I’m thankful for some essential truths I learned as a child in Sunday School at the First Baptist Church of Conley, GA, truths so profound that they still challenge and guide me. They came in two songs:
Jesus loves me. This I know, for the Bible tells me so.
Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.
And in the Bible verse which I heard more than any other, John 3:16 (in the King James Version):
For God so loved the world that he give his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.
God so loved, and so loves, the world—so much more than we can imagine and at a cost so much higher than we can comprehend. Jesus lived and died and lives among us to make that love unmistakably clear and immediately near.
Jesus fed and feeds the hungry, healed and heals the sick, welcomed and welcomes the shunned, embraced and embraces the shamed, forgave and forgives the guilty, inspired and inspires hope in the desperate.
In Jesus, with Jesus and through Jesus, God lavishes tender mercy on all of us: on every human being, young and old, men and women, friend and stranger, companion and enemy “red and yellow, black and white.” They are all, we are all, God’s children, precious in God’s sight. In Jesus, God says: “I love you. Let yourself be loved. Love one another as I have loved you.”
I’m still trying to learn what I thought I had already learned, long ago, in Sunday School. Of course, I didn’t know then how much unlearning I would also need to do.
Most of us feel we aren’t worthy of this love. We know too much about ourselves: our fears, failures, sins and regrets.
We can’t silence the echoing voices of our early years, voices which tell us we aren’t enough: not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, handsome enough, strong enough, or cool enough.
We know we don’t measure up to what our cultures says a worthy human being looks like. The culture says that, before we can be loved, we have to lose weight, get a better job, move to a nicer neighborhood, drive a sportier car, get sober, be straight, land the lead role in the school play, be a starter on the team, fix everything we’ve broken, and guarantee the happiness of everyone who counts on us.
Despite our feelings, the good news is that there is nothing we have to do to be worthy of love. Worthiness isn’t a reward for extraordinary achievement or a bonus for exceptional performance. It’s not a merit badge we earn or a trophy we get at the end of a winning season.
Worthiness is a gift from God, a sheer gift of identity, a gift we already have. We are worthy of love because God created and cherishes us, because we bear God’s image, and because we are God’s children.
Jesus makes it possible for us to enjoy the gift. With Jesus, we experience what he experienced at the moment of his baptism. God immerses us in grace and overwhelms us with mercy. God raises us to new and radiant life. We see the heavens opened, and we know that there is no separation between us and the divine. The Spirit flutters around us with bright wings of energy and hope, then rests on us with promise and peace. And, God affirms who we are; God says to us what God says to Jesus: “You are my son, my daughter. I love you. I take great delight in you.”