A Life-Giving Word

A Life-Giving Word

June 7, 2020
by Bruce Mooty, Colonial member

Luke 15:11-32

Good morning and welcome!

I am Bruce Mooty, and as will become most apparent in the next several minutes, I am not a minister, a seminarian, a theologian, a counselor or a spiritual director.

I am a member of Colonial Church –sitting over there in the front row on most Sundays for the past 40 years– who was called to say some remarks today.

Just to allay your understandable concerns about me preaching today, you should know I have preached before. More than 25 years ago, I went to Nairobi, Kenya on a mission trip with Senior Minister Arthur Rouner. The first day in Nairobi we went to an outdoor church service with thousands of Kenyans; we were the only white people at the service and Arthur gets up to preach. When he’s finished, he turns and tells me, without any forewarning, that it’s my turn to speak. I reluctantly get up and start talking in English and an interpreter repeats my comments in Swahili. The crowd is reacting favorably to my remarks and I’m actually feeling pretty comfortable. At some point I notice my short sentences are taking much longer to be interpreted and the Kenyans are enthralled. I start suspecting the interpreter is a minister who is ignoring my comments and saying whatever he thinks needs to be said. Unfortunately for you, my Kenyan interpreter is not here today to upgrade my remarks!

I am standing where all of the most important events happen at our church.
This is where dedications, baptisms, confirmations, marriages and funerals occur. Today we celebrate another milestone event, Baccalaureate Sunday, to honor our graduating seniors.

Before we start, will you please join me in prayer?

Gracious God, first and foremost, we come today to worship and praise you. Thank you for being our Lord and Savior and the source of all love and everlasting life. We also come to honor our graduating seniors.
We are saddened that this is a virtual service and our graduates are not standing on this platform; that we can’t hug them, shake their hands, congratulate them and wish them well in person. Unlike prior graduates, these students have had to overcome the major challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic They have suffered lots of losses — losing the last 3 months of their senior year, time with their friends, school activities, concerts, plays, dances, sporting events, graduation parties, and a LIVE graduation with all of their families, friends and classmates cheering them on. We are heartbroken at how their high school career ended.

Although not physically with the graduates, we ask Lord, that the love you and we have for them, be felt and indelibly imprinted upon their hearts;
Lord, I pray as I deliver these remarks, that the feelings in my heart, the thoughts in my mind and the words from my mouth are honoring and pleasing to you. AMEN

+++++

Graduates — Congratulations on completing High School!
Seems like yesterday when you started kindergarten, a safe environment, no sharp pencils, only rounded scissors, playing games at recess, occasional naps at your desk, no homework. A great and protected life

12 years later, our world is reeling from the deadly Covid-19 pandemic and we are devastated and distraught over the tragic death of George Floyd and the aftermath.

You have overcome many unusual obstacles to graduate this year including social isolation, competing with multiple family members 24-7 for internet bandwidth and trying to get help with a Calculus problem from a parent who has always avoided math like the plague.

We are very proud of you.
Graduating from high school is a significant milestone in life.

For some of you, high school was fun and full of many great experiences and memories; for others, it wasn’t the best experience and you are ready to move on. Some of you will go on to college, military service, enter the job market or are undecided on what is next for you. Regardless of what is next, this is an important juncture in your life. This is a time to reevaluate; reestablish your goals and priorities; or maybe even hit the re-set button for a fresh start

In spite of my youthful looks, you may be surprised that I have attended many graduations during my life and I’ve heard a variety of graduation speech topics. Some of them include speeches about a single word: Like a speech on

Bravery – Be bold; Venture forth; Don’t be afraid

Excellence – Always be outstanding in all you do; set your standards high in life; Be all that you can be

Listening – One of the most valuable life-skills you can acquire; learning to step into the shoes of the person you are talking with and seeking understanding;

Openness – The Importance of being open-minded; open-hearted and open-handed

Veracity – The imperative of always telling and seeking the truth

Education – How critical it is to be a life-long learner;

Dreaming – Shoot for the stars for your life; Don’t settle for a life without meaning; be passionate about whatever you do

All of these words have great merit, but which of these words is the “Life Changing Word” I referred to in the title of this sermon? And you thought your days of tests and pop quizzes were over!

Bravery
Excellence
Listening
Openness
Veracity
Education
Dreaming

For me, the Life Changing Word I am speaking about today is BELOVED.

Alright, that was a bit of a trick, but remember, important words start from above and come down to us. If you remember nothing else from this sermon, know that you are God’s BELOVED!

God in his very nature and essence is Love. We learned that early in Sunday school, singing “Praise Him Praise Him all ye little children, God is Love God is Love.”

In Genesis we learned that God created the heavens and the earth and everything else. God saw all that he had made and deemed it good.

God is perfect and Holy and He lovingly created mankind in his own image.
WOW! We are each made in God’s image! He knew us before we were born. We were wondrously made by God with gifts, talents and a purpose

He knows each of us completely. He knows all of our thoughts and deeds and amazingly, He still loves us unconditionally as His BELOVED.

He even knows the number of hairs on our heads – not that impressive when looking at my head, but most impressive when looking at your heads!
We are all God’s BELOVED, just as we are.

Even though we are BELOVED, there will be spiritual attacks on our believing we are BELOVED.

God gave us freedom when mankind was created. He didn’t create robots. God created man and woman with free will. The Garden of Eden was set up with everything man and woman could need and a place to be with God and learn from God

The Garden of Eden was great, but the Devil was also present there. The Devil tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden and later tempted Jesus in the desert after He was baptized by John the Baptist. The Devil has continued this tactic of temptation, and a variety of other tactics, to separate us from God and try to convince us that we are not BELOVED.

It is imperative that we be totally secure and
grounded in believing we are BELOVED

Even though we are BELOVED, we need to be cautious of worldly influences, too.

Like the Prodigal Son we heard from the Scripture reading, sometimes when we venture out on the next part of our life journey, we can get off course by pursuing worldly things that aren’t good for us; or following “friends” who have their best interests in mind and not ours; or we lose sight of our BELOVED selves in trying to please others and becoming someone they want us to be, but not the person we were created to be.

I like to golf and I find golf has some helpful life applications.

This is a brand new Titlist Pro V1 golf ball which is recognized as one of the best golf balls made. Some of us spend a lot of our lives trying to be viewed as the very best, like a Pro V1. We bend over backwards to create an image of success and a public perception that we have it all together. We do all of the things that make us popular and the envy of others. We are creating a perception that is not reality and we scramble mightily to cover up our mistakes and shortcomings to protect our image.

Many people who are like Pro V1’s, don’t see the need for God, because they believe they have created a good life on their own, or their achievements and worldly success may cause them to see reliance on God as a sign of weakness.

On the other edge of the spectrum is a mud ball. This ball has journeyed to all the places you don’t want to be and has been tarnished and dirtied beyond recognition. Mud balls are perceived as having no value by everyone. Some of us are like this mud ball and don’t believe our lives matter or are of much worth. Mud balls may want the love of God, but most unfortunately, sometimes they believe their shortcomings and sins make them unworthy of being loved by God.

Whether we are a Pro V1, a mud ball or anything
in between, we all need spiritual cleaning.

Spiritual cleaning isn’t the same as just washing. The Pro V1 looked great on the outside, but with spiritual cleaning, our fake veneer is shed and cracks and stains will be exposed. We were so consumed by our outward image, that we didn’t pay attention to some of the hidden cracks on the outside and all of the problems below the surface. But don’t despair, identifying the places that are problematic in our lives, gives us a great chance to work with God to correct them.

For the mud ball, spiritual cleaning can show our problems aren’t as insurmountable as we thought;
and again with God’s help, the grime in our lives can be washed away. It is critical that God is part of the process – lovingly showing us  areas we need to fix and clean-up

At golf courses they have ball washers at every hole. To deepen our belief of being BELOVED and avoid the tarnishing influences of the world, this process of spiritual cleansing needs to be part of our regular life routine, not just a one time event. As we continue to do that, we find that we can be a Pro V1, too, out doing what we need to be doing for God!

So now to continue to know we are BELOVED,
also means we need to take time to BE LOVED by God and others.

We need to daily drink in God’s love of us and the love from others.
God should be our primary filling station for Love as we venture out on our life journey.
But God’s love far surpasses any human love; it is unconditional, inexhaustible, boundless, ever lasting, and perfect in every way.

God gave me a slight glimpse of unconditional love with the birth of our children.

I loved them the first moment I laid eyes on them in the delivery room. My love wasn’t based on any good deeds they had done or wonderful things they had said. My love was immediate and unconditioned, based on who they were, not what they did.

God is the Best teacher you will ever have; He is the perfect guide. Read the Bible, Re-read it and join a Bible study group. Pray, Invite the Holy Spirit into your life each day so you will feel God’s presence with you always.

I have had the fellowship and love of Christian friends throughout my life; they are invaluable. They have been such a source of love, support, encouragement, accountability and wisdom. These people are additional LOVE filling stations who are God’s helping hands in the flesh. We all need help when we are running out of gas, need other assistance, or some loving truth spoken into our lives

But challenges will also come as we BE LOVED

There will be trials and bad things will happen in our lives. We will experience broken relationships, setbacks and disappointments. We may pray and not feel God’s presence or assistance. But God will be with us throughout.

Some problems and difficulties may not be solved quickly –or ever be solved during our lifetime. Our timing is not God’s timing. Sometimes there are lessons we need to learn over an extended time.

When I was nine, my mother unexpectedly and tragically died from suicide. This was an extremely painful and devastating event for me and my family. I have prayed about this situation for most of my life. I didn’t get the immediate answers or guidance from God that I sought, but recently I have been examining this event with the help of a most loving Christian counsellor. Now in hindsight, I see so many preceding events that have led to my doing this important work. This wasn’t my timing. 55 years was a long time to wait. But all of this has come together in God’s perfect timing, when I could be vulnerable and most able to gain understanding. I am in awe in seeing how God has been at my side orchestrating healing events for me to to BE LOVED by Him and others throughout my life.

Then also we need to BE LOVE.

As we fully take in God’s love for us and the love of others, we are called to generously share that love. Jesus said we should love our neighbor as ourselves

When we are full of God’s love and know we are BELOVED, we are best able to share that love with others

Love without action is of no value
Actions without love is equally ineffective

As wonderful author Bob Goff proclaims, LOVE DOES!
Our actions need to reflect our love and we need to put our love into action in our families, neighborhoods and with the other people in our lives.

People are starved for love all around us.
We need to be open for opportunities to do random and intentional acts of love and kindness whenever possible. Can you imagine the impact each of us might have at school, home, work, or church if we all took this charge seriously each day?

Look for and see the BELOVED in others. This can be extremely difficult and challenging when we are confronted with outrageous conduct. But remember, just as we are BELOVED sinners, those acting badly are BELOVED, too.

We were created to live in community to support and love each other.
Now more than ever, our world and our community needs us to have our love flowing freely to others

The life giving word BELOVED contains other words within it.
BE LOVED and BE LOVE, which are important admonitions for us.

Class of 2020 – our world and our community desperately needs you to have 20-20 vision on how to develop and use your many gifts and talents.

Like the Prodigal Son, you will soon be heading out in the next phase of your life journey. I trust you will have many wonderful experiences that will help you grow and thrive. I also am sure you will make mistakes and experience adversity and challenges. When adversity or challenges arise, follow the good decision the Prodigal Son made and keep returning to your heavenly Father, who is always lovingly looking for you and welcoming you as His BELOVED.

Now with the assurance of being BELOVED as your foundation
go forth and BE LOVED and BE LOVE.