We preach about God’s love in every sermon we preach.
Overtly, as in “God loves you,” or covertly, by revealing it in parables, sayings, songs, and stories.
We hope our listeners grow in trusting God loves them, but what helps that trust grow?
What signs or symptoms or evidence can we offer that God’s love isn’t a made-up thing “to placate the masses”—or just make us all feel better?
No, there has to be something more to it, something real, something as incarnational as Love made flesh.
When you preach God’s love, what do you point toward?
First, let’s discuss what’s less effective.
What Confuses a Listener’s Understanding of God’s Love: Feelings and Circumstances
Feelings come. Feelings go. They are not permanent and can be attributed to many causes.
An exceptionally good night’s sleep
Being particularly mindful
Generally feeling good
That said, I do sense God’s presence.
It’s a feeling I get in my core, an indescribable sense of awareness that I am part of something holy, a part of all that is. It’s a beautiful feeling, a gift of pure grace for which I give God thanks.
But feelings aren’t a reliable barometer.
Because if I stub my toe hard, that beautiful feeling vanishes in the amount of time it takes my brain to register pain from the collision of my toe on my dog’s chew toy—that is, less than a second.
Besides, is there ever a moment when I am, and we are, not part of all that is? So if feelings were reliable, shouldn’t we feel that “oneness” all the time?
Feelings don’t consistently convey reality. Feeling a part of God’s universe is lovely, but in the end, it’s not as useful as other signs.
Moreover, there will be people sitting in the pews who have never felt God’s love, and may never yet. It might not be in their make-up to do so because they appropriate the world differently. To suggest feelings are a barometer of God’s love will inevitably leave some people out.
Things That Turned Out Well
When circumstances turn out well (the way we want), we can be tempted by a false belief of pelagianism—as in, things turned out well for me because I:
prayed a lot
gave a lot
did the right thing
or in any other way, earned or deserve it
At the very least, this thinking begs the question: why doesn’t it always turn out well for people who pray so much their knees are calloused, who drive themselves into bankruptcy for giving so much away, who vote right, rescue flea-ridden puppies, and never steal so much as a paperclip from work?
Again, just no.
What Helps a Listener’s Understanding of God’s Love: Preach What You Know
If we’re going to preach authentically and with conviction to help people recognize the signs, symptoms, and evidence God loves them, we can only do so to the extent we know it for ourselves.
This is highly personal.
It has to be because it’s the uniqueness of your story intersecting with the universality of God’s love.
God loves all and loves all equally. But its appropriation by you, in you, as perceived by you has only happened once in 13.8 billion years. It’s happening in you. You alone. No one else. Right now.
How do you describe that intersection?
What happened to make you believe God loves you, even a little?
What do you point to when asked why you trust in God’s love enough to gather it around you like a cloak for its warmth, examine it like a specimen to fathom its properties, or even, at times, toss it aside like a child who outgrows a toy—but only because you know it’ll still be there when you go back to retrieve it?
What lets you have enough faith in God’s love for you that you point to it pastorally at funerals, jubilantly at weddings, and steadfastly Sunday by Sunday by Sunday?
I can’t describe your intersection for you, but I’ll describe a little of mine. I think I’d summarize it by saying I preach God’s love because what has been impossible for me was not impossible for God.
I cannot say I have forgiven those who have most wounded me. That would be impossible for me to will that action into being.
However, I am also not living with the bitterness toward those who wounded.
Why? Because God forgave them through me, without my effort, and released me from their thrall.
For those who have wounded and are yet to receive the same from me, it will come. God always does.
I am in relationships now that by rights the other should have severed but didn’t. I didn’t deserve for the relationship to continue, and yet, it is maintained—and even deepened—because they forgave me.
Shameless, unrelenting, water-droplets-on-granite kind of persistence to teach me what I needed to learn. These are lessons I never would have learned had God, in frustration, taken her marbles and gone home.
Leaning into being enough because I exist
See “persistence” above.
I’ve received true healing of mind and spirit—even when the body will forever lag behind.
Growing in empathy
More and more I see people as pretty much the same: wanting to be seen, to belong, to be valued, and safe—and scared to death that a day will come when they won’t be one or more of them.
But that’s just me.
What about you?
What do you know of God’s love for you?
What do you show in your sermons so that you can say with integrity and humility, “Of God’s love, this much I know.”