Jesus Loves Me, You, Us and Them

by | Oct 23, 2016

Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  Luke 4:14-21

Would you sing with me?

Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong. They are weak, but he is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.

You sing well. Now, bring to mind someone who is on your mind or in your heart, whom you’re concerned about, and is in need of prayer and the abiding presence of Christ. Let’s sing again, changing the pronoun from “me” to “you,” each one of us keeping that person in mind.  

 Jesus loves you, this I know . . .

Very nice. This time, think about a group of people that you struggle to understand, with whom you may profoundly disagree or who perceives you as an enemy, or who sees you, and perhaps all of us, in the most negative terms:

Shall we sing? 

Jesus loves them, this I know.

And one last time, for all gathered here, and all humankind:  

Jesus loves us, this I know.

In her most recent book, Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God, African American scholar and Canon Theologian at Washington National Cathedral Kelly Brown Douglas tells of her mother singing this song each night. She wanted Kelly and her siblings to know, deep in their souls, that Jesus loved them, that they were prized in the eyes of God. Her mother knew that they would receive other messages as they went out into the world that would cause them to question that love, question their worth. When she became a mother,  Douglas, in turn, told her son everyday how much God loved him, so he would never believe the lies that would try to convince him otherwise.   

We all need to reminded how much Jesus loves us. And it’s a word we are called by Jesus to share with others.  

Good morning, St. Luke’s–I’m very glad to be here! Bishops can’t have favorite churches, of course, and I don’t, but St. Luke’s has special place in my heart. When Paul and I first arrived in Washington five years ago, we visited St Luke’s before I had begun my work as bishop-elect. You welcomed us with such love. I was still getting used to the idea of a being a bishop, and in all honesty, I was uncomfortable with certain parts of the role, including having to wear such a big hat. But that summer morning many of the women of St. Luke’s were wearing audaciously beautiful hats. I thought to myself, “All right, then. I will be among women who wear hats.”

Today we celebrate the Feast of St Luke, your patron saint. I served a congregation for 18 years that bore the name of another key figure of the New Testament–St John the Baptist. I don’t know why the founders of that church chose St. John as their patron saint, any more than I know what prompted your spiritual ancestors, those who broke away from St. Mary’s Chapel for Colored People to build their own church, chose the name of St. Luke’s. But I do know that there is power in a name and the spiritual mantle that rests upon a community through the sacred memory of a particular saint.

So what do we know about Luke, your patron saint?

Scripture tells us that Luke was a physician, a traveling companion of St. Paul. He was a meticulous writer, not only of the gospel that bears his name but also of The Book of Acts. Without Luke, there is so much we would never have known about the earliest Christian communities, and about Jesus himself.

Luke’s gospel contains many stories and teachings from Jesus’ life recorded nowhere else, and they are among the most beloved and cherished parts of the New Testament. You see, Luke wrote about Jesus with a particular focus on how he related to people on the margins of his society. Luke is, therefore, a particularly important gospel for those whom dominant groups deem as inferior for any reason, such as race, gender, age, or economic status.

Imagine not knowing the story of the Good Samaritan, which tells us of the most unlikely person–a despised outcast– acting as a true neighbor to one in need, while religious leaders past him by. Think of how the Good Samaritan informs our understanding of Jesus and what it means to follow him. Without Luke, we would never have heard him tell that story.

Luke also portrays God in the most accessible ways–as kind, forgiving, with unlimited capacity for love and forgiveness. Think of Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son and his loving father, what it teaches us about God, and of forgiveness and love. Only in Luke do we find that story.

Forgiveness runs through Luke’s gospel from beginning to end, culminating in Jesus’ words on the cross, that only Luke records: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”

And in Luke, we learn of Jesus’ close, loving relationship to God, his beloved abba, or father. how he was sustained by his loving father in prayer. Jesus wants us to know God in that same intimate, loving way; to trust that God comes to us. Sometimes God comes in the form of an angel, as Gabriel came to Mary, to tell her she would bear God’s son; sometimes in the form of Jesus himself, as he walked alongside the grieving disciples after his crucifixion on the Road to Emmaus; and through the Holy Spirit, who lived in Jesus fully, and then moved through them, as on the day of Pentecost.

These are the stories and teachings about Jesus that only Luke, your patron saint, tells. I encourage each of you to read the Gospel of Luke, starting today, from beginning to end. In one sitting, it would take you about an hour and a half. Better yet, read a chapter or two a day, pondering the meaning of the stories and teaching you find there. If you do, I’m certain that God will bless you in the reading and touch your heart in life-changing ways.

I also ask you to consider, as you read Luke’s unique expression of Jesus’ gospel, what is unique about you and your life. Think of the gifts God has given you, and the ways only you can speak of what you have known and testify to what you have seen.

And think of this congregation, St. Luke’s in Washington DC. What are the gifts that God has given you? What manifestation of Jesus’ gospel would be lost without you? One of the reasons I am so passionate about the renewal and revitalization of our churches is because each congregation has so much to offer and to share, And I long for you to thrive on this corner of the city where you have been planted, for your sake and for countless others.

For you are ones called by God to embody and share the love of God in a particular way, in this place, inspired by the love of Jesus as you have known him under the spiritual mantle of your patron saint.

In ways large and small, remember you are the ones to live witness to Jesus who loves you; loves whom you love and hold in your heart; loves those you struggle to love and who struggle to love you; indeed, who loves us all. Dare to believe in that love for yourself, and then do all you can to pass it on.