You are not alone, you are loved.
The church sign says: You are not alone, you are loved. It affirms the existential reality that at times each of us feels alone. Loneliness is part of the human condition and none of us is immune. And there is the affirmation that each of us is loved. Love is the harder part of this message for many of us to believe. We may all agree that we are lonely at times, but believing we are loved is something with which we struggle. This is where as Christians we are better equipped to understand this as a theological statement. Completing the statement, “You are loved…by God.” In a sense “You are not alone, you are loved,” is an affirmation of faith. It is trusting that no matter the fact we often feel alone, isolated, forgotten, misunderstood, taken for granted, we are loved by God no matter what. We need to hear this reassurance each week. I think people outside the church need to hear it too. I’ve seen people stop and smile reading the church sign this week. They may not know they are loved by God. But they are. Part of our job as followers of Jesus is to share this love with them.
Waiting for an answer
A story. On Friday afternoon I was standing right here in the sanctuary. I saw a motorcycle police officer turn on his lights and stop his bike right in the middle of the intersection out there. Then he started directing traffic in sync with the traffic lights. When the light was green he motioned for drivers to go, when it was red he motioned for cars to stop. I wonder what was going on. I am used to seeing police direct traffic when the lights aren’t working or if there is an accident but neither seemed to be the case. This continued for a minute and then more police on motorcycles appeared and they drove through the intersection, obeying traffic lights and their colleague. Eventually there were even more police on motorcycles. There was a sense something was coming. Maybe it was a big motorcade. Maybe a politician was in town making a big announcement. Who could it be? Then suddenly there appeared a police car blaring high energy dance music, followed by a peloton of about 30 cyclists in matching jerseys. And that was it. It didn’t look like a race. It looked more like they were just out for a ride. I thought, wow I would love to join that ride. Afterwards there was someone at church and I asked them if they had seen the police escort and cyclists ride by. Yes, they said it was police officers doing a community ride raising money to fight cancer. They almost made me late for getting my wife to the ferry.
At times we see a sign that makes us wonder, just like seeing a police officer directing traffic in sync with traffic lights. We try to interpret it, make sense of it. Sometimes we have to wait to make sense of it. The prophet Habakkuk in our first reading is waiting, trying to make sense of things. Habakkuk is not exactly happy with his experience of the world. He has a sense there is no justice, that the wicked get ahead. He is crying out “how long O God?”
Habakkuk seems to be alone and without God. And yet no matter how much Habakkuk protests, it is undeniable that he is waiting for a response from God (Jin H. Han). Habakkuk is reassured it is worth waiting for a vision from God. And because of faith, trusting in God’s love, Habakkuk is willing to wait.
We can learn from Habakkuk. We can join him in his questioning, even rage against God, but so longer as there is prayer, God is always present even in absence. Especially at those times we feel most alone, hearing Habakkuk’s lament reminds us it’s not just up to us. This constant trust that God will answer, that will send a sign, is the kind of love our world desperately needs today.
Habakkuk records the vision from God: “the righteous live by faith.” Today there is a lot caught up in the word “righteous.” We want to be careful not to come across as self-righteous. But there is no harm in being made righteous by God. In fact that is the cornerstone of salvation. While there is nothing we can do or say to make ourselves righteous or right before God, God makes us right out of love. Living by faith is simply accepting this gift of love from God. And who among us doesn’t want to feel loved? Faith gives us the assurance this love is for us.
Who does God’s love exclude?
With such abundant love, we are compelled to share it with others. We are called to embody that love, to be little Christs for others. One of the challenges arises when there are groups of people who feel the love Christians proclaim excludes them. Consider the words of James Baldwin, an African American author who is going through a conversion experience that he recounts in “The Fire Next Time:”
[through the black experience being cut off from communion with other people] “…there is no way, no way whatever… to get through a life, to love your [family], or your friends, or your mother and father, or to be loved. The universe, which is not merely the stars and the moon and the planets, flowers, grass, and trees, but other people, has evolved no terms for your existence, has made no room for you, and if love will not swing wide the gates, no other power will or can. And if one despairs—as who has not?—of human love, God’s love alone is left. But God—and I felt this even then, so long ago, on that tremendous floor, unwillingly—is white.” (James Baldwin, “The Fire Next Time”)
He is waiting for God’s love. He asks why? Why has God allowed black people to be cast down so low. He spent a whole night laying on his back before the altar as the saints sang gospels. Baldwin never received an answer that night. Like Habakkuk he faithfully listened, asking “how long, O God?”
Baldwin is also someone who writes about the same love, the unconditional love of God, of which we are speaking. And yet he experienced that love as coming from a God who is white bestowing a love upon white people. It’s not hard to understand reasons why that might be.
In the Canadian context just this past week were released the names of nearly three thousand Indigenous children who died in residential schools. And it is estimate there are over an additional thousand Indigenous children who died whose names we do not know. One CBC statistic put it that there was a greater chance statistically for an Indigenous child to die in a residential school than for a solider to die in WWII. This same week our government announced it will challenge the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal’s ruling that we as a nation have been willfully underfunding on-reserve child welfare and ordered each child to be paid $40,000. We just celebrated Orange Shirt Day last week, lifting up Indigenous children, and days later we say we won’t pay.
For me this isn’t primarily about particular political leaders, as though we would be any better. This is about us as Canadians as a whole. This is our history. This is who we are. I think about James Baldwin’s words. He says no one can make it through life without love. The world is too lonely a place to make it on our own. But what happens when other people do not make room for people who look like you? What if it appears even God hasn’t made room for you? That’s a hard thought. But it’s hard to argue with that thinking when we look at the ways in which God’s name and love has been used to justify gross negligence. That thousands of Indigenous children died in school, cared for by Christians. What does it mean to call ourselves Christians post-residential schools?
If anything even remotely happened to our own child we would be wandering the streets like Habakkuk asking “How long, O God?” We might wonder when God’s love would return to the earth again and include our family. And so when we talk about justice, we’re not talking about self-righteousness. We’re not talking about moralizing. We’re not pretending we’re better than others.
No, we’re talking about being loved. We’re talking about being loved by God. Not a white God, but a God that loves all people, especially Indigenous children. We need to find ways of proclaiming God’s love so that others believe it to be true for them.
Love is Dangerous
Another thing James Baldwin writes is that “To be committed is to be in danger.” To be committed to love is to be in danger. I believe God is committed to love. This is why Jesus’ life was constantly in danger. God’s commitment to love is why Jesus dies on the cross. But the danger of the cross is transformed to new life and new love. The Holy Spirit kindles that love in our hearts today.
The Holy Spirit is in love with us all. The Spirit embraces us, ridding us of loneliness, making us feel accepted. That’s the reason we talk about things like welcoming queer folks, talking about Indigenous children as much as we do. Our understanding of the wideness of this love reveals our understanding of ourselves. Our theological view of the world reveals our view of the individual. As James Baldwin notes we have a tendency to make God in our own image, so we want to be like Habakkuk, patient, waiting for a vision. Making sure we listen to and understand God’s vision of love for us all in this time and place.
Remember a time we fell in love with someone. There is a sense of vulnerability. A sense of danger that it could all go wrong. That we could be hurt. And we’ve all been hurt, whether in a romantic relationship, by a friend, by a family member, at work, at school, at church. We’ve all hurt others, sometimes without even knowing it. Love is dangerous, but also the only answer not to feeling alone in the world. And if there is one thing we as church can offer others, it is pointing towards this love. Catching a vision of it. Something that is bigger than a gathering of individuals. It is this love that brings us to church each week. The faith Habakkuk points towards.
Wrapping up, hear these words for you: “You are not alone. You are loved.” Trust that God loves you. Embrace the danger of love. Live dangerously as a follower of Jesus, believing these words are true for one another as well. Amen.