Deeply BeLoved

What if this time of social distancing and staying at home is an opportunity, like the time during the winter that bulbs are working on putting down roots?  An opportunity to grow deeper roots in Jesus, to grow in our faith, and to grow in love.

——

Read 1 Peter 1:13-23 here.

There’s a song that pops into my head whenever I hear the word beloved.  “Beloved let us love one another, for love is of God….” I don’t remember the whole song, but I do remember that it ends with “1 John 4:7-8.”[1]  It’s a handy way to remember.

Are you beloved?  I am.  I am the favorite.

Are you the family favorite?  I am my father’s favorite daughter.  I am!  He tells me this all the time.  But I am also my father’s only daughter.  By brother is my father’s favorite son, and, as you might guess, he’s the only son.

In verse 17 of our reading from 1 Peter 1, Peter tells us that God has no favorites. Unlike humans who have a hard time being truly unbiased and impartial, God is the perfect impartial judge.  To God every person is someone he created and loves unconditionally.

We might have trouble believing that God loves us all so much. Even though God says:

  • I have loved you with an everlasting love. –Jeremiah 31:3
  • I have written your name in the palm of my hand. -Isaiah 49:16
  • I knit you together in your mother’s womb. -Psalm 139
  • I loved you so much that I sent my only son to save you. -John 3:16

You are God’s favorite. We are all God’s favorite.

Peter tells us at the beginning of this letter, in verse 2: “God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and his Spirit has made you holy.” (1 Peter 1:2)

Paul tells us the same thing at the beginning of his letter to the Ephesians: “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.” (Ephesians 1:4)

Wait a minute.  Holy and without fault?  I’m not holy and without fault.  That’s why we need Jesus.  None of us are without fault, but through faith in Jesus, God sees us as if we are without fault.  I love how CS Lewis puts it: “God doesn’t love us because we are good, God makes us good because He loves us.”

Peter starts out the letter this way because he is writing to encourage people in exile, people who live far away from Jerusalem.  Because they’re far away from the temple in Jerusalem, their connection to God and to their faith is through the local synagogue, and so staying connected with the synagogue is vitally important to them.  But believing in Jesus as the messiah can get you kicked out of the synagogue.  And getting kicked out of the synagogue can lead to harassment and even death.  They were having a very hard time, and likely wondering why things had to be so hard.  They really need help to keep on trusting in God’s love during this persecution.  Does this mean that God doesn’t love us?

They needed to remember, just like we need to remember, that our circumstances don’t correlate to God’s favor.

  • Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. The sun rises on both good and evil people. The rain falls on the just and the unjust the same. (Matthew 5:45)
  • People wandering in the desert in Exodus wondered the same thing. When they ran out of water, they cried out to Moses, “Have you brought us out here into the desert to die?”  These were God’s chosen people.  But that didn’t mean they wouldn’t have trouble.

No one’s circumstances correlate to God’s favor, but we judge as if they do.

  • Right now during this pandemic some people are making the assumption that if someone gets the virus, it’s because they didn’t take the right precautions. Or because they did something to deserve it.  But that’s not a fair assumption.

Our outward circumstances are not an indicator of God’s love.  One example is King David.  He was chosen by God to be the king of Israel.  God sent the prophet Samuel to find him when David was just a boy tending sheep, and anointed him as the next king of Israel.  But it would take thirty years of patiently waiting, enduring through persecution from the current king, King Saul, before David would finally become king.

David became the king by whom every other king was measured.  (E.g. 1 Kings 15:3)  David wasn’t perfect.  He has an affair, and then has the woman’s husband killed to cover it up.  He directly defies God by taking a census of the people.

But in 1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22 David is referred to as “a man after God’s own heart.”

  • What made David a man after God’s own heart was that even though David wasn’t always good, David turned to God. And returned to God.

God wants us all to turn to him. God says in Ezekiel 33:11: “I don’t enjoy seeing people die—not even evil people! I don’t want them to die. I want them to come back to me. I want them to change their lives so that they can really live. So come back to me!”

  • The good news is that God has given us the way back through Jesus. In verse 3 of Peter’s letter: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (1 Peter 1:3) Jesus, God’s beloved son, never sinned, but he was crucified on a cross. (Phil 2)

In verse 23, Peter reminds us that God redeemed us from having an empty life based on material possessions and things that do not last, and instead planted the eternal, living word deep in our souls.

“For you have been born again, but not to a life that will quickly end. Your new life will last forever because it comes from the eternal, living word of God.” (1 Peter 1:23)

Our relationship with God matters because it will last forever.  Our relationships with people matter because those will last forever.  What’s happening on the inside of us is that God’s love is transforming us, making us holy, making us more like Jesus, drawing us to God, making us better at loving one another.

We cannot see what’s happening on the inside, but what if we could?  What if instead of seeing what we are used to seeing on the outside, with hair and makeup and clothes, we could only see each other’s souls?

  • There’s an episode of The Simpsons in which this happens. It’s one of their super creepy Halloween episodes.  Bart is having a horrible nightmare, and when he wakes up, his family is standing beside his bed trying to comfort him.  His mother, Marge, says, “Honey, there’s nothing to be afraid of . . . except for the fog that turns people inside out.”  And then a green fog comes creeping in through the window, it turns them inside out.[2]

5q4moan4ver21In the cartoon, their organs and bones are now on the outside.  Ew!  But what if our hearts and souls showed on the outside, so that to be beautiful, we had to work on our soul beauty?  We do that by growing in God’s love. Or, as Peter puts it in his second letter, by growing in grace.  (2 Peter 3:18)

What if we grew like tulips?  The bulbs don’t look very pretty.  But when you plant them, they start growing.  You can’t see that they’re growing because they start by putting out roots.[3]  They hang out underground growing roots all winter, just waiting until spring.  They’re one of the first flowers to bloom in the spring, and it’s no surprise since they’ve been getting ready to bloom for months.

bulb_growthLike Paul says in Colossians 2:7:

  • Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:7)

What if this time of social distancing and staying at home is an opportunity, like the time during the winter that bulbs are working on putting down roots?  An opportunity to grow deeper roots in Jesus, to grow in our faith, and to grow in love.

When we spend time with God, we grow in our understanding of God’s love for us.  And that gives us a better foundation for loving one another deeply, like Peter encourages us to do in verse 22.

When we spend time with people, we grow in our understanding of their hearts.  That’s why we have a deeper connection with people we spend time with.  And why we have a special connection with people with whom we worship.  That’s why we have an even deeper connection with the people in our Sunday school classes and small groups.

It begins with accepting that we are God’s beloved.  God’s favorite.

Beloved, let us love one another.

A family was riding home from church one Sunday.  Their four-year-old son in the back seat of the car was baptized that morning.  Suddenly, halfway home, he burst into tears.  His parents asked what was wrong, he sniffled out the answer:  “The minister who baptized me said I would be brought up in a Christian home.  But I want to stay with you guys!”[4]

We might not always act like people God loves, but we are.  We are beloved.  It’s a word that implies an action on the part of the one doing the loving. The God of the universe has chosen to love us, not because of who we are, but because of who He is. Our role in this is to BE-LOVED.“[5]

Try that out.  “I am beloved.”

Love changes us.  There was a man who was active in the church, very encouraging when he spoke, quick to spend time helping people.  But he had not always been that way.  When he was young, he was often in trouble.  When asked what made him change, he said that he’d met a girl who loved him no matter how bad he was.  And gradually he grew into the loving person that she was to him.[6]

That’s unconditional love.  God loves us, not because we’re good enough to be loved, but because he chose us to be loved.

We are beloved.

We don’t have to earn that.  We don’t have to boast about it to make it real.  We just have to accept it.

When life isn’t going well, God still loves us. We are still beloved even if we do the wrong things.  We are still beloved even if someone treats us badly.  We are still beloved no matter what anyone else says.

We are beloved.  What if we started and ended each day by saying to God, “Thank you for loving me; I am your beloved.”

How would that change our outlook and our responses ?

Dearly beloved, this is how I understand my call as a pastor.  I am called to help us all know that God loves us deeply, that we are beloved.  This is also our call as Christians, to help everyone know that they are beloved.  That’s why Paul and Peter and Jesus all talk so much about how we are to behave.  Peter says in the first verse of chapter two, “So get rid of malice, evil behavior, deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech.” (1 Peter 2:1) In other words, get rid of anything that will get in the way of loving each other deeply.

Because how we live matters, and how we love matters.

We are God’s beloved, called to show and tell the world that they are also God’s beloved.

Beloved, let us love one another.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRjiOVsUF6o

[2] Treehouse of Horror V, The Simpsons, Season 6, Episode 6, 1994 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treehouse_of_Horror_V

[3] https://www.proflowers.com/blog/do-tulips-come-back-every-year

[4] from http://day1.org/4406-does_baptism_matter

[5] https://awakenedbride.wordpress.com/2012/11/27/its-about-unconditional-love-3-beloved3/

[6] http://day1.org/4406-does_baptism_matter

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