31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
August 8, 2021
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
You might miss it completely if you weren’t standing in the right place. You might spend hours in that basement church fellowship hall without ever noticing it; however if you paused for a moment and looked up you would see painted on the ceiling beam years and years ago: “The gospel is caught, not taught”.
“The gospel is caught, not taught.” It’s a belief I share with parents who are baptizing their children– the good news of God’s unconditional love for each and everyone of us cannot be taught in a book, in 30 minutes of Children’s ministry, or in 60 minutes of worship each week. The good news of God’s love is passed on, shared by people who know God’s unconditional love and want others to also be blessed by that love.
While “the gospel is caught, not taught”, still once we’ve decided to follow Jesus, it cannot be assumed we will naturally know how to live out love of God and love of neighbor. Once we’ve been baptized, once we’ve connected with a community of faith, it should not be taken for granted that we will know how to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God, to quote the prophet Micah.
Our Christian faith journeys need to be nurtured so we can pass on the love of God as made known through Jesus Christ. We need to continuously grow in our relationships with Jesus Christ so we can daily live out these words from scripture, living lives changed by God’s love, living lives that invite others to know that love.
Because love is at the heart of Jesus’ ministry, at the center of his community. Jesus is love incarnate, love in human form, and Jesus tells us that there is no greater commandment than to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.
The ‘as yourself’ part is important. Jesus is telling us that if we do not love ourselves, we cannot love our neighbors. It just makes sense that we can only share what we have. To be able to practice loving kindness, to have compassion for others, we need to first have compassion and loving kindness for ourselves. We first need to know to the depths of our souls that we are worthy of love and truly and deeply loved by God.
That is hard though. It is hard to love ourselves when all along our journeys, people tell us in subtle and not so subtle ways that we are not worthy, that we are not special, that we are not lovable. In her talk Rising Strong as a Spiritual Practice, researcher Brene Brown shares that 85% of the people her team has interviewed “over the last 15 years can remember a story from school that was so shaming it changed how they thought of themselves as learners. 50% of those stories were around creativity, writing, or art.” (Rising Strong as a Spiritual Practice, Brene Brown, 1:58:10-2:00:42)
Unfortunately, the majority of us have a story about a time when we were cracked and broken along this journey of life, a story that says we are not creative, wonderful, and loved, a story that keeps us from loving ourselves and thus loving God and others as deeply as we are created and called to do.
We have only to look at scripture though to know the real story – to look at scripture passages like Psalm 8 – “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:1) When I look at all of creation, the mountains, the oceans, the moon, sun, and stars, I am amazed. I am in awe of their beauty. I am in awe of the One who created such beauty and then I remember that You made me, too.
Psalm 139 reminds us that God not only made us, God made us wonderfully; God made us marvelously. We are wonderful. We are marvelous. We are as amazing as the sun and the moon and the stars and the mountains and the oceans. We are wonderfully made and we are loved, deeply loved, loved before we open our eyes in the morning, loved before we accomplish anything in our day. Simply loved. Forever loved.
As followers of Jesus Christ, as those called to love God and love our neighbors, time for ourselves, time for our relationships with God, time set aside to be reminded and filled by God’s love, is essential. Reflecting upon God’s Word, especially God’s words that remind us how important and special we are, as well as spending quiet with God are important spiritual practices that help us be nurtured, refreshed, and filled with God’s love so we have compassion and loving-kindness to share with others.
Some of our cracks run deep though, some of us have been really broken by others, which is why I appreciate Brene Brown saying, “Because someone did not put value on our work does not change the worthiness of that work or us.” “Just because someone did not have the ability, the capacity, or the willingness to love us has nothing to do with our lovability.” “We are inherently lovable; we are inherently holy; we are inherently creative and people can’t take that away from us. It’s who we are.” (Rising Strong as a Spiritual Practice, Brene Brown, 1:58:10-2:00:42)
It’s who we are. It’s who God created us to be: inherently creative, inherently lovable; inherently holy. No one can take that away from us. It’s who we are.
Learning to love ourselves so we can more fully love God, learning to treat ourselves with compassion and kindness so we can treat others with compassion and kindness, this is the work of a lifetime. This is a life-long journey as we walk with God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.
And we will need to read and re-read scripture to do it. We will need to take lots of alone time with God, and we might also need to write these stories of shame, brokenness, and hurt down. Write them down so we can release them and be released by them. We might also need to find really good therapists because broken hearts and broken spirits need help as much as broken legs and wrists. Really good therapists help us embrace who we are and who God created us to be: creative, worthy, loveable, holy.
As a reminder that you are inherently loveable and wonderfully made by God, I want to nurture the continuation of your journey of self-compassion and self-love with this guided meditation:
If you are not seated already, find a comfortable place to sit. I invite you to ground yourself wherever you are sitting. As you relax into that support, I invite you to gently close your eyes. Imagine you are sitting in a field. On one side of you, the sun is setting in a glorious display of color, red, orange, yellows, blues, and purples as the sun’s last light dances across the tall grasses, gently swaying in the breeze. Soak in their beauty.
On the other side of you, tall majestic mountains rise up to the ever-darkening sky. The twinkle of a star becomes visible here and there. Soak up its’ beauty.
In front of you, a man comes walking toward you through the meadow. The glow of lightning bugs illuminates the air all around him. As he comes closer, you know in your heart this is Jesus. You sense his spirit of holy love and peace, and he says to you, ‘You are God’s beloved. You are amazing. You are as beautiful as everything you see all around you. You are worthy of care; you are worthy of respect; you are worthy of love. You are God’s beloved.’
And you feel the warmth and calm of the Holy Spirit surround your body, fill your mind, heart, and soul. Sit in that warmth; soak in that calm; feel that love.
I invite you to embrace this moment of love as we enter a time of listening and discernment with God.