I was walking around a gathering place in my hometown the other day, wearing my “Love Heals” T-shirt. A couple of people remarked about the message with a smile. One lady walked past me and simply said, “Yes, it does,’ to me and just kept walking—I will confess it took me a couple of seconds to realize what she meant. I had to look down at my own chest, and then call out my agreement to her back as she walked away.
It’s such a magnificent promise that it’s hard to accept it fully—both for the Ephesians, and for us. William Sloane Coffin remarked nearly forty years ago, “The tragedy of our country today is that most of us do not believe that we are loved by God—not really. If we do think so, we don’t think so emotionally. Consequently our much-vaunted individualism is selfish instead of selfless. Rather than accepting our value as a gift, we think we have to prove it.”
Too many of our countrymen are looking around at their neighbors and seeing nothing but threats. Their solution of arming themselves publicly then in turn threatens those around them. They look out on those the see on the streets and in parks and shops and see threats, not fellow human beings, and they think they can protect themselves through weaponry. Others of us interpose banners of earthly powers between both ourselves and others, as well as between us and the banner of Christ. These kinds of fear are contagious.
Sometimes, this fear of accepting the boundlessness of God’s mercy and love is rooted in old wounds that have yet to heal. For others of us, the language of family used to describe our relationship with God and each other brings to mind memories of times when the love we expected of family or friends failed us. Some of us have been shattered by being told that our love is not enough. These kinds of wounds are inflicted by those who themselves have been wounded by fear. But fear begets fear. Fear poisons the growth of hope and the ability to trust in promises.
Our reading from Ephesians reminds us that this is a problem that affects everyone, not just the Ephesians in the first century of the Christian era, but all of us. We live too often ruled by fear that we are not good enough—for each other, much less for God. The eyes of the world are often harsh and judgmental, and yet we spend most of our lives chasing after approval by what we do and what we have and what we look like. I would take that one step further. The problem is not JUST that we have a hard time believing God loves us. We start with being unable to believe that God loves others, especially those some of us think of as “lesser-than” us—those accused of wrongdoing, those who follow other religions, those of other ethnicities, those who live in other countries or are from other countries, those whose sexual preference or understanding of gender is different from ours, those who are poor and marginalized.
We cannot truly accept the promise of God’s love for us unless we also accept the promise of God’s love for all of creation—even a creation that includes people who have been deeply wounded, either through their own choices or the choices of others. Because we have a hard time believing in God’s love of us, we start wanting to draw boundaries or limits around it. One of the most horrifying things I heard preached from an Episcopal pulpit this year was the claim that some people are beyond the boundaries of God’s love. No. Ephesians reminds us that there is no division in God’s love. God seeks “to gather ALL things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” God’s love is a call to transformation and renewal—to live into our authentic selves as children of love and light. Yes, love does heal. But only if we allow ourselves to believe we are worthy of love, and to trust that promise. If we believe that, then perhaps we could also love each other, just as Christ loves us and gives himself for us, every day.
In the epistle for this Sunday, we are reminded that we are made by God to love and be loved by God. We are children of God—and as such, are fully integrated into God’s love. We are beloved children of God—and Christ is our brother, as well as our Lord, Companion, and Savior. God loved us so much that God’s son was sent to us to show us more fully who God is. God is our Father. God is our Mother. God is the one who loves us beyond understanding. Like a child emerging from a fever, may we sink back into the promise of the God who embraces us and loves us beyond all reason, beyond all flaws.