Sermon: Needed to be loved


A sermon preached on September 2, 2007, based upon Hebrew 13:1 – 8, entitled “Needing to Be Loved.”

If we were to ask, what is a human being’s greatest need?  It seems to me, the answer would be pretty easy to come up with:  Our greatest need is to be loved.  

We have a deep, at times overpowering, life-long need to be loved.  It is most obvious, of course, when we are little.  Jean has seen this so clearly expressed in her newly adopted daughter Kathryn, who at 7 months old, just wants to be held pretty much all the time.  It’s so real.  So fundamental. 

As we grow up, we seem to get a handle on this great need. We no longer need to be held all the time.  But the great need is still there, underneath everything, and we deceive ourselves if we think we no longer need to be loved.  Men, especially, have a tendency to fall prey to this illusion, taking for granted the love given to them in life,  no longer realizing just how much we rely on this love for daily sustenance.  And then sometimes something upsets the apple cart, and the persons we count on to love us, for one reason or another, are no longer there, and suddenly we find themselves plummeting into this black hole that opens up underneath us; an abyss we hadn’t even realized was there.

We all need to be loved. 

Now, in truth, the love we most need is given to us as a free gift from God.  And yet, in this life we need folks with skin on to convey this love.  You know the story:  A little girl awakes in the middle of the night because of the loud sounds of a thunder storm.  She calls out for her Mommy, who comes to her bedside.  “Oh, honey,” says the Mom, “Didn’t you realize that God is always here with you?” 

“Yes, Mommy, I know that.  But sometimes its nice to have someone with skin on.”
We human beings are capable of giving and receiving a whole range of expressions of love.  The highest expression of love is to be loved by someone who truly knows us. 

In the great love chapter, 1Corinthians 13, Paul writes about the qualities of love, and concludes by speaking of love’s exquisite culmination when we stand in the presence of God who knows us fully, absolutely.  This is the highest form of love.

Listen again to the beginning of this morning’s Scripture lesson:  “Let mutual love continue.  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers…”  What is it about the “stranger” that places them in such great need?  The fact that they are not known.  To be a stranger is have the people in whose presence you stand be clueless about all that is most personal to you; all that gives contour and definition to your life —  your deepest loves and frustrations, all that distinguishes your life from all others‘ lives, and yet, at the same time, mysteriously connects you at the deepest level to all other lives.  And that’s a lonely, lonely thing.

Since our need to be loved is so great, indeed, at times so desperate, we often settle for inferior expressions of love where lack to quality of being known.

There was a distressing news item this past week that was strangely revealing about the times we live in.  Senator Larry Craig of Idaho was arrested in a Minnesota airport men’s room in a sting operation that claimed he was there trying to solicit sexual contact with a stranger.   Initially he pleaded guilty, but when the story hit the news he claimed he hadn’t done anything wrong — that his actions in that bathroom stall were misunderstood, and that, “I don’t do those kinds of things.  I’m not that kind of person.  I’m not gay.”

Now I suppose it is possible that Senator Craig didn’t do what he is accused of doing, but from what I have read, it seems most likely he is, indeed, a gay man refusing to come out of the closet.   Senator’s Craig’s story says something about what it means to be a stranger in this world, and our deep, deep need to be loved. 

I want to pause here and state the obvious — that we live in a world that has changed quite dramatically from the one our ancestors lived in.  In a certain sense the world of a few decades ago was a more loving place than we often experience in the modern world.  People didn’t move around much, and so there was a sense of being in a community of neighbors who knew each other, and that was at times a wonderful thing. 

Nowadays we commonly live in neighborhoods filled with strangers, folks who don’t really know anything about one another, and who plan to keep it that way.  It can be very, very lonely, this brave, new world we live in — a world full of strangers. 

There is, however, a way in which the modern world in some instances allows for a deeper form of love to exist than often was the case in the past.  In the old world, if there was something about you that didn’t fit in with the norm established by the neighbors, well, your only choice was to repress it, to pretend, as best you could, to fit in, regardless of the damage done to your soul by this pretence.  Nowadays, there is greater personal freedom to go out and find those with whom you can be yourself, so to speak. 

The world that Senator Craig grew up in, and has lived much of his life connected to, is closer to the experience of generations past than is our experience out here in the east.  

Larry Craig is a child of God who shares in that same deep need to be loved as do we all.  Over the years he has received a great deal of love from the folks of Idaho.  They have told him in various ways how much they appreciate him, respect him, indeed, love him, and these expressions of love and affection have sustained him through the years.    There was, I suspect, something intoxicating about this kind of love,  because along with it came a fair amount of money, power, and status. 

But, if, in fact, God wired Larry Craig in his creation in such a way that he was attracted sexually to men, not women, well, there was a problem.  He couldn’t let this important, intimate truth about himself be known, for fear that it would jeopardize the kind of love he had long ago grown to count on. 

Nonetheless, Larry Craig still has the need to be touched in a sexual way, and since being in a truly loving relationship with another man didn’t seem to him to be an option because of the cultural context that said homosexuality is always sin, then in order to receive such a touch he felt compelled to slink around in the shadows with strangers — to be touched by men who didn’t know him from Adam, but who shared, at least that same need to be touched by another man. 

And so the great tragedy of his life:  Senator Craig was loved by people who never really truly knew him:  the folks of Idaho, his wife, the strangers from his bathroom encounters. 

The Scripture lesson this morning covers a lot of bases.  It includes a reference to the sanctity of marriage:  “Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled.”

Here is the thing about marriage:  Generally speaking, marriage is the relationship in this world in which a person is most likely to be known in depth. We can hide large parts of ourselves to some extent from our friends and the people we work with; but hiding is harder to do in marriage where our spouse sees us in bed and out of bed, the good and the not so good.  A marriage has the potential for providing the deepest form of “knowing” this side of God’s knowing of us. 

And that is a wonderful thing, but also, a potentially terrifying and deeply destructive thing.  To have another person come to know us so intimately and then turn around and reject us —  well, there aren’t many wounds that can hurt so deeply and destructively.

And so it is crucial that marriage be honored, supported, indeed, recognized as holy.   When marriage works the way God intended it to work, it is deeply healing and transformative — a sacrament through which God works in our lives to make us over time more Christ-like. 

I believe that gay and lesbian people should be given the same opportunity to enter into this blessing.  If we withhold this opportunity, we end up encouraging people to live lives of deceit, slinking around in bathroom stalls.

We are about to celebrate holy communion.  Here’s the deal:  Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves.  When on that night long ago he shared the Last Supper with his disciples, he told them they would fall away.  They said it wasn’t so, but he knew them better than they knew themselves — that they would all let him down.  He said, however, that he would still love them.  He’d would welcome them back and he’d forgive them.  And this is just what he did.  Wonderful host that he was, he made breakfast for them by the seashore. 

Jesus knows you, too.  I mean really knows you.  He knows you at your best, but he also knows you at your worst.  He knows all the little hypocrisies of your lives, all the little betrayals, all the mean-spirited hard-heartedness that has, at times, been a part of your life, and yet, he still loves you.   I mean REALLY loves you. 

He wants to invite us to breakfast with him. 

He wants to live inside us so that  we can learn how to really love ourselves and in turn really love others.  This is the love that we can trust, the love that invites us to be real.  This is the love in which we can put our trust.