Sermon by Pastor Bill Chadwick | November 10, 2019
I decided to divide the sermon into two with a rousing song in-between to wake you up.
The preacher’s task has been described in this simple phrase: “To comfort the afflicted…and to afflict the comfortable.” Well, over the decades I have learned that a little bit of affliction goes a long way, so as you no doubt have noticed by now, in my preaching I have been focusing on the first half of the equation—comforting the afflicted—as a foundation for our time together. I will be bringing challenges soon enough.
This brief passage, the beginning of that briefest of gospels, Mark, raises so many thorny theological questions that biblical scholars could forge entire careers out of these eleven verses, and probably some have. Today let’s simply focus on the heavenly declaration, “This is my Son, the Beloved.”
Let’s pair it with the statement in I John: “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called the children of God, and such we are (3:1).”
After ten years as a parish pastor, I had preached many times about God’s unconditional love for us. I understood the concept intellectually. But later I realized that I actually had no idea, absolutely no idea about unconditional love.
I love my spouse, Kris, with all of my heart. But I fell in love with her in the first place because she treated me, and continues to treat me, wonderfully.
It’s not like that with kids.
Our first-born, Andy, like his sisters, is today a wonderful human being. He’s compassionate, polite, talented, a good worker, very witty. I am so proud to be his dad for a lot of reasons.
But things didn’t start out that way.
I had wanted to be a father for a long time, so I was delighted when we learned that Kris was pregnant.
Now, a lot of women have morning sickness for a few hours in the early part of the day, and it lasts maybe a month or two. Kris experienced nausea and vomiting at any and all hours of the day, and for seven months of her pregnancy. It seemed that every three minutes one could hear the sound of puking.
This awful pregnancy was followed by a normal delivery.
Of course, by “normal” I mean unbelievably horrible!! Andy was eight and a half pounds; eight of it was his head. I didn’t know that my wife even knew those words, let alone that she would direct them at me.
Andy turned out to be one of those babies that spits up all the time. And he pooped all the time. We never changed a diaper that only had pee in it. And these were no ordinary poops. He had explosions. One came one afternoon just as I was changing him, and I happened to be wearing my best suit at the time. Suddenly I was wearing more than that, as were two walls, the hand-painted curtains, and about eighty square feet of carpeting. (Fortunately, the carpet was brown in color already).
So. I have a strong memory of holding Andy when he was about two weeks old. Looking at him, I thought back over what he had done for me so far. He had put my beloved Kris through months of discomfort, culminating in twenty-four hours of tortured labor. He had already gone through a zillion diapers. He had cost us thousands of dollars. He kept us up all night, every night. And at two weeks of age, babies don’t truly smile, so he had not done one positive thing for me.
And yet… and yet…I loved him. I loved him with a fierceness, and a totality, I had never before even imagined. I could not possibly love anyone or anything more.
As I held my two-week-old son and experienced this incredible sense of love, the light bulb turned on. It dawned on me that this feeling was probably a microcosm of God’s infinite and unconditional love for me.
And for you.
Not because of anything positive we have done. Simply because of the relationship: Parent-child.
Know, dear friend, that you are the cherished child of God.
When I was a young man I became a “Big Brother” through the Big Brothers of America Program. Monty was ten and I was 18 when we were paired up. We continue to be “brothers” to this day.
Monty had an incredibly rugged childhood. To protect his privacy, I will spare you the gory details, but they are tragically heart-breaking. Now, when it came to the family I was born into, I won the lottery. Pure luck! Monty’s family was at the other extreme in every way. Sometimes people look at my life—wonderful family, wonderful friends, good health, good career—and say that I hit a home run. But you have to remember that I was born on third base. I haven’t progressed very far from where I started. But one would look at Monty’s life today and maybe say he’s only on first base. But he was born miles from the ballpark. The fact that he is alive and not in jail is a testament that he has accomplished far more than I have. I’m so proud of him.
I brought Monty to church with me and from age ten on he had a wonderful, nurturing experience in the Oak Grove family. After I went off to seminary in California, he had three more Big Brothers, all from Oak Grove. Church life was positive for Monty. The rest of life, not so much. School was horribly painful, as he was teased and bullied.
As a young adult, seeking to distance himself from the persecution he had suffered, and to forge a new identity for himself, he legally changed his first name…from LaMont to “Rex,” “King.”
That may seem egotistical, unseemly for a Minnesotan. But, given his circumstances, I applaud him. It’s kind of a shorthand version of I John. God loves us so much that we are called children of God. Each one of us…a king, a queen. A Chinese proverb says, “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right name.” You and I are named “Child of God.”
Do any of you know the book, Tattoos on the Heart? It is amazing. One of my top ten. The author, Father Greg Boyle, has been working with Latino gangs in East Los Angeles for thirty years. He founded Homeboy Industries, starting out with a bakery to provide employment. It has evolved into the largest gang intervention, rehab, and re-entry program on the planet, offering job training, and jobs, social workers, tattoo removal, and many other services. Homeboy Industries. Look them up on the web.
Father Greg Boyle recently wrote a second book, Barking to the Choir. It is equally inspiring, heart-breaking and hilarious. Here’s one of the dozens of stories he relates, A homie named Memo never knew his mom and dad and doesn’t like to think about them, as it is too painful. After his parents died, he was raised by an aunt who was somewhat notorious in his neighborhood. She was killed when he was nine. He was once asked how old he was when he started (participating in gang activities).
“In the womb,” he said sadly.
Memo is always on the search for his roots, thinking one moment that he is Japanese and convinced another moment that he’s Jewish. He greets me every day with “Mazel tov.” In a morning meeting once, I mentioned that God’s nickname for God’s people in the Old Testament was “God’s delight.” For days, Memo would greet people this way: “Good morning, God’s delight.” And he took the concept straight to heart. When the father of Shirley, a member of our executive team, died, Memo consoled her by saying: “You know, if I was your dad and I was looking down from heaven at you, I would say, ‘Mission accomplished.’” (pp. 143-144)
For those of you who are parents or grandparents, I ask you, “Why do you love your children or grandchildren? Do you love them because they behave well, or do you simply love them because they are your children or grandchildren?
So, too, we are loved simply because we are God’s child. As Philip Yancey writes in his book, Amazing Grace, (another of my top ten), “There’s nothing you can do to make God love you more and nothing you can do to make God love you less.”
Friends, as a minister of the gospel, I declare to you, you are “God’s delight.”
And so is everyone else…and I mean everyone: from that gang member to your annoying brother-in-law to Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump, and Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin. Those aren’t all my favorite people. But each is absolutely cherished by God.
Another paragraph from Fr. Greg Boyle: Knowing homies has changed my life forever, altered the course of my days, reshaped my heart, and returned me to myself…Together, we have discovered that we all are diamonds covered in dust. They have taught me not that I am somebody, but that I am everybody.
We are all children of God. Therefore, we are all sisters and brothers. And we are “God’s delight.”
And as God’s children we are to be about the business of God, which is the business of love.