God’s Love Changes Everything

About 6 months ago I was looking around on YouTube and found a video from a channel called Yes Theory. In this video there were 4 guys in their mid 20’s that tried to plan a dinner party in one day with strangers. They walked around LA trying to find a brave stranger to host the party and 15 strangers to attend it.

Elena
Elena Dant is a senior at Owatonna High School and a gifted and wise member of our community!

After searching all day, they finally pulled it off and by the end of the party they had made 15 new friends all because they said yes. This video sparked my interest, so I looked deeper into who these people were.

Yes Theory was created by a group of 4 guys from all different parts of the world that came together to “seek discomfort” under the belief that there is no such thing as a stranger, only a friend you haven’t met yet.

In the story we heard today about the road to Emmaus, the two men welcomed Jesus into their home not knowing who he was. To them he was just a stranger that they had met on the road.

I am a senior at the high school which means it’s college decision time. I have never been one that is great at making decisions. Yup, I’m that person. The one who always says “I don’t care” when asked where I want to go out to eat, or what movie I want to watch. I’ve learned that “I don’t care” doesn’t really work when someone asks me where I want to spend the next 4 years of my life.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love my parents and appreciate all that they do for me, but they won’t tell me what to do! It doesn’t matter how many times I have asked them to decide for me, they won’t even hint at their opinion.

For awhile I would get so frustrated with them, wondering why they wouldn’t help me decide. Then I realized that they really were helping me. My parents were pushing me to make the decision on my own. Although I did not see it at first, I know that they are showing their love and supporting me by giving me the freedom to make my own decision.

As some of you may know, I come from a family where music is very important. My comfortable place is right over there beside the piano. I started taking piano lessons in kindergarten, so I don’t really remember what it is like to not know to play it. But I have never been able to explain exactly how my mind works when it comes to playing piano or other instruments. It just kinda happens.

I find that God’s love is the same way. It has always been there, but if you asked me to explain how it works I wouldn’t know what to tell you. The strangers in the Yes Theory youtube video where not expecting to see friendship in one another, yet there it was. The two men from our Gospel lesson that were walking to Emmaus did not see that it was Jesus walking next to them, yet there he was. I didn’t see my parents help in my decision making, yet there it was. I may not be able to see how God’s love works, yet here it is.

There is a show on TLC called Hoarders. To be honest, I really just watch it to feel better about how my room looks after a week of not cleaning it. But in this show, the people’s homes are overfilled with stuff. Most have them have been collecting stuff and letting it pile up for their whole lives without giving anything away. They have way more than they need.

Now I’m not telling you about these people to inspire you to go clean out your closets. I believe that God gives us an overflowing amount of his love so we must take it and share it with others because it is not ours to keep. We don’t get to choose who we fall in love with, but we do get to choose who we share our love with. And who are we to decide that some are worthy of our love while others are not when God was already made this decision for us. God’s love is a blessing that we have been given that no one and I mean NO ONE can take away from you.

One of the speakers at the ELCA Youth gathering this year was Marlon Hall. He talked about how God’s love is infinite. It’s like a circle. It has no ending but that also means we don’t know where it starts. Marlon said “God doesn’t want you to run to him, just turn to him. God doesn’t want you to work for him, just welcome him.” God’s love came before the bees and the seas, before the you’s and the me’s. His love will never fail, and it will change everything.

Pastor Todd:
Thank you, Elena, for sharing from your wisdom and experience.

And you’re right.  Love does change everything.

We receive the gift of love all the time.  Love from spouses, love from significant others, love from parents, love from children.  Love forms the basis for all of our significant relationships.

And we use the word love pretty loosely:

  • I love chocolate.
  • I love ice cream.
  • I love…chocolate ice cream.
  • I love the Twins.
  • I love the Vikings.
  • I love my family.
  • I love that the lights are on this week…

…you get the idea.

But today we’re talking about something different.  We’re talking about the kind of love that God shows for all of God’s people.  We are talking about the kind of love that the disciples in our Gospel spoke of when they said, “did not our hearts burn within us?”  We are talking about a love, as Elena described, that seeks the best for us even when we aren’t so sure.  We’re talking about a love that changes everything.  It is a love that is unconditional.  It is a love that knows no limits.

The famous concert pianist and composer, Ignance Jan Paderewski was a citizen of Poland, who traveled the world, performing concerts in all the grandest concert halls in the early 1900’s.

His American debut was to be in New York City.  The concert had been sold out for six months.  Concertgoers came in tuxedos, and fancy dresses.  A mother brought her nine-year-old son because he was beginning to complain about his piano lessons, and she thought that the concert might give him motivation to keep practicing his scales.

You can dress a nine-year-old in a tuxedo, but he’s still a nine-year-old.  As they awaited the beginning of the concert, the boy irritated his mother with his restlessness and impatience.  Before the concert, he kept having to go to the bathroom.  And he annoyed the other concert goers by walking up and down the aisles, and back and forth through the rows.

Finally, the mother became exasperated, grabbed her son by the shoulders and sat him down hard in his seat.  “Now stay there and don’t move!” she said sternly.  But a few minutes later, while she was distracted, the boy slipped away and began walking toward the stage where the huge Steinway piano was standing.  His Mother yelled at him to come back and ran toward him.  Startled, the little boy panicked, ran toward the stage, up the stairs, straight to the piano, sat down and began to play “chopsticks.”

You could hear the murmur of disapproval ripple through the crowd, and the serious-looking ushers began moving toward the boy.

But Ignance Jan Paderewski, the concert pianist, heard the commotion and looked from his dressing room.  He saw the boy playing “chopsticks.”  He quickly grabbed his tuxedo jacket and stepped onto the stage.  There was a collective hush.  Everyone wondered what he would do.  The boy, oblivious to what was happening, continued to play.  Paderewski came up behind him, went down on his knees and whispered in that little boy’s ear: “Don’t stop.  Keep on playing.  You’re doing great.”  While the boy continued to play the great pianist put his arms around the boy and began improvising a concerto based on the tune of “Chopsticks.”  While the two played Paderewski kept whispering to the boy, “Don’t stop.  Keep on playing.  Keep going.  This is beautiful.”

My friends, this is grace.  This is love.  And this is what God does for us every single day.

This boy was playing chopsticks.  Chopsticks!  And the great concert pianist wrapped his arms around the boy and played with him and turned it into something beautiful.

This is what God does with us.  God takes the brokenness of our lives and makes something beautiful out of it.  We try on our own…but we too fracture rules and expectations; we become defiant; we are easily distracted; and when we try…well I don’t know what it’s like for you, but for me, life can sound a lot more like “chopsticks” than a concerto.  And I have to learn to let go of my pride and come to terms with the fact that I cannot play the concerto on my own.

God sees what is inside of us and works to draw that out.  Why?  Because of love.  And this love that God gives is not dependent on our performance, nor rules and expectations.  And God loves us so much that God simply cannot give up on us…simply cannot be angry…simply cannot punish.  Because God loves us so much that he sent his only begotten son, that whoever perishes will not die, but will have what?  Yes, eternal life.

And our hearts burn because of that love.

  • Like those disciples on that road to Emmaus, who had a stranger open the scriptures to them.
  • Like a nine-year-old at a piano, on a stage, suddenly being encouraged, coached and accompanied by a master.
  • Like a high school senior who discovers that the deep love of her parents is why they want her to have the freedom to make her own decisions.

You receive this gift of love.  It is not a gift that you deserve, but it is a gift that you receive.  And it is a gift that tells you, despite your faults and flaws, you’re going to be ok.  It is a gift that reminds you that there is something bigger than yourself that is working within you.  It is a gift that causes your heart to burn, it overflows within you, and it is something that you can share.  And God whispers in your ear the whole time: “Don’t stop.  Keep on playing.  Keep going.  This is beautiful.”

My friends, receive this gift, and play!  The source of the gift is Jesus.  The gift is love.  And we know that Jesus’ love changes everything.

Thanks be to God!

Amen.

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