Back in my college years, I was a zealous member of an interdenominational Christian fellowship group. We were incredibly earnest young Christians – even a little insufferable sometimes I suspect – and, now and then, it probably wouldn’t have hurt for us to hear one of our mentors say, “Okay, you guys: Lighten up! Relax a little. You don’t need to be so earnest….” But those were the days. One of the things we did clearly hear about was God’s love. In that group I was able to know for the very first time that God’s love for me is “unconditional,” as it is for all of you. That God has this passionate love affair going on with you. God has created you as you are. God knows you, God cherishes you, God longs for your companionship. In God’s scheme of things, God has plans for a relationship with you that lasts forever, a relationship which only grows in intimacy over time. It’s like an eternal infatuation. You’re always on God’s mind: when you’re sleeping, God is dreaming up ways to be with you. When you’re working or walking or weeping, God is catching up with you in the wind across your face, in the song of a bird, in the free-fall of laughter, in the soothing touch of a friend. God’s wooing you, God’s wanting you, God’s loving you, whispering love ballads into your ear, something like, “Come to me….” You are the apple of God’s eye. Whoever you are, really; what you are, where you are, however it is that you’ve become the way you are… God knows you and God desires you and God loves you. God can’t get enough of you. You make God’s day! I would say that’s true, and true for all of us here. God does love you, and God’s love for you knows no end.
It’s just that I probably wouldn’t call this “unconditional love” any more. These days, I think I would rather call it God’s “conditional love.” (I know I’m playing a bit with words here, but life is inescapably full of conditions and predicaments, and God’s love for us isn’t theoretical or cloned, it’s very real and very personal and very much in the here and now of our lives.) The parents to whom we were born: whether we were desired by them, whether they stayed together, whether they had enough money or space or time or patience or praise to raise us. How their love for us was informed by their own needs and desires and confusions. Whether our upbringing was for us an experience of liberation or an experience of incarceration. Whether we learned about courage or shame or joy or perseverance or fear or patience from our earliest days was very much informed by the conditions in which we were raised. The effect our siblings (or the absence of siblings) had on us; teachers, coaches, pastors, relatives, neighbors, co-workers, friends, all of them sharing in our formation or, perhaps in some ways, tragically, in our deformation. Our experiences of joy and forgiveness, of sickness and health, of acclamation and success, of justice and cruelty, of favoritism, or racism, or other demeaning discrimination. Our experiences of what was dependably old and what was excitingly new… in the tiniest and in the greatest of ways. Our experience of knowing or searching for a home or dwelling place, of discovering that we belong or where we belong or if we belong; our occasions to travel into worlds otherwise unknown. Those are the conditions in which we have experienced life, through which we must survive and ultimately thrive, we pray. Those are the kind of conditions – often times, most often times, less than ideal – but that’s life, and it is a real adventure.
And the reason I’m more fascinated with these “conditions” for knowing God’s love is because of Jesus who comes to us, stooping down to us at our own level. We’re no longer talking only about a God of the Law, whose ways were unknowable, whose face was unseeable, whose name was unpronounceable, whose heart and hands were untouchable, but Jesus who entered the conditions of this world as an innocent and needy child, just as we have, to reveal the real presence of God’s love. God Emmanuel: God with us, not just God above us or beyond us, but God with us. God with you in the conditions and in the relationships in which you have known life, past and present. We are loved by Jesus, not despite our history but in light of our history. God loves you. God loves you .
Now I don’t know most of you well. But this is what I will guess. If you are in need of God’s love, or if you are searching for God’s love, it’s because something is missing in your life, or because something is not right in your life. The reason that you are on a quest for God’s love is not because you are so bright, not because you are so gifted or successful or eloquent. How God will catch your attention is not because you are so handsome, so disciplined, so healthy, so secure; it’s not because of your glittering image. I suspect that your quest for God’s love is because something is broken in your life – something about the conditions of your past or your present that is broken or incomplete or vacuous. That break has been God’s entry point. That break is God’s break, God’s breakthrough to you. The Gospel tells us that Jesus has come “to seek and to save the lost” – lost childhoods, lost chances, lost hopes, lost relationships, lost needs… and to love us back to life.1 Someone has said that the Gospel – the good news – is bad news before it is good news. The bad news is that our lives our incomplete and perhaps even unmanageable without the God who created us. The good news is that God knows it. God knows you. And God love’s you. And this is not just good news. This is terrific news!
There’s an old adage that says, “Love is blind.” That’s not true. I think it’s quite the opposite. Love is eyes wide open. Love sees beyond the moment, beyond the surface, deep inside the other, what could be called “insight,” seeing through the eyes of mercy. Which is how God loves you. Who you are, where you are, how you are, why ever it is you’ve gotten to be the way you are, God knows, God desires, God loves.
I’ll tell you a fishing story, 700 or so years old, told by a Dominican Friar named Me ister Eckhart.2 Meister Eckhart describes how “God lies in wait for us with nothing so much as love. Now love is like a fishhook. A fisher cannot catch a fish unless the fish first picks up the hook. If the fish swallows the hook, no matter how it may squirm and turn, the fisher is certain of the fish. Love is the same way. Whoever is captured by love takes up this hook in such a fashion that foot and hand, mouth and eyes, heart and all that is in that person must always belong to God. Therefore, look only for this fishhook, and you will be happily caught. The more you are caught, the more you will be liberated.”
Be caught by the love God has for you… and for everyone else. It’s real, and it’s forever, and it’s for now. Who you are, what you are, however it is that you’ve gotten to be the way you are, God knows, God desires, God loves. God does love you. It’s the truth for you… and it’s also the truth for everyone else. Even those whom we might be tempted to call our enemies, God calls, “my children.” A message for us to hear and to bear about God’s love in every language and culture, to every people and nation: Who you are, what you are, however it is that you’ve gotten to be the way you are, God knows, God desires, God loves. Hear this message of God’s love. Bear this message of God’s love.
1Paraphrased from Luke 19:10 “…For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”
2Me ister Eckhart (c. 1260-1327), German born, who entered the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans) around age fifteen. He became a popular preacher at Strasbourg and Cologne, a prominent theme being the union between the human soul and God.
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