Summary: Christ loves us deeply -- that ought to prompt a response from us to love him back.
Fred Craddock is a great preacher and a great story-teller, and one of the stories I’ve heard him tell had to do with a trip in which he and his wife went back to their native Tennessee.
They drove up to a small restaurant in Gatlinburg.
They were tired and hungry and still had miles to drive that day.
Fred looked up and saw a gray-headed older man going from table to table speaking to the customers.
Fred turned to his wife and with a great fatigue said, "Oh, I hope he doesn’t come to our table. I’m so tired."
But, lo and behold, there he came and stood by their table.
He said, "What do you do?"
"I teach homiletics -teach people how to preach", said Craddock.
"That’s good, " said the stranger, "1 have a preacher’s story for you", and he pulled up a chair and sat down.
"I was born not far from here -just over the mountain. My mother had never been married, and the shame that fell on her fell on me. When I went to school they called me such horrible names that I would take my lunch and go out onto the playground and eat alone. I just hated the rejection and the ridicule and mockery. But the worst was on Saturdays when I would have to go into town. I could hear people whispering behind by back, ’Who do you think his father is? Honestly, who’s his father?’
"I didn’t go to church because we didn’t feel we were good enough. Then, when I was 14 years old, a minister came to speak at a school assembly. He moved my heart. He was so warm and inspiring, I decided to go and hear him preach in his church. And I would go in and then leave immediately after the sermon was over. I didn’t stay around because I didn’t want them to say to me, ’What’s a boy like you doing in church?’ I dreaded rejection more than anything else.
"One Sunday I didn’t get out early enough. When I got to the door, people were blocking my way out, so I had to stand in line. Then I felt a hand on my shoulder, and I turned around, and there was the old preacher: His eyes were burning into my soul, and he said, ’Who are you, son? Whose boy are you"’, and I said to myself, ’Oh, my God that question that has haunted me all my life. And, again, I will be rejected.
"The old preacher said, ’That’s all right, son. Don’t answer. Yes, I see a family resemblance in you. Yes, you are God’s son. God in heaven is your daddy, boy! Go claim that heritage for all you’re worth. Go out, boy, in pride. You’re God’s child!"
The old man, sitting there at the table, sharing his story, then said, "Those words -’ You are God’s child’ - were the most transforming words I’d ever heard. They changed my life forever."
At the core of the Christian Faith is the simple but profound fact: God loves you just as you are! Nothing you or I could ever do will change the heart of God toward us. Regardless of who we are, or where we came from, or what we have or have not done with our lives, God loves us.
In our New Testament lesson for today, we have a wonderfully clear statement of how much God loves us.
The Apostle John said, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.”
That is a powerful love, to allow your son to die for someone else’s redemption.
I have only one son. He and I get along together great. I often give thanks that I am fortunate to stand in the middle of three generations of men who got along together so well.
Now I love you guys. I love y’all a lot.
But I’m going to admit that I don’t love you enough to give my son to die for you.
That’s no insult to you. I don’t want you to take it personally. It’s just that I love my son a lot more. He’s the only son I have. I don’t want him to die.
But IF for some reason, I did decide that your life depended on my son having to die, and IF for some reason I had the power to make that awful decision, and IF I decided to let my son die so you could live – we’ll buddy, let me tell you…
…You had better be on the telephone every day telling me how much you appreciate me and how thankful you are to me that I gave my only son to die for you.