’t just about meeting the right person, it was about knowing who I am. Then I asked that question “God, should I date this person?” and God said “Go ahead and date that person, as long as you date me first.

“Seek God first,” Matthew 6:33 says, “and the ways of God and you will have everything.”

Our overarching scripture for this month is “Seek God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and your neighbor as yourself.”

If you love God with all of who you are, then all the other love relationships will be solidified and strengthened. They may still not be easy. They may still be confusing at times, but they will be deeply grounded.

We are called to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. As I was reflecting on this overarching scripture, it took a turn on me. What if we could shift it in this way? Just as we love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength… is it possible that God loves us with all of God’s heart, all of God’s soul, all of God’s mind and all of God’s strength?

That’s like an amazing, breakthrough way of thinking about God. And yet, is that just sounding good or is it actually scriptural? Then I looked at this week’s scripture. We see God described as that shepherd who actually obsesses over the one lost sheep.

So this is saying that not only does God love us with all God’s heart, soul, mind and strength; it’s also saying that God can actually be obsessive about loving us. God could not sleep at night until that love is found again. God goes searching in the wilderness until the lost sheep is found. And then God is like that one who loses a coin and goes all through the house sweeping every corner until the coin is found: obsessive about that one lost coin.

God’s love is obsessive until what is lost is found. In fact, the scripture goes on to say, that once what is lost is found, there is this wonderful party of celebration that’s thrown! Now think about it: the cost of that party was probably more than the value of that lost coin. And yet God’s love is so powerful that when the lost is found, there is a celebration. Jesus even says in Luke 15:10 that the celebration is far-reaching because “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God.”

This totally shifts the way we think about God. Yes, God is the divine creator. Yes, God is the divine ruler. God is the Alpha. God is the Omega. God is the beginning and the end. But above and beyond, and more important than any of those: God is the divine lover. That is who God is. God is the divine lover who calls us to be found and found again.

Back in May 2019, Amanda Eller went on a hike in Hawaii. She was planning on just taking a very brief hike and so she left her cell phone locked in the car, along with some food. She went out for what she thought would be a very brief time and took a little rest. Somehow, when she got up, she got turned around. So she tried to follow her instincts as far as what the right direction was and she found herself getting lost further and further and further into the forest preserve. There in Maui, a rescue mission was put together.

On day three of the rescue mission, she fell off a cliff and injured herself. On day four, she lost her shoes in a flood. Within 72 hours, they called off the official search. The volunteers, however, would not give up. In fact, the volunteer coordinator lost his job because he missed too many days of work looking for her! But they searched relentlessly. They climbed up cliffs. They rappelled down cliffs. They went diving into the waters. They hiked and they hiked and they hiked. The family was so desperate to find their beloved that they hired a helicopter and offered a reward.

Day 5… Day 6… 7… 8… 9… 10… 11… They kept searching… 12… 13… Day 14… They searched and they searched and they searched and they wouldn’t give up. Day 16… and then finally, on day 17, that rescue helicopter found her. Seven miles away from the central search area.

Amanda Eller phones her family to let them know she’s been found. (Photo by Troy Jeffrey Helmer)

The official rescue team? They gave up after three days.
But the volunteer rescue team? They did not give up!

Which one is more like God? God is like that volunteer rescue team that will search and search and search and search until the lost is found.

I don’t know about you, but I’m glad that is my God. I’m glad that my God is a searcher, that my God is unrelenting in my God’s search for love.

Why am I so glad about this? Because I tend to lose things. I lose a lot of stuff. Every day I lose something: my keys, a file, a favorite pen or a pencil, a phone number. On some days, it’s not a key that’s lost — it’s me. I get lost in anxiety. I get lost in some form of self-doubt or another. I get lost in how to handle a certain relationship. God finds me. Calls me right back from that lost place.

There’s a wonderful song; you’ve all heard it: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a soul like me.” And then that line, “I once was lost, but now I’m found.” I have one change I’d like to make to that song. It’s not “I once was lost, but now I’m found,” it’s “I twice was lost… and three times, and four times, and five times, and sometimes several times a day!”

And God does not give up:

Our God is a God of first chances, second chances, third chances, fourth chances. Our God is a God of as many chances as we need to be found!

We’re having an amazing Bible study series right now. It’s based on the book “Bulletproof Faith” by Candace Chellew-Hodge. It says, “At the heart of our security is knowing how deeply we are loved. If someone from the outside attacks us because we’re transgender or lesbian or gay, that we have an inner strength that will give us what we need for those conversations. Change doesn’t happen by debate; it happens by being who we are and by being real.” One of the things she said is this, “At the heart of a bulletproof faith is a divine assurance that we are worthy of God’s love, care and blessing. We need not do anything special to deserve God’s grace. We need to trust that God believes we are special for no other reason than because we are here. Our very existence proves our worthiness. God has created all things, even things that certain other of God’s creatures may shun or marginalize. We are special for no other reason than because we are here. We are worthy because God created us. God creates nothing that is unworthy. The fact that we are here speaks to God’s divine design for each one of us.”

So give me an H, give me an E, give me an R, give me another E. What does that spell? HERE! We are we are here because God loves us, and God has created us, and God too is here. There is love. There is our hope.

Henri Nouwen said it this way: “It is easier for us to believe that we are cursed than that we are blessed. Still I say to you, as the beloved child of God: you are blessed. Good words are being spoken about you: words that tell the truth. The curses — noisy, boisterous, and loud-mouthed as they might be — do not tell the truth. They are lies. Lies easy to believe but lies never the less.”

So today, know and hear the truth: God is madly, outrageously in love with you. The very fact that God created you means that you are absolutely worthy. Not only are you worthy, you are absolutely precious. Not only are you precious, you are absolutely priceless. Priceless like that lost coin. God will search for you again and again and again.

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, I once was lost but now I’m found…” Found… found… found… found… found… found! Amen. Amen.

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Rev. Elder Dwayne Johnson

Rev. Dwayne envisions MCC as a denomination called to embody the strength of global diversity, partnerships and an unwavering voice for equality.