March 19, 2018

By Rev. Lee Carlile, El Segundo UMC, West District

1 John 4:7

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

The very first word in this reading stops me in my tracks. Beloved. I want to respond, “Who, me?” It’s not a word that I usually apply to myself, and I suspect that I’m not alone in this. Most of us are quick to put ourselves down, all too aware of our faults and failings, especially in this season of self-examination and repentance. And yet, here in the heart of Lent, we find ourselves addressed as—named—”Beloved.

“How can this be? The answer comes quickly: “because love is from God.” God is the Lover, and we are the Beloved, and that truth enables us to do the thing that the author of this letter is urging: to love another. In his insightful book, The Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen writes, “The greatest gift my friendship can give to you is the gift of your Belovedness. I can give you that gift only insofar as I have claimed it for myself.” We can only love others when we know what it is to be loved ourselves. We can only give what we have already received.

Years ago, I was introduced to a unique communal blessing by worship consultant Marcia McFee. I first tried it in an ongoing class in which we were studying Henri Nouwen’s book. This is how it worked. I invited each person to turn to the one next to them and to say, “God loves you—and I love you—and there is nothing you can do about it!” The other person was then to respond in kind. The class loved it!

Given such a positive experience, I introduced the blessing to the congregation as a whole one Sunday. The response was the same every time. As each pair offered this blessing to each other, they would both laugh—which is exactly what happened in the small class setting too. At first, the laughter was a bit nervous. After all, we aren’t used to telling the people sitting next us in the pews that we love them! However, after a week or two, it became clear to me that this laughter, accompanied by hugs and sometimes tears, was an expression of wonder and joy, a joy that came from deep in the soul.

Imagine what it would be like to receive that message of love every day. Now imagine what it would be like to share that message! Every day we have so many opportunities to let other people know that they are valued, respected, worthy—beloved. As we accept that we are loved and share that love with others, we will grow in our knowledge of the One whose unfailing love was embodied in Jesus Christ.And so, dear friend, take this into your soul:

You are Beloved. God loves you—and I love you—

and there’s nothing you can do about it!

Prayer: O God, thank you for the living water of love with which you fill my life. By the power of the Holy Spirit, may it flow through me to all whom I encounter this day. In Jesus’ name, Amen.