One of the first questions we are asked when we begin the process of starting seminary is “Will you tell me about your call?” Sometimes it can be phrased differently, like, “What do you think your call is,” or, “When did you first know you were called?” The question is asked over and over again during the process of seminary and hopefully continues to be asked throughout the ministry of Word and Sacrament. This question of call is something I think about every day. I may not spend specified amounts of time on it, but I do pray that God will continue to make my call known to me through the questions and statements of others, and in this way my prayers to God are prayed diligently and earnestly.
Understanding one’s sense of call is important. Just ask anyone who has been called by God to ministry. Each will tell you, in their own words, what it was like, what it is like, and what it has become like. Very rarely will you ask this question and be turned down the opportunity for a story…. Jeremiah’s call story tells us that God spoke to Jeremiah and told him, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.” (Jeremiah 1:9) How much encouragement this must have given to Jeremiah—a young boy who clearly felt inadequate. And for me, your vicar, on internship at Mount Olive, one of many vicars who have stood here at this pulpit trying to find the words to express what God has called each of us to do in your midst, I too feel blessed to know that God was and is and will continue to be with me as I prepare for this call to ordained ministry.
When I consider my call, one part of it is to share the truth about how much God loves us. We know this from Scripture, John tells us that God so loved the world that God gave us God’s own Son, Jesus. Part of my call is to tell the Good News of Jesus Christ, which is the ultimate way we know of God’s love.
Recently I received an email in which the question was asked, “What does God’s love mean to me in my life? Really, what difference can it make to me?”
When I read and re-read this question, I realize that this is one of the most important questions we could ever ask another person, because it is imperative to our relationship with God and with one another in the world. This question has been asked by lots of people through the course of their lives, I would expect that it will be asked many times in my own life.
“What does God’s love mean to me in my life—really—what difference can it make to me?”
I believe that God’s love comes to us in many ways, through many people, many experiences. There will be many times in life that we will wonder how God’s love for us is happening, or how we might even know that God does love us, or if God loves us. When those feelings come, and they surely do, it can feel overwhelming.
When I was a little girl, I loved to go with my parents to any store that had a home improvement theme, especially if there were books of wallpaper samples! I would ask if I could go and look at the books. I would run pell-mell to the big table and pull out a heavy chair and begin by opening the beautiful books, chocked full of colors and textures. I loved to find the series of samples that were all alike except for the colors—the patterns were exactly the same page after page, but the colors had been changed. The best part of these series for me was “the companion paper.” Not one for lots of patterns myself, I would try to imagine what a room would look like if one wall was covered with the big-patterned paper, and then three other walls with the medium size, two of which were only at the top half, because the wall was divided with a matching border. And then the fourth tiny pattern was on the bottom half of those two walls. Sometimes it would make my head hurt with all the possibilities. I imagined that if anyone really did this they would lose their way in or out of any room.
This is how I imagine the world without God’s love. Perhaps it would look like it does, but it would be chaotic…things coming from all directions, impossible to know what was what.
It is difficult to imagine that we are loved unconditionally by God, because when we think about love, our frame of reference is our love for one another, and how others love us. Human love is not the same as God’s love for us—God’s love for us is perfect.
Paul tells the Corinthians about love—not a romantic sort of love, but of a miraculous love—one that lasts forever in its perfection because it comes from God. Paul tells of this love because Paul wants to let the Corinthians know that this love from God, this perfect love, is what makes unity—this love unites people to one another because it united us first to God. And when love is at the very core of us, we are united. So the difference of God’s love for us is not just a nice feeling or a happy glow—it is life-changing.
The love of God, for us is perfect, never-ending; it is Christ—the love of God is made know to us in Jesus Christ, God’s Son, who has come to us from God—the perfect gift of love. This perfect gift of love from God given to us will not be taken away. God has loved us so deeply and perfectly that God has sent us God’s own Son to live and die for us—to take away our sins and to free us from burdens. God loves us perfectly—and from this miracle of love, we are to love one another—imperfect as we are, broken as we are. We bring God’s love to the world by caring for those who suffer, or who are in pain or grief, or who are in crisis or who live in chaos.
Our prayers have been with the people of Haiti these past few weeks as we watch with horror the reports of the catastrophes suffered there from the earthquake. In time of disaster, it is possible to talk about coming together to make a difference for others—to gather as a community to care for those who are in need. But I would like to push that a bit and ask us to wonder together about the catastrophes in our own lives and in our own community—what is stopping us from sharing God’s love with one another? What is keeping us from looking a little more deeply into the eyes of God’s beloved children in our own neighborhoods, or work places, or at school?
I believe this is at the very heart of the question I was asked. “What does God’s love mean to me in my life? Really, what difference can it make to me?”
When we take a little more time with one another, when we listen a little more deeply, when we linger over coffee with friends, or hold the door for a stranger, or wait with a colleague at the end of the day so they are not alone in the parking lot, when we encourage a child to do well in school, when we attend a sporting event or a concert to offer support and recognition to our children, these moments deepen relationships in our community. We make a difference to one another, and this difference is what Paul was talking about when he wrote to the Corinthians about love—that when we apply loving-kindness to our daily lives, we will begin to know a tiny bit what it means to be loved by God.
God’s love does make a difference and we make a difference because of it.
And this difference doesn’t stop here—it goes out into the world—just as we, God’s beloved, go out into the world to remind one another of God’s love for us. So, if someone asks “What does God’s love mean to me in my life? Really, what difference can it make to me?” Remember what Paul says about love:
4Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8Love never ends. (NRSV 1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
The difference that God’s love makes in our lives is that there will be patience where there is chaos, there is peace where there once was envy and arrogance, there is kindness where once there was injury, there is justice and truth where once injustice and lies were the priority and where there is hope and faith and love, love will go on and on.
Each one of us, in our Baptism, were given new birth by God to be God’s own child, and united into the body of Christ. In this, God has claimed us as God’s own, promised us that we are unconditionally loved, given newness of life, forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. These promises are signs of God’s gracious love – so listen, God is answering the question, each of our voices are free to answer as well, go and tell others the difference God’s love has made in your life!
Thanks be to God!