“I Love You”
Two years ago, just before he died of COVID 19, John Prine wrote and recorded privately his last song, entitled. I Remember Everything. Stanza two ends with this plaintive and apologetic line, “Sometimes a little tenderness was the best that I could do.”
I want to say, “Sometimes a little tenderness is the very thing we need.” Children need it when hurt, and friends need it when suffering. You and I need it when life is heavy, and the road is hard. A little tenderness goes a long, long way.
It is a word of tenderness that comes to us today from the hand of the great apostle. “Dear brothers and sisters,” he writes, “I love you. I long to see you. Dear friends, you are my joy.”
Maybe that is precisely what you need to hear today, from God, from me, from a treasured friend. Maybe that is precisely what you need to say today. A word of tenderness, of affection, of sweetness, of love. Some version of the most wonderful words in human language, “I love you.”
Paul is giving us, one phrase at a time, his personal testimony, his life philosophy, his deepest feelings about what matters.
He began with strong resolve: “I never get tired.” He was talking about his calling in life, his great gospel mission, that which drove him forward.
“I consider it trash,” he went on to say. He was thinking about his accomplishments, his resume, the things that once upon a time made him proud and successful and honored.
“I want to know Christ,” he confessed next, thinking about the new center of his universe. He was remembering what happened on that road to Damascus when Jesus the Risen Lord spoke to him, reaching down deep to put words to his new vision for life.
“I press one” to then writes, thinking about the hardships, the opposition, the uncertainties. God had given him the gift of perseverance, and here he puts it into words. It is a strong and sturdy sentence, one we need to hear now and again.
But then, he comes to this most tender of all testimonies. “I love you.” He writes it twice in this one verse. Dearly beloved, he says once, and again, dearly beloved. That is old-fashioned language. “I love you” is deeper, wider, longer. It goes out gently in all direction: to the head, to the heart, to the memory, to the mind, to the soul, to the smile. It is the gold card of greetings. It is a tenderness at its best.
Paul goes on to add some good words to his testimony, and these will constitute my preaching through June and into July.
“I praise the Lord” gives voice to the exuberant side of loving God and following Jesus. “I can do all things … through Christ who strengthens me” is the sure word of spiritual resolve. It grabs hold of the resurrection of Jesus and pulls it into your own soul so that it makes a difference in how you live and love and learn. Finally, Paul testifies, “I have all that I need.” In our economy of accumulation, this is surely a good gospel word, and I look forward to preaching on that one sentence in a few weeks.
But today! Today, we have the best of all worlds, of all words: “I love you.”
It is the fulcrum upon which all else turns. God so loves the world that God filled it with beauty and glory and delight. God so loves the world that God created each of us and gave us a name and a face and a spirit so special. God so loves you and me and the stranger across the street that he sent music, and art, and dance, and design, and imagination and emotions of every sort to make this one life a thing of beauty. God so loves you and me and our nearest neighbor that God sent into this world Jesus the Lord, Jesus the savior, Jesus the teacher, Jesus the miracle worker, Jesus the one who sees us when nobody else does, the one who hears us when nobody else does, the one to loves us when nobody else does.
Love is a many splendored thing, the old song says. And this old preacher takes it as his theme today. And this old letter says it as well as any poet or prophet. “I love you,” Paul wrote. “You are my joy,” he wrote. “You are my beloved” he spelled out in the Greek letters. “I long to see you.”
Twice he uses the strongest, surest, most spiritual of all words, agape! Divine love. Agape, as C. S. Lewis pronounced it on the recordings of his famous four talks entitled The Four Loves.
It is not just ancient Romans in Philippi that need a little tenderness, is it? Our community and our country need a little tenderness.
We have too much anger, too much irritation, too much accusation for all that goes wrong. The hurting patient bought a gun in Tulsa and went to the hospital, angry at his surgeon that not everything went quite right. He pulled out that AR 15 and unloaded on everybody. Four people died, including two doctors, one of them formerly in practice in Greenville, South Carolina.
There is a pandemic of violence in our country. Rage is the preferred emotion. Anger and revenge are wreaking havoc on the peace and tranquility of the country. It is a sickness unto death, a disease that goes deep into the soul. And we ask each other and ask God, “Is there a balm, a comfort, a healing in Gilead, or Tulsa, or Buffalo, or Hendersonville?
Yes, it is about the guns.
Guns are a killing tool. Guns are a violent implement. Guns are a disaster waiting to happen. In the name of Jesus, I denounce them. In the power of the spirit, I call upon all of us to turn our backs on the gun culture in the United States. In the voice of God, I say, as the voice said to Moses who stood beside the burning bush with his staff in his hand, “Thrown it down, give it up, let it go.”
But, it is not just about the guns. It is about the spirit, the human spirit, the holy spirit. It is about faith, hope, and love. It is about helping instead of hurting, of listening instead of talking, smiling instead of snarling. It is about a little tenderness.
It is about putting down the guns and taking up Jesus the Christ. It is about beating our weapons into plows, our swords into tools. It is about joining the Pentecostal movement to non-violence, to peace, to kindness, to that tenderness of which Prine sang and Paul wrote. This is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit we need today: not the angry, macho, gun-slinging silliness that masquerades as manliness. It is the Jesus stuff, who told his followers to put away their swords just minutes before kneeling in the garden to pray, “not my will but yours.” His death was redemption for the world.
Our former member Ann Greene sent me a message yesterday from the First African Baptist Church of Savannah. “I attended this “Swords Into Plowshares” event today. It was filmed but I don't know by whom or whether it will be posted….. Rev. Sharon Risher … was the keynote speaker. Shane Claiborne with his wife presented the guns into garden tools portion of the program. He is in the background of the blacksmithing picture. The event was well attended.”
That needs to become an annual Pentecostal practice. Let’s take the lead to that Pentecostal practice here in Henderson County.
There is another way to celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Yes, giving up our guns and moving toward the peaceable kingdom is one way. That may impact your home, our community, and the nation as a whole. It is one way to say, “I love this nation. I love you!” We need thousands of people to practice this sort of agape love.
But there is another way, and I was reminded of it last week.
A friend from high school called me from their home in Nashville to tell me Pat Reeder had died. I felt like the classmate who wrote later on a FB page, “This took my breath away.” Pat was my friend at church and school. She was attractive, talented, winsome, and disciplined. A graduate of OBU with two degrees in music, she later earned a law degree and worked for both the public defender and the state attorney general in Missouri. She marred and raised children and lived in Missouri but for 56 years we talked back and forth, saw each other occasionally. The last time was four years ago when her choir at the First Baptist Church of Jefferson City came on tour to Savannah, Georgia, just an hour drive north of my home. She called me, invited me to join them in town for a day, and deliver the daily devotional; which I was thrilled to do.
You think you will always have an opportunity to say to somebody “I love you,” to write them a note, “You are dear to me.” To put your arms around them, look them in the eye and say, “You have been a treasure.” I thought I would always have that day to say to my friend Pat, “You have made my life rich and given me reason to give thanks to God.”
But no. Pat was riding in the back seat of a car on vacation with family in Arizona when she slumped back. She never woke up. No warning. No illness. No signs of impending death. A day later they closed her eyes for good and cremated her body. Next Saturday, late in the afternoon, in Jefferson City Missouri we will gather for a celebration of life. I will say to her then in pubic what I wished I had said a month earlier, in private.
Pentecost, I remind you, is about what you say as well as about what you do. Pentecost is a festival of speech. It is allowing the holy spirit of God to fill your mouth to overflowing, to bear testimony to the goodness of God and the glory of friendship.
Go home today and tell somebody, “I love you.” Get on the phone today and tell somebody, “God put you in my life and I give thanks today.” Set down at your kitchen table today and write a letter like Paul did and remind them of this: “I love you. You fill my life with gladness. I am a stronger, kinder, more Christ-like person because of you.”
Then put on a little John Prine, especially where he sings, “I remember everything…and sometimes a little tenderness is all that I could do.” But even that will make is a powerful Pentecostal Sunday.