Jesus loves me, this I know, because the Bible tells me so.
Jesus loves me.
We know what God’s love for us is like by contemplating Christ’s life and above all his death. The love Jesus showed in life was a healing love, a sustaining love, a life-giving love. Those who were broken and in pain, those possessed by demons, those with disfiguring diseases and disabling illnesses came to him believing in his power and thy were restored. Those in grief, devastated by the death of those they loved came to him and renewed life was granted. This was a love that wanted nothing from those loved but which sought their well-being, their inclusion in the glorious life of God’s Kingdom.
The full depth of that love is seen on the cross, though. Jesus died on the cross for us, for love of us. It isn’t easy to understand the meaning of that dreadful death, the way in which it was necessary, the way in which it restores humanity’s relationship with God, but it was and it does. What matters here and now is that this is a way that shows us what the love of God in Christ Jesus is like. It’s a love that not only wants our good, our healing, our life, but which is prepared to go to the cross. That’s a love indeed.
What’s more this is a love, we are told, that isn’t an abstract and general love of the human race. It’s a personal and particular love of each one of us. Immediately before the passage we have heard this morning the apostle Paul wrote these words: “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” God calls those he foreknew. Each of us comes to God in response to an individual and personal calling from God. We are known and loved as the particular individuals we are. God loves you. You personally.
So God’s love for us is a love that is prepared to suffer crucifiction and a love that knows us as individuals. That’s what we’re told. But the dramatic and powerful signs that we’ve been talking about aren’t easily discernible in our everyday lives. We hear about Christ’s death but we don’t see it. We hear about Jesus’ healing but we don’t experience it. Many of us suffer from health problems and yearn for release from them. We would touch the hem of Christ’s robe if we could and feel his power course through us, but we can’t. Many of us have lost loved ones and wish for their restoration to us, but they remain dead. Given all that God’s love might seem distant and unreal.
We can try to convince ourselves that God’s love is manifest in the good gifts of life, and of course that’s true. But these gifts are neither particularly given to those in Christ nor are they unmixed with the bitter fruits of suffering. Indeed Jesus warns us that the way of discipleship is a hard road: “take up your cross and follow me”. When things go wrong for us this doesn’t mean that God has turned his back, just so when things go well this does not mean that God has noticed us or has come to love us better.
We don’t know that God loves us because he showers us with good things. We know God loves us because he tells us he does and because his word is to be trusted.
When we are sick or in pain. When we are plunged into grief by the loss of someone precious. When loneliness eats at us. When sadness or a sense of futility robs us of the will to live. When those around us seem not to notice our needs. At all those moments God loves us.
When money is short and a constant worry. When we feel oppressed by the world. God loves us still.
How do we know? Because God tells us so, in the Bible and through the Church.
I sometimes wonder and worry about what I was called into ministry to do, what will justify all the trouble and expense the Church has gone to in order to put me here. And then I remember. I have been ordained as a minister of Word and Sacraments and what the Word and the Sacraments do is, most of all I think, transmit God’s wonderful assurance of his unbroken and unbreakable love. I am here to tell you, and myself, that God loves you, loves me; to open the Bible as we have today and say, “look, it’s there, God loves you, has always loved you, will always love you, it says so in this Book”.
I know that sometimes it can be hard really to know, really to feel that love, so complete, so generous, so sure. But isn’t it the case that even the love of those closest to us is mysterious sometimes? At any rate all I can do is to point at the words of the Bible, to represent the thousands of years of continuous worship and teaching as I stand here, appointed by the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church and say: hear, hear and believe what the apostle wrote:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.