Love has a name, and it is found

On angel’s wings that touch the ground,

In lover’s hearts, free from care.

Hold my hand, child, I’ll take you there.

I need a love like that. I need love.

     It was my 12th birthday. As part of the celebration, I got to do one of my favorite activities…roller skating! I had invited two of my best friends to come along: Alan and Megan. Alan and Megan lived in my neighborhood. We often hung out together and sometimes got into trouble as well!

On the day of my birthday, we had some time to kill before we went roller skating. I remember asking my Mom if we could go bike riding for a while “Sure…no problem” she said. “But whatever you do…do NOT go on the trail by WKBN. We’ve had a lot of rain this week and I’m sure it’s a mess.” “Don’t worry, Mom,” I replied, “We’re just going to ride around the neighborhood.” And so Alan, Megan and I rode off in search of adventure.

While we were riding around the neighborhood, we began discussing the merits of my mother’s wisdom. “Surely the trail can’t be THAT muddy,” Alan said. “Yeah,” Megan replied, “Let’s go check it out!” Well nobody had to ask me twice to venture onto the WKBN trail. The trail was a series of dirt paths that were located in a wooded area behind the WKBN radio station. It was our favorite place to ride.

When we first got on the trail, it seemed fine. Sure, the ground was a little soft, but it was rideable. However, as we ventured deeper and deeper into the woods the trail got muddier and muddier. By the time we decided to turn around and head back, our bikes, as well as our clothes, were covered in mud. I knew my mother was going to kill me. I figured this was the end of my birthday celebration. I was certain that Megan and Alan’s parents wouldn’t be too thrilled either.

What is it about human beings that makes us do the one thing we’re not supposed to do? We could have ridden anywhere. But we chose the one place my mother told us not to ride. Sounds a bit like the story of Adam and Eve in the garden, doesn’t it? They were permitted to eat the fruit of EVERY tree in the garden…except for one. Wouldn’t you know it…they made a beeline straight for it! I guess that’s just human nature!

Anyway…when we returned to my house, and my mother saw the condition we were in, it would be an understatement to say she was not pleased. She didn’t even have to ask us what had happened. She knew exactly where we had been.

But what she did next caught me totally by surprise. She told Alan and Megan to go home, change their clothes and clean up their bikes. She told me to do the same because today was my birthday and we were going to celebrate it in spite of the mess we had gotten ourselves in. WOW…and so the three of us cleaned ourselves up. We did go roller skating and I had a great birthday! However, the very next day my Mom grounded me for a week for disobeying her! But I didn’t mind. Because through the experience  I learned a lot about love and a lot about grace.

Love has a name and is speaks

Words of hope, words of peace;

Gives as much as it takes,

And forgives past mistakes.

I need a love like that. I need love.

     Let’s be honest with each other this morning. We are flawed human beings. We do things we later regret. We fail to listen to the advice of others. We make bad decisions. We give into temptation and get covered in the mud of our sin and rebellion. When this happens, we expect the worst. We expect that God will punish us for the wrongs we have committed. Truth be told, we have already punished ourselves. We will have to live with the consequences of the bad choices we’ve made. What we really need to hear, when we are dirty from head to toe, is not condemnation from God. We need to hear an unexpected word of grace.

This word of grace is found in our gospel lesson: “For God so loved the world.” Never has a more profound statement been uttered. “For God so loved the world” Notice it doesn’t say for God so loved..the Church. For God so loved…those who affirm a specific set of beliefs about Jesus. For God so loved…those who have blue eyes and blonde hair. For God so loved..those who act and dress a certain way.

Instead, it says “For God so loved the world”…The good, the bad, and those in-between; the broken, the confused, the weak; those who are different from us, and those who are pretty much the same. “For God so loved the world.” We need to hear this unexpected word of grace. We need to experience a love that sees beyond our failures and our fears. I heard that word of grace from my Mom on my 12th birthday. We hear it today in our gospel lesson from the God who loved the world…including us.

The kind of love God offers us is not a mushy, sentimental kind of love. It’s not The Bachelorette love or Grey’s Anatomy love either! It’s a love the surprises us time and time again. It lifts us up and washes us clean when we least expect it. For God so loved the world…I don’t know about you but I need a love like that!

One of my favorite community activities I’ve done over the years was volunteering in Mrs. Lunsford’s class at Fairview Elementary School. I used to help children improve their reading skills and would sit down with a child, one-on-one, and share a story together. Sometimes they read for me. Other times they read a page and then I read a page. No matter how rough of a week I’d had those children were always glad to see me. They were excited to share their story with me. And we would laugh together at the adventures of Little Critters, Frog & Toad and Henry & Mudge.

The kids would share knock-knock jokes with me during lunch which usually made no sense whatsoever but caused those kids to giggle hysterically and their laughter was infectious. When my time with those kids was finished I always left the building feeling like all was well with the world. The love they showed me was infectious. I wanted to share it with others so they could be as carefree as those first graders. I wanted to give others permission to let go of their adult ways, even if it was only for a moment, and giggle hysterically for no apparent reason at all.

When we experience the power of love in our lives, it empowers us to love others. “For God so loved the world…that he gave.” God loves us…we love others. It’s that simple. It’s that profound. When we are genuinely touched by the love of God it fills us to overflowing. We cannot help but share it with others. It’s as infectious as the laughter of children. You see, we shouldn’t have to work hard at loving the world the way God loves us. It should happen automatically because a love like that cannot be contained.

Love is patient. Love is kind.

Love endures throughout all times,

From good and bad to even worse,

Keeps on giving until it hurts.

     If you still don’t understand the kind of love I’m talking about go rent the classic movie “Dead Man Walking” starring Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon. It’s the remarkable true story about Sister Helen Prejean, a nun who became the spiritual advisor to a death row inmate. What makes this story so powerful is her ability to love. As the story develops, it’s quite clear that this nun has experienced “The God who so loved that world that he gave.” The beauty of the story is that she is able to share this grace-filled love with the inmate. She is able to see him as a person in need of repentance and in need of love. Other people who surround her give her a lot of flack for showing love and compassion to this man but she persists in her caring for him.

Without giving away the ending of the story, this man’s life is changed through the power of love. He takes his sin seriously and experiences an unexpected word of grace that transforms his life. Thankfully, “Dead Man Walking” does not try to tie up everything in a pretty bow. It does not provide easy answers with regard to the topic of capital punishment. What it does do is show how powerful love can be. It can melt the hardest of hearts, bring healing to deep wounds, and embrace those whom most of us would see as being un-embraceable.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have everlasting life.” As we experience the love of God, and receive an unexpected word of grace, our lives are changed forever. Faith begins to grow  and empowers us to live a new life. It’s a life that is filled with the love and grace of God; a life that enables us to start again in spite of the failures and brokenness that exists in our lives.

Love had a name, and it bleeds;

A sacrifice upon a tree.

It’s so hard to understand

That kind of love from just one man.

I need a love like that.  I need love.

     If I could wish one thing for us today, it would be an overwhelming experience of the love and grace of God. A love that is like a mother who celebrates a birthday even when we don’t deserve it. A love that is like the kids in Mrs. Lunsford’s class and has a way of filling us with joy and uncontrollable laughter. A love that is capable of seeing the value and worth of every human being, including a death row inmate. Love has a name, and that name is Jesus. I pray that we will all receive an unexpected word of grace from the God who loves the world and gave his only son; and, in the giving, offers us forgiveness and new life. AMEN

“Love Hs a Name” is from David Eck’s CD “So Far, So Good.” It’s available at Abiding Savior or through the church’s web site http://www.a idingsaviorlutheranchurch.org

Sermon and song copyright ©2017 by David Eck.

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