Preacher of Love

I grew up in a small congregation of 100 people. We met for church three times a week. Sunday morning (bible class and worship service), Sunday evening (brief worship service, short sermon), and Wednesday night (bible study followed by a short devotional).

So beyond the Sunday morning sermon there were two other "sermon" slots. A short 20-or-so minute sermon on Sunday nights. And a 5-10 minute devotional talk after the bible study on Wednesday night.

These were the slots--Sunday evening and Wednesday night--where some of us could try our hand at preaching. You'd start off on a Wednesday night, and if you did good at that, you'd be offered to do a Sunday evening service. And if you were really, really good then you might get a Sunday morning sermon if the preacher was out of town.

As young person in junior-high and high-school I started working my way up through these slots. People in my church enjoyed listening to me and I felt I had a knack for preaching.

There weren't many Churches of Christ in our area. And the ones that did exist were smaller than our church, 20 to 40 people, and, given their size, they didn't have a preacher. So these smaller congregations were always eager to have someone guest preach. Word got out in the area that there was a high-school kid who was a pretty good preacher. So on some Sundays during my senior year of high-school my parents would drive me an hour or two to a small church and I'd preach for them.

Then I went off to college. And the college I attended, as a part of their recruiting efforts, would bus a bunch of us students to an area church on Sunday mornings. We brought a singing group and an acting troop. The students would lead the worship service and there would be a potluck afterward. And then the singing and acting groups would provide some entertainment. It was a win/win. The church had a special event Sunday and the college students, craving some home-cooking, would get a church potluck dinner.

Obviously, given that the school wanted to make a good impression upon the church and the families of prospective students, the admissions department wanted to have good speakers lined up to do the sermons for these churches. When I got to the school I let them know I'd done a lot of preaching in high-school. They tried me out and I eventually became one of the more heavily used preachers on these trips. So I ended up preaching a lot in college as well.

One day on campus Liz--who was a regular on these trips and, thus, had heard me preach a great deal--came up to me and said, "You know what I'm going to call you?"

"What?" I asked.

"The Preacher of Love."

At some point during my senior year in high-school my preaching had started focusing on a singular subject: God is love. I began preaching on that theme almost exclusively. Whenever or wherever I preached that was my topic. The love of God.

It wasn't the same sermon. But each sermon--with new texts, new stories, and new jokes--always had one point in view. The love of God.

I didn't think any other subject was worth talking about in comparison. If I was going to guest preach at a church, if this was going to be my first and last sermon for you, then I wanted to say the most important thing I could think of.

God is love.

So that's what I preached about. Over and over.

Liz noticed it, so that's what she called me. The Preacher of Love.

Sort of an embarrassing moniker, but you often don't get a chance to pick your own nickname.

But looking back on it now, I can see how something crystallized within me then that I've never let go of. Theologically, I'm still that kid in the pulpit. I don't think I've ever stopped preaching that sermon.

I think I really only believe one thing about God. I believe that God is love. That's what I believe. And I believe it passionately.

So everything is filtered through that lens. It is my creed. It is my hermeneutic. It is the heart and substance of my faith.

God is love.

That is the only sermon I've ever wanted to preach.

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21 thoughts on “Preacher of Love”

  1. Why?

    Why did you come to the conclusion that God is love, and that this is the one thing you really believe about God? Because Jesus said so? I'm not disagreeing with you, I'm just wondering (For me, I'd slot in "God is Creative"... which I guess is another word for love).

  2. Certainly, the best moniker any preacher can have. It SHOULD make you feel good about yourself.

    Because scripture says that love is the greatest of all things, many Bible believers get caught up in the "bass ackwards" thinking that the wording creates the truth. The truth, however, is that love has always been the OBSERVABLE greatest of all things. Much of Jesus's teaching of love came through parables of nature and every day life. He said we can see it and know it if we just look.

    There is a statement in the Gospel of Thomas where Jesus says, "Recognize what is in front of your face, and what is hidden will be revealed". I think when we purposefully approach each moment with eyes wide open, we see the love we usually missed when we flitted through the day. It sounds like LIz saw the love in front of her face, which, in time, I am sure, created a new experience for her religion she had never before anticipated.

  3. Yes, me too. Be thankful you ran into George MacDonald so soon in your life. It took me a couple decades before I read his writings which helped me to ditch all the baggage that kept me from all out believing that God really is love. Better late than never.

  4. That's what it's really all about, Richard. When John wrote, "Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love", he was telling us of God's essential quality,agape instead of listing a descriptive attribute.

    Love this post.

  5. I love that. It's the foundation of the story of God, and the only sermon I want to preach, too.

  6. I think you're centering on God's easy quality. His greater quality, a more difficult one held by the less weak among us, is that He's the Hammer of Righteousness; a Righteousness best expressed in Church attendance and the Free Market Place.

  7. What a wonderful compliment from your classmate! Thank you for mentioning George MacDonald. The name was new to me, but I just looked him up and found that he occupied the same place for some of my favorite writers that those writers did for me. Time to go on a book store binge!

  8. He's not the easiest read, given his style. So warnings about that. But the place to begin and end is Unspoken Sermons.

    David Baldwin read Unspoken Sermons for Librivox, so you can listen to them as well:

  9. A moniker I didn't even know about, is why I regularly read this blog. Thanks for staying on message.

  10. Love this post.

    I share a lot of Richard's background. I grew up in a small (but different) congregation in the same "denomination." I, too, was encouraged to preach as a young boy. I, too, preached my way through much of college, though I did so at an (even smaller!) congregation that very graciously listened to my rambling sermons from Sunday-to-Sunday with minimal criticism.

    I wish I could claim the "preacher of love" moniker, too, but I think I was still struggling to emerge out of my fundamentalist background at the time. You could probably have observed that process in what I was saying, if you listened closely enough in the moments where I had the courage to speak what I thought.

    Looking back, I can see how, in my mind, the Biblical text (which we treated as all-important) and - of all things - our music was slowly but surely subverting much of what was being said by my teachers and mentors. Its just very hard to keep a cap on that sense of unrestrained love and grace that you find in the gospels and in many of our most cherished hymns.

  11. I love this post. It reminds me of Brennan Manning - in one of his books I think he mentions at some point he realized that he only has one message, that God is grace. I love that idea of - "what if this is the only time I ever get to preach to this crowd? What would I say if this is the only thing I could say to you?" We need more preachers of love in the world.

  12. Matt, I had much the same experience. Our song lyrics were almost always better than our theology.

  13. Hi, new to your blog, and this post reminded me of an old story. According to legend, St. John the Evangelist was the only apostle who did not suffer martyrdom, and he died as a very old man. When he grew old, he basically only preached one sermon, to the point that his congregation got fed up with him; all he ever preached was, "Little children, God is Love."

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