Homilies on the Kerygma,
St Mary’s Cathedral Aberdeen, 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time, 14 February 2021.
If I’m spared, I want to spend this and the four following homilies on the core Christian message.
Today, let’s begin. And the beginning is the love of God. I mean, not our love for God, but God’s love for us (cf. 1 John 4:10). That’s the beginning, the middle and the end. That, as Julian of Norwich famously said, is “his meaning”. Because either everything means something or nothing means anything. And the meaning faith holds up to us is love.
Today, let’s begin not with God loves us or God loves the world, but with God loves me. Can I, hand on heart, say “yes” to that? It’s a very wonderful thing if I can, but it may be precisely where I start to struggle. Some have no problem in believing and feeling loved by God, but we can. But today let’s bracket that off and leave our personal tangles aside. Let’s just let God have his say: “I have called you by name and you are mine” (Is 43:1). I love you.
Yes, let’s take that jewel in our hand and turn it over slowly, prayerfully. God loves me. So, he’s for me. He’s on my side. He wants and wills me. He wants me to be here, wants me to be alive, wants me to be me. He wants me to flourish. He wants me to be around, part of the landscape, part of the plot, part of the kitchenware of his creation. It’s incomplete without me. And he’s glad I’m around. On the first page of Genesis, God looks at what he has made and “saw that it was good” (Gen 1:10 etc). He rejoices in his works (cf. Ps 104:31), says a Psalm. God doesn’t begrudge me. He rejoices in me.
And God is for ever. God just is. He didn’t appear one day and he’s not going to fade away another. There never was a “was” when he wasn’t and there’ll never be a “will be” when he won’t be. And “God is love”. Therefore, he’s eternally love, and his love for me is part of what he eternally is. I read the other day of how a little girl and her father were out for a walk on a beach in south Wales, and the girl – a 4 year old – discovered a perfectly preserved footstep of a small dinosaur, 200 million years old. 200 million years before she was conceived, that four year old girl was already loved by God. She was loved by him from before any dinosaur, from the beginning of time, outside time, from eternity, in eternity. That little girl will go down in history, I suppose, but she was already written in God’s heart. Always. There never was a “was” when she wasn’t loved. And there’ll never be a “will be” when she won’t be.
God loves me. God wants me. God’s glad at me. And always. He loves me enduringly, unwaveringly, faithfully. He’s a rock, says the Bible. “For the mountains may depart and the hills be shaken, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be shaken” (Is 54:10). He does commitment – “covenant” the Bible calls it. God’s love is of the “going, going, gone” kind – not gone away, but gone and given to me. It’s irreversible. It’s not up for discussion. It’s not on a trial basis. It’s morning, noon and night. “Even to your old age I am He, and to grey hairs I will carry you” (Is 46:4). This is why we are immortal souls, undyingly loved. And “carry you”, the whole of you. God’s love isn’t just for the pretty bits. It takes the whole of me on board. It numbers the hairs of my head (cf. Lk 12:7). It’s all-encompassing. It embraces the broad picture and the tiny detail. “O Lord, you search me and you know me. You know my resting and my rising; you discern my thoughts from afar. You mark when I walk or lie down; you know all my way through and through” (Ps 139, 1-3). In human loving, there can be a point it breaks down, a step it can’t take. We don’t have the emotional bandwidth. But God’s love does. It’s unfailing and enfolding. It’s father and mother, friend and spouse. The arms are everlasting (cf. Deut 33:27).It has room for the whole of us. It hates sin, but not the sinner. It will work to the good with every part of me. That’s why there’s a resurrection of the flesh; nothing lost. It has the power and the knack to turn evil round. It can raise every Lazarus. And it’s not conditional on me being this, that or the other. It’s God’s. It dances to his tune, not to mine.
Keep turning the diamond. God loves me. God wants me. God’s glad at me. Always. All of me. Unconditionally.
A young woman from our diocese tells a good story. She was working as a school chaplain and reading the Bible with a student. They came to Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to hurt you, plans to give you hope and a future.” “I think that’s for you”, said the boy, “especially those words, ‘not to hurt you’”. And in that moment, the young woman felt the touch of God like never before, a father’s hand on her shoulder.
This, I think, is where God’s love really comes home to us and can undo the knots – in the form of his personal providence. Sometimes, when and how he chooses – by a word or a thought or a person or an event, recognised at the time or only realised later – he touches me. He intervenes. He interjects. Sometimes, now and then. The leper is healed. And then, from the standpoint of the moment, we see. “The purpose breaks.” It’s not all random. “My Father is working still and I am working” (Jn 5:17). He guides me, shepherds me, protects me. “I can say now, said Cardinal Newman, at the end of a long life, that God has never failed me, never forsaken me, has always turned evil into good for me.” God’s love cherishes me. “Lead, kindly light.” His love calls me out and on. I can give up on myself, but the Father won’t give up on me. He has a dream, he has a plan. So it was for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, for the patriarch Joseph, for David and all the unknown souls of the Psalms. Real people, real lives. The pillar of cloud by day and the column of fire by night (cf. Ex 40:38). “The Lord is my shepherd” (Ps 23) – even if I walk in the valley of the shadow of death. Maybe it’s there the light is brightest.
God loves me. God wants me, God’s glad at me. Always. All of me. Unconditionally. Julian was right: Love is his meaning.
I had the privilege of knowing an old lady in this diocese, passed away now: a Barbara. She was genuinely holy. She was once at the dentist, and passed out or seemed to pass away, had a Near Death Experience. She found herself before the Lord. And when she came back, She just said, “Oh, oh, if only I had known.” She meant, how much he loves me.
Let’s take the jewel and keep turning it.