The life changing power of ‘always loved’: John writes about the theme of Jonathan’s sermon on Sunday

John at Scone2

I think for me the most encouraging part of Jonathan’s sermon on Sunday was the sentence at the end, where he spoke of ‘rejoicing that I am always loved.’

That is a wonderful truth – ‘I am always loved,’ and it is this which sustains me. God loves me;  God has loved me from before the beginning of time; nothing can separate me from that love, as St Paul says so eloquently in Romans 8:38-39.

I’ve been doing some research this week on Person Centred Counselling. I love the openness and empathy which counsellors in this school of therapy seek to adopt towards their clients. They seek to show ‘unconditional positive regard,’ welcoming them as they are, before any change has taken place. I believe that, as Jesus showed, God looks at each of us with ‘unconditional positive regard.’ Of course we sin and fail, of course even the best of us is ‘work in progress’, but we are unconditionally loved. That is the wonder of the gospel.

And I love the degree of empathy which can develop between skilled and experienced Person Centred Counsellors and their clients.   I read last night of a counsellor who found himself weeping copiously as he sat beside his client, and realising that he was not weeping tears for himself, but for his client. ‘I was weeping his tears,’ the counsellor wrote. I think this therapeutic relationship between client and counsellor reflects something of our relationship with God. God weeps our tears, and in time our hearts come to resonate with God’s joy.

I am loved. I will always be loved, even when God seems a million miles away.

And it’s that which sustains me as I read St Paul’s description of Jesus ‘making himself nothing’ (Philippians 2:7)  Before I fully knew that I was loved, I used to think that this ‘self-emptying’ involved minimising my poor, broken self, and making myself a slave of others.

But I now know that at the heart of salvation is Jesus making me not less than I truly am, but what I truly am.  Jesus sets me free to be the lovely, gracious, creative person God has made me to be. Of course I can list my failings, and you can probably add to that list, but on my better days the loveliness of who God made me to be is more visible in my life.

In many ways, Christ did not become ‘nothing’ – Jesus was the happiest, most joyful, most rounded, most integrated man who ever lived, and he sets us free to be the people God dreams of, and loves into reality.

Jesus faced hard stuff; he wrestled with evil; he faced and endured death – but he did so as a fully-developed, wholly loved person.

Sometimes as Christians we see self-abnegation as the root to becoming people who please God.  But in fact it is as we realise that we are loved, and precious that we are free to serve others, giving to them from the treasure of our hearts.

And sometimes as Christians we see ‘working out our salvation’ as a fearful thing, a perpetual series of hoops to be jumped through, hoping to please God.  But in fact, from the position of knowing ourselves loved, it is a joyous thing.  What is happening is that moment by moment God is prompting us to fulfil God’s dream for us. God is drawing us to a life of love, joy, peace.  God is drawing us to wholeness and integration, to become who we were always intended to be. And on our clearer-seeing days, we grasp this and we say ‘Allelujah! Thank you, Father.’

Yes, there will always be a shadow side, there will always be dark stuff in us. But despite this, we are still loved, and the dark stuff loses its power as we increasingly realise how much we are loved, how lovely we are as God’s children, and how persistently the Spirit’s whisper leads us.

And it’s not just us. The same Spirit is calling each one of us in Hilton Church; each person in Inverness; the citizens of every nation in the world. Called us all to wholeness, to become the people of God’s dreams. And calling, to use poetic language, the whole universe to a new way of being, a new one-ness, a new heaven,  a new earth. Moment by moment the coming kingdom is coming within us.

And this is the massive vision of Christian faith. And we begin to see it when in our brokenness and failure we begin to realise that we are loved, we are always loved, and the love of God sets us free.

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