Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Art & the Gospel of St. John the Beloved: A sermon


This is the text of the sermon I gave on the second Sunday of the arts festival. It reflects a theme that I've not been able to shake for the past two years, the relationship between art and love. But now it is August and it is my month of rest. Here's the article that appeared in the Austin American Statesman about the festival. Here's a nice piece in the Chronicle by our friend Toddy Burton, "Is a local production company that recently finished its first documentary too good to be true?" with a beautiful quote from our own Graham Davidson, "With this group of people, it's not necessarily about getting what you want. It's about loving people."


July 22, 2007
w. david o. taylor
Hope Chapel: 2nd Sunday of the Arts Festival

“Art and the Gospel of St. John the Beloved”


STORY: “A Conversation with Cliff.”

I was having a conversation with my brother-in-law Cliff back in 1999. We were standing outside their apartments in Vancouver, BC. Watching their two-year old child Brendan playing on the lawn, we found ourselves talking about one of the most difficult challenges that a parent faces: dealing with those pesky desires that you have for your child to grow up a certain way.

If only . . . .

“Well if only we put him in an advanced academy to learn Latin and Greek, his 3 R’s, and an intermediate astronomy class, maybe he’ll have a chance. Sure, he’s 2 years old. But we don’t want him to fall behind the pack. It’s a fierce competition out there. We’ve got to give him an advantage. Help him become his superman idealist self. Not miss a chance. Hey Cliff, let’s put him in a sports academy just in case. You never know, athletics come in handy. You might need to outrun somebody.”

Maybe my child can grow up to be a doctor, lawyer, merchant. A missionary, pastor, teacher. Smart, athletic, responsible. A good kid. Loves God. Like their daddy, like their mom.

Our identity and happiness as parents are so connected to the way our children turn out, aren’t they?

In the end we saw the folly of our conversation. The fear is real, but it’s going at it all wrong. All Brendan needs, most fundamentally, is to be loved deeply and consistently as well as freely and then allowed to turn out however God wants him to turn out. (Love God and do whatever you want, as saint Augustine once quipped.)

This kind of love is the most important thing to a child’s well-being.

This morning I say to you that one of the most important things for your well-being is to live in a constant receptivity to God’s love. When you and I are living in the sure knowledge of the God’s love for us and in a daily responsiveness to it, we are most strong, most free, most alive.

My prayer for you today is that you would lean in to the reality of being beloved—eternally beloved by the Father, sacrificially beloved by the Son, constantly beloved of the Holy Spirit—and that you would live out your life from this center: a love that is solid, warm, disciplined and freeing.

STORY: “You were loved, David.”

In seminary I did a lot of wacky things. I would prance around in costumes, say things I shouldn’t, come up with skits for chapel that would get me into trouble. I performed impersonations of my professors—in front of the entire student body and faculty—impersonations of people like Eugene Peterson and J. I. Packer and Gordon Fee. Jeremy Begbie once caught me doing hand stands in the library.

One day an acquaintance, a French Canadian gal I didn’t too well, confronted me in the hallway on the way to class. I thought I was in trouble, because, well, I was often “travieso” (mischievous). She said, “David, I know what you were as a child.” “Yeah?” I asked, unsure where this was going. She said, “You were loved. You were loved very much by your father and mother. That’s why you’re so free to be so goofy.”

Strange. Such a strange thing to say. In the moment I didn’t know what to do with the comment. But the penny dropped. It made sense of things.

I hadn’t done anything. I didn’t have to work for it, I didn’t have to prove anything to my parents. I certainly didn’t pay for it. It was, very simply, the condition of my childhood reality. And that injected into my soul something solid, warm, disciplined and freeing.

As a child it happened to me: I was loved. And now as an adult God invites me to respond to His love actively, to choose to live daily from the reality of his divine love, so he can continue the process of parenting me, growing me up.

I tell you this morning, no matter how smart or skilled or successful you are, or are not—and some of us don’t feel, honestly, very smart or skilled or successful—you are loved. The Father loves you. Jesus loves you. The Holy Spirit loves you. This is the most important reality of your existence. Nothing surpasses this truth. Nothing.

The Scriptures make sure you know that.

John 3:16, “For God so loved the world.”

Col 3:12, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly beloved . . . .”

1st John 4:10, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us.”

Saint John the Beloved puts it sharply: “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.”. . .

And so we know and rely.

Living as a beloved is a powerful and beautiful and revolutionary thing. From Bernard of Clairvaux (12th c.) to Dallas Willard, Catherine of Siena (14th c.) to Madeleine L’Engle, the saints speak their words of encouragement to us.

I love what L’Engle says in her book Walking on Water:

“We have to be braver than we think we can be, because God is constantly calling us to be more than we are, to see through plastic sham to living, breathing reality, and to break down our defenses of self-protection in order to be free to receive and give love.”

So what happens to you and to me when we live daily as the beloved of God? Too many wonderful things to recount, but let me begin recounting a few.

Living as a beloved of God:

-- I can take a thousand risks with myself and be ok if I fail and look like a fool.

-- I can plunge into the thick of life with a confident contentment rather than a fear-based, performance orientation.

-- I can face difficult conflict with other people because I know I will not be undone by it.

-- I can be centered and grounded and not be yanked around by every desire that runs around inside of me.

-- I don’t have to fastidiously protect my reputation, what you think of me. God is securing it.

-- I can be free from a self-obsession that makes it extraordinarily difficult to really pay attention to you.

-- I can be free from a lifestyle of constant striving, striving to prove myself, striving to stay ahead, to keep accomplishing, more things, better things, more people, better people, on and on and on.

-- I can be relaxed, contented, at peace with myself: free to give my opinion or not give my opinion, free to ask for things or not ask for things, free to bold or to be hidden.

BEING LOVED I AM FREE. I AM AT PEACE. THERE IS NOTHING ULTIMATELY TO BE AFRAID OF.

It seems to me that if Satan could rob you of only one thing it would be this: the knowledge that you are loved by God from the crown of your head to the soles of your feet to the deepest core of your being and that there is nothing that could ever make you more important.

My friends, this living as a beloved, it’s not that your life will be without pain or struggle or sadness. It is a struggle to live daily in response to God’s love, yes? Yet in the middle of all the interruptions and disappointments of life, some of them tragic, you will find yourself increasingly able to live with a sense of at-restness.

And so my prayer for you today is that you would lean in afresh to the reality of being beloved—eternally beloved by the Father, sacrificially beloved by the Son, constantly beloved the Holy Spirit—and that you would live out your life from this center: a love that is solid, warm, disciplined and freeing.

Hear again those wonderful words of Madeleine L’Engle.

“We have to be braver than we think we can be, because God is constantly calling us to be more than we are, to see through plastic sham to living, breathing reality, and to break down our defenses of self-protection in order to be free to receive and give love.”

May the Father expand your heart’s capacity to receive his love. May the undying life of Christ Jesus lift you out of darkness. May the Holy Spirit shed abroad in your hearts the love of God and guide you in all your paths.

Amen and amen.

The HopeArts Fest in Pictures

Here are a sample of photographs from our summer festival. A good time was had by all. In order of pics:

- the banner
- 3 from the Acoustic Showcase
- 4 from the Visual Art opening
- 2 from the Children's Art Pavilion
- 3 from the Classical Concert
- 2 interviewing and praying for Pamela Nelson, our guest visual artist
- 3 from the Spoken Word event
- 3 from Rick Van Dyke's Creativity Circus
- 2 from the CS Lewis one-man show plus 1 from Sunday morning interview with David Payne
- the custom-made water bottles packaged by local company, Cielo Water