Thursday, June 2, 2005

you are God's love poem (a sermon)

Here's the text of a sermon I gave at Oasis some time ago. I hope it helps you.


You are God’s Love Poem
a sermon by Troy Cady

I love that scene in The Princess Bride at the miracle worker’s shop where Billy Crystal leans over the “mostly dead” body of the hero and asks: “Hey, hey, you in there: what’s all the fuss? What’s so important? What you got here that’s worth living for?” We laugh at the scene that follows, but nestled in the middle of this delightful comedy is a very serious question that I think all of us are asking in one form or another: “Hey, hey, what’s all the fuss? What’s so important? What you got here that’s worth living for?”

I think everyone is asking this question: it doesn’t matter if you are young or old, rich or poor.

Recently, I read the speech that Mother Teresa gave when she accepted the Nobel Peace Prize. She related several stories of poor people she worked with who were basically asking the question: “Why go on? What do I have here that’s worth living for?” Some of the people she worked with were, in her words, “half eaten with worms”, yet time after time people that she worked with found the answer to that question in simple acts of love. For some reason, being led to a soft bed (or simply being given a bag of rice) gave people hope to carry on, because all their lives they had been waiting for someone to come and show them through word and action the answer to those questions: . “What’s there to live for? Does my life really matter? Does anyone care?”

That’s why Mother Teresa once said that the most terrible disease anyone could be afflicted with is not leprosy or cancer—it’s the feeling of being unwanted and uncared for. And that’s true not only of people who have next to nothing. It’s also true of those of us who are well-provided for.

One story in particular that Mother Teresa told illustrates our need to be wanted, even when we are well-provided for. She writes: “I never forget an opportunity I had in visiting a home where they had all these old parents of sons and daughters who had just put them in an institution and forgotten... I went there, and I saw in that home [that] they had everything, beautiful things, but everybody was looking towards the door. And I did not see a single one with their smile on their face. I turned to the Sister and I asked: 'How is that? How is it that the people they have everything here, why are they all looking towards the door, why are they not smiling?'...And she said: 'This is nearly every day, they are expecting, they are hoping that a son or daughter will come to visit them. They are hurt because they are forgotten...'"

Mother Teresa continued her story and closed with these words: “That poverty comes right there in our own home, even neglect to love. Maybe in our own family we have somebody who is feeling lonely, who is feeling sick, who is feeling worried, and these are difficult days for everybody. Are we there, are we there to receive them…?”

Poor people aren’t the only ones on this search for significance. It affects everyone, including even the super rich and the most famous. We’ve all heard jokes in the past about someone like Michael Jackson, but seriously, all you have to do is look in his eyes and you can see he’s asking these questions, too. Look at him: he’s asking: “Who am I? Does my life really matter?” Even with all his wealth and fame, the affliction Michael Jackson carries in his heart is the same as the poor people in Calcutta: “Doesn’t anyone love me? Where can I find love that lasts?”

Just like Michael Jackson and the poor people of Calcutta, we are on a search for significance and identity, too. All of us are asking in our heart of hearts, whether we realize it or not: “What am I here for? Does my life matter? Who am I? Does anyone really care? Where can I find love that lasts?”

Amazingly, the answers to all of those questions can be found through an authentic love relationship with Jesus Christ. In Ephesians chapter 2, verses 4 through 10, the Apostle Paul sets the record straight on our search for significance, our search for love. He answers the questions definitively, namely: Does anybody care? Where can I find love that lasts? Does my life really matter? What am I here for? Who am I? Listen to the words answering those very questions:

“But, because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ, even when we were dead…—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that, in the coming ages, he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus… We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Can you hear the answers to the questions?

Question one: Does anybody care? These verses say, “God does.”

Question two: Where can I find love that lasts? These verses say, “In Christ.”

Question three: Does my life really matter? These verses say, “Yes, it does! Through faith in Christ, God raised you up with Christ! He has seated us with him in the heavenly realms! Your life matters! Your life counts for something! Your life is significant!”

Question four: What am I here for? I’ll defer answering this question till later, because “what we do” flows from “who we are”. Because “doing” flows from “being”, the answer to that question (What am I here for?) is related to the answer of the last question: Who am I?

In many ways, all the answers to all the other questions come down to this one single issue: Who am I? The poet T.S. Eliot once said, “Our lives are mostly a constant evasion of ourselves.” That was his way of saying that we are constantly asking the “Who am I?” question for most of our lives. It’s that important. Discovering who we are answers questions like “What am I here for?" and "Does my life matter?”

So: “Who am I?” (Can you see the answer to this question in these verses?) “We are God’s workmanship.” Put a different way: we are God’s creation. We are his work of art. We are an epic love poem written by him.

Now, you might think I’m taking some liberties with this way of looking at this last verse here but honestly I’m not. The word used here in Greek is quite literally “poem.” Literally translated, the verse says, “We are God’s poem.” And, because the context of this verse is about God’s love for us, I think it’s fair to say that we aren’t just any kind of poem: we are God’s love poem.

This understanding of ourselves answers all of the other questions we’ve raised thus far. Understanding who we are in Christ answers questions like: “Does my life really matter? What do I have that’s worth living for? Does anybody care? What am I here for?”

In fact, we really only need the last verse in Paul's paragraph to answer all these questions. That's because understanding that we are God’s love poem tells us some important things:

Understanding that we are God’s love poem assures us that God, the author, painstakingly wrote a message of love on your life. God, being the Master poet that He is, took care in the message he wrote. That means: Your life matters to God.

It also means that you count for something, because your life has meaning. God is not an existentialist poet. He imbued your life with deep meaning. Just like in a great poem that can be read over and over again, your life speaks a message upon a first reading, as well as a second, third, fourth and hundredth reading. Your life has deep, spiritual meaning.

This understanding of yourself also reminds us that your life touches other people, whether you realize it or not.

Finally, understanding that you are God’s love poem, assures you that you are beautiful.

So: “Does anybody care?” Yes! You are God’s love poem!
“Where can I find love that lasts?” In God. You, after all, are God’s love poem!
“Does my life really matter?” Yes! You are God’s love poem!
“Does my life have significance?” Yes! You are God’s love poem!
“Who am I?” You are God’s love poem!
So: “What am I here for?” The answer to that is hidden in the fact that you are God’s love poem. To answer the question “What am I here for?” we therefore need to answer the question “What is poetry for? What does poetry do?”

I thought of five possible responses to this question, and I’d just like to bullet through them quickly as application points:

Number one: God, your author, wants you to bring meaning into the world.
Number two: God, your author, wants you to spread beauty wherever you go.
Number three: God, your author, wants you to speak love to others and to him.
Number four: God, your author, wants you to touch others.

The reason for all this is because, like any poet, God wants to express himself. God wants to make known to everyone his feelings of love towards them. That’s what people have in mind when they write a love poem. The intent is to let the beloved know, in as powerful a way as possible: “I love you.” God wants to express this to others through you, his love poem.

Our verses remind us of this: God turned us into love poems, so that “he might show the incomparable riches of his grace expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” In other words, we are God’s love poem and he created us “to do good works”; that’s verse 10’s way of saying the same thing, really… He wants us to be read, and when people read us, he wants them to get this message: God loves you. God cares about you. You matter.

The prize-winning African-American poet Maya Angelou reminds us why this message is so important in a poem she’s written called “Alone”. She writes:

Lying, thinking
Last night
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don't believe I'm wrong
That nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

There are some millionaires
With money they can't use
Their wives run round like banshees
Their children sing the blues
They've got expensive doctors
To cure their hearts of stone.
But nobody
No, nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Now if you listen closely
I'll tell you what I know
Storm clouds are gathering
The wind is gonna blow
The race of man is suffering
And I can hear the moan,
'Cause nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Can you hear the moan? "Nobody can make it out here alone." As God’s collection of love poems, I plead with you to do what poetry is supposed to do: bring meaning, spread beauty, speak love, touch others, display God. God wants us to live and interact with others in such a way that we communicate that we are not just meaningless blobs of isolated flesh wandering around a cold mass of accidental earth, muttering random words that are arbitrarily produced by three-and-a-half pounds of grey matter inside a skull of bone. Our words have meaning. Our actions have meaning. A smile carries a message and spreads beauty. A kiss on a cheek says, “I care” and touches others. Curses curse, blessings bless. What you do and what you say matters. God, your author, wants you to bring meaning, beauty, love, and hope into the world. You are God’s love poem.

So ask yourself, “God, in what practical ways can I do this? How can I bring meaning, spread beauty, speak love, touch others and display you in my everyday life? Help me to actually do this more and more, loving Father, through the power of your Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ, the beginning and end of our faith. Amen.”

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