Loving God Back

(Here is what happened when last night’s post bloomed into a sermon, albeit a short one, since we are taking time for an interactive listing of our thanksgivings.)

It was February of 1969, and my father had been on a trip to
the Holy Land. He came back with presents for
the whole family, and mine was a little Bible covered in Bethlehem mother-of-pearl. It is a red-letter
edition, with tiny print and pretty colored illustrations. It was the first
Bible I ever read by myself, even though it wasn’t the first Bible I had been
given, and was far from being the last. It was especially special because it
was a present from my daddy. 

I remember that I was excited to find a passage about the
lilies of the field, because I had seen the movie of the same name. I learned
the words well, even though I didn’t understand quite what they meant. And I
didn’t understand how important they would become for me. 

I have to admit it. I’m a worrier. I’d like to tell you that
I don’t worry about food and clothing and shelter. I’d like to tell you that
since I have spent my life in what have been luxurious circumstances compared
to most people’s in the world, it never occurs to me to worry about such
things. But somewhere inside me is a baby who is hungry or cold or lonely, and
she worries, and so do I. 

Mostly I worry about what I like to call "big"
things. Most especially I worry about doing the right thing. I don’t mean the
simple, everyday choice-making we all do that comes down to ethics or
practicality or preference. I mean the kinds of things that determine the
trajectory of our lives.  This has been
particularly true as a mother, trying to make the right choices for my

You see, even though I long ago stopped thinking of God as a
Santa Claus-type, somewhere far away keeping lists of naughty and nice people
and doling out punishments and rewards accordingly, I still sometimes react to
life’s challenges and possibilities as if I believed in Santa God. When faced
with a major life choice, I worry that if I do the "wrong" thing, I
will ruin it all. If I do this, then inevitably I will be *unable* to do that
or the other. One wrong move and everything is down the toilet. In contrast,
one right move will certainly smooth the way. 

I don’t really believe it works that way. I don’t really
believe that we are doomed if we make one wrong move, or one less than stellar
decision, or simply don’t read the signals the right way. I’m thankful for this
passage because it never fails to challenge me. In it, Jesus is laying out for
us another way of approaching life. He is reassuring us that God knows what we
need and cares about us when we don’t have it. He puts our fears and worries in

And then he tells us what we really need to do: 

But strive first for the kingdom of God and his
righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do
not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s
trouble is enough for today.
(Matthew 6:33-34, NRSV) 

Let’s hear that again, as Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message

Give your entire
attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what
may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard
things come up when the time comes.

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now.
Oh. That does put a different slant on the whole situation. If we can focus on
what God is doing right now, both in each of us and in the world, maybe we
won’t worry so much. And maybe we’ll have a better chance of figuring out what
we are supposed to do. 

I hear your question. If we don’t think of God as a Mighty
Heavenly Micromanager handing out assignments like a CEO, how in the world can
there be anything particular we are supposed to do? Who or what is this God and
how can she or he be "doing" anything? 

We have to determine first, then, how we think of God,
before we can understand what the kingdom might be. What if we think of God as
Love? Love is the divine energy that wants what is good for all creation. Everywhere
we look in the world and see love, we are seeing God. That must mean we need to
seek the feeling of being loved by God, to find it in ourselves and see it happening to others. 

What are we like when we feel loved? 

Let’s be clear that feeling loved is not the same as being
loved. I firmly believe that each of us is loved by God, however we imagine God
to be, whether the grandfather with a beard is our image or a big ball of love,
as The Princess once said, or an endless band of goodness as immense as the universe.
The love is there. The question is do we allow ourselves to receive it? 

And I think that may be what Jesus was getting at, sitting
on a hillside, talking to a crowd of people, so many years ago. 

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right
now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow.

When we have allowed ourselves to receive love, to really
trust that the love is true, we may find we are able to give love ourselves, to
be appreciative, gentle, content, generous, hopeful and thankful. 

In the moment we receive love, we also begin to love God
back. And that, sisters and brothers, is seeking the kingdom of God. In loving God we are changed, and when we change we begin to see how to love others, and how to love ourselves.

Each of us has things or people or experiences for which we give thanks. Sometimes we need years to go by before we understand why they were so important! I’m thankful for the little Bible that brings my father to mind and that never fails to remind me of God’s love. What are you thankful for? Whatever or whoever it might be, always remember that thankfulness starts with loving God back. Amen.

6 thoughts on “Loving God Back”

  1. I have this SAME BIBLE!! From a trip my grandparents took to the Holy Lands.
    My front mother-of-pearl cover has ripped off, and I have often wondered if I could get it repaired or just have the cover matted and framed, as a reminder… Faith that came before mine has always lifted me up.
    Thanks for the post. I was really amazed and happy to see an image of my little red-letter Bible! 🙂

  2. Ginger, that happened to mine, too! This picture is not of the one I took to church yesterday but captured from the Internet.
    Thanks for stopping by.

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