With the 30th anniversary of my ordination to the diaconate and thus 29 years since my presiding fast approaching I have been pondering and reflecting upon what it means to be a minister of Word and Sacrament and if I’m truthful what it means to be a Christian. I haven’t come to any conclusions or received any divine revelations or found any definitive answers to my questions apart from the fact that I increasing believe that to be a Christian and a minister is something to do with love and hope. This morning’s readings also seem to imply this as well.
God loves us we are told, just as we are, and because of that we can draw hope from the fact that we are in no way a ‘lost cause’ in the eyes of our heavenly Father and nor will we ever find ourselves in a situation where we are unredeemable, unless we choose to be. God has a big forgiving heart. On this Father’s Day (and a tough day for me) I think I would wish to say that the concept of our Father God, with a big forgiving heart is a good rôle model for all Father’s and parents to try to live up to. No father or parent will ever get it right but if they try then those of us who had such fathers who did try will have been much blessed. I know that I have been so blessed in the father I had. My Dad, might not have always understood me but he had a genuinely big loving heart that he showed me the older he and I both got and it is from our father-son relationship that I can understand more fully what believing in a 'big hearted God’ is all about.
I will again be honest with you because I do at times doubt what I have just told you about the unconditional ‘big hearted’ love of God, in relation to myself. There is and has always been a part of me (and you may feel the same) that really finds it hard to fully believe that I am actually loveable and acceptable in the sight of God (as at times it was with my dad) - just as I am!
‘Just as I am’ is quite a difficult concept to get my head around when I acknowledge my own faults and failings. Yet, in my ministry I hope that I try and convince you that you are perfectly and wonderfully acceptable to God as you are. I truly believe that you are but I have always struggled to believe that I am! You might have similar feelings?
Many of us make assumptions about ourselves and other people that are usually far from the truth as we often don’t know the whole story. Many of us, I suspect, feel deep down that we are not acceptable to God or others. From what Christ tells us and shows us this is nonsense; but it can be hard to shake those feelings off. It is easier to believe that I am the exception to the rule, that I am the one that God does not love or have a purpose for! Does this sound familiar to you? Do you like me recognise your insecurities and self-doubt? Do you really believe this of God and yourself?
Well, and what I am about to say I am saying to myself as much as to you; ‘God is NOT selective. God does not make mistakes in the way he created us and neither does God favour any one of us over another!’
By calling God our Creator, our Father, we have to accept that in some way we are made in God’s image and we have been made the way we are for a good reason. We are how God wants us to be and our lives are a journey and growth into becoming the full being God wants us to be. And this journey will be one of surprises and revelations as we move through each day of life.
Just because we might get ‘crabbit’ at times or angry with those we love, or impatient with inanimate objects, does not ever mean that we are outside God’s love - far from it. It is in fact by recognising our imperfections and faults that we can begin to see how much and how deeply we are truly loved by God, despite ourselves.
In the Old Testament reading this morning; Isaiah makes it clear that even if we reject God or ignore him, he will not do the same to us. He will not give up on us, even if we give up on him. Likewise St.Paul tells the Galatians that we are all God’s children; and that God does not define us by nationality, gender, sexuality, colour or social status. God simply sees us as we are. It is in the Gospel account this morning that this is, perhaps, most clearly seen.
The man possessed by demons, was totally and utterly rejected by society and himself. He could not function as a human being, he was isolated, and self-destructive, feared and hated. He was beyond the pale and above all he was scared. So scared, that Jesus, like everyone else would reject him. Jesus, however, did nothing of the sort. He did not reject him but loved him, met him as he was and in doing so set him free. Jesus was not afraid of the ‘mad’ man, he wanted him to know and believe that he was lovable and acceptable to God. Jesus could see beyond the man’s outward appearance and behaviour to the real man inside. Jesus’ love and acceptance restored the man’s dignity and freed him from his demons. Jesus made him whole and he does that same for each and everyone one of us too.
We all need to truly believe that we are loved by God, loved by Jesus and to acknowledge that his death and passion was the greatest act of love ever. No one of us in unlovable; No one of us is beyond redemption and from this we should take hope. We can all change, if we are prepared to allow love in, to allow Christ and others to come close to us.
Love really does change everything and it can give us courage to become who we are truly meant to be, in the knowledge that we will never be rejected by God, or those who care for us, those who have glimpsed the real person we are and not our outward veneer.
Whenever you doubt that you are loveable (and are you listening Dean?) try to remember that nothing is ever too difficult for God. Not one of us is too difficult for God to love. Tell others this even if you struggle like, I do at times, to think it applies to you, BECAUSE it can change someone’s life.
In future when I remind you of this truth about God and his love for us, remind me of it too. Just as my Dad always reminded me that he loved me as well.