If I were to stand up here and offer a greeting of something like, “Dearly beloved…”, what might you think you were about to witness? A wedding! When I hear the beginning of our reading from 1 John, that’s sort of how he greets us. He says, “Beloved,” and then he goes on to talk a lot about love. Love, love, love. And so it reminds me of a wedding. Which got me thinking…today is sort of like a wedding day. Today is Confirmation Sunday and today, individuals will make promises on behalf of and for the sake of a continuing relationship. That’s what a wedding is, isn’t it? Making promises on behalf of and for the sake of a continuing relationship?
So today is sort of like a wedding day. But there is a problem here because there is a lie going around about marriage. Sheryl Paul, an author on marriage, writes that one of the most common myths about marriage that most people believe but no one talks about is that “at the wedding day, the relationship itself is supposed to be at its height of ease, love, and workability.” (Sheryl Paul, Huffington Post, “Marriage is a Work in Progress.”) That the relationship is supposed to be perfect at the time of the wedding. Why? So that all of us can believe that the couple will live happily ever after, just like Prince Charming and Snow White. But as many of you know, this completely ignores all of the hard work it takes to maintain a healthy marriage or relationship. You know, when the bills start coming in. Or when one person loses their job. Or when one partner starts to get depressed and then stops talking to the other.
So if today, Confirmation day, is like a wedding, I fear that some of us believe this same myth about today. That on a day of Confirmation, for Alexis, Samantha, and Kyle, their relationship with God must be at it’s highest. That they have figured out this thing called faith by now and it is easy for them. And that their love for God is as big as it can ever get.
The lie is that on your wedding day, your relationship must be perfect, and on your confirmation day, your faith and relationship with God must be as strong as it has ever been. This just simply isn’t true. It isn’t easy. It is hard work.
Alexis and Sam and Kyle, today is like a wedding day, because you are making promises to God about a continued relationship with God. But your relationship with God doesn’t have to be perfect in order to get confirmed. Don’t worry if you have questions and don’t worry if you have doubts. Like all relationships, your relationship with God will be a work in progress. So don’t feel like you have to have it all figured out by now. In fact, none of us will ever have it all figured.
All of that from the first word of our reading – beloved. But then the passage from 1 John continues – “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
I love this verse – God is love. I think it is at the heart of the Christian message. But I also hesitate about this verse because I think it is too easily hijacked by Hallmark, slapped on a card with a beautiful sunset, and all is well with the world. “God is love” can become so clichéd, stripped of any depth and wonder, and made to sound so easy. To say that love is easy is also a lie. Love is not easy.
I don’t know about you, but I find that most fortune cookies are a waste of time. I mean, sure, they can be fun if you turn them into some sort of game, but as for giving wisdom or guidance, they usually fall short. But every once in a while…it’s very rare, but you come across a fortune worth saving. I can remember one fortune I got when I was in high school – in fact I put it up on my bulletin board, and I continue to remember it to this day. It said, “The only true way to love is to realize that it can be lost.” The only true way to love is to realize that love can be lost.
If love can be lost, then love isn’t easy, love is a risk. A friend of mine says, “You don’t spell love –L-O-V-E. You spell it R-I-S-K.” Love is a risk. Because you have to open yourself up. You have to be willing to be vulnerable. To hope and trust the other will hold your heart in safety. To love means to open yourself up to being hurt. Families of divorce know this. Parents who have had to endure their worst nightmare of losing a child know this. That’s why most of us are so terrified to say, “I love you” for the first time in a relationship. It is frightening because what if they don’t say it back. Can recall a time you’ve said, “I love you” to someone, not knowing if they would say it back? Love is not easy. It is a risk. It can be lost.
But here is the best part about today. God has already taken that initial risk. God has already been the first to step out and say those risky words to you, “I love you.” Verse 19 says, “God loved us first.” And it is a risk for God. Because we can say no. And we do say no. Some days, I say no. But that won’t change God’s love for you. God wants to be in relationship with you, to share in this world with you, so God takes the first risky step.
Anytime you enter into a relationship of any sorts, it is no longer just about you. You no longer live just for yourself, but you live for another. And you become a part of a community where you don’t always know what is going to happen. So there is a fear of loss and risk, but what makes it worth it is being able to live in a community, rather than going through this life alone.
Our text says God is love and so God invites us to participate with God in loving the world with. So that no one goes through it alone. Which is why the author of 1 John says, “Beloved, let us love one another.” Why? Because God is love. And to love is to participate in God. In fact, he says that if you love one another, God lives in you. God lives in you. Isn’t that incredible. That God would make a home inside you. You carry God around inside your body, when you love. God is not off in the sky, God is down here….inside you!
Our text says that no one has ever seen God, which is such a relief to hear because that means I’m not the only one. But because no one has ever seen God, we must show God to them. How? By loving them – because God abides in you. You are God’s representative. You are God’s agent of love, to bring God’s love to the world.
Today, our confirmands are going to make a covenant with God. And to make a covenant with God is to make a covenant about love, because God is love. Today they and God will take each other’s hand and step off the edge with a leap of faith together into the risky business of loving. But they don’t have to be the only ones today. Maybe you’ve already been confirmed or maybe you’ve never been confirmed, but either way, you too can step out with them and God into the riskiness of love. Simply by loving.
Go home and hug your kids a little longer and tell them you love them. Call a friend who you talk to all the time but have never told them just how much you love them, but this time tell them how much they mean a lot to you. Send an email to the family member you have spoken to in awhile.
This is love. It’s a risky move. Who knows how they will respond. But God will abide in you, for God is love. AMEN
*I am indebted to Alan Storey for his sermon on this text which help give me ideas and directions on mine. http://www.aslowwalk.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/sermon-2012-01-29.mp3