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  • The Rev. Arianne Rice

Unconditional Love

“As the people were filled with expectation….” Spending time with the opening to this morning’s gospel I couldn’t help but wonder how different it would be if it were translated, “as the people were filled with expectations” (plural).

Expectation is a questioning of the heart – a longing, a hope. Expectations are something else entirely – usually based on what our ego wants.

As a 12-step saying goes, “Expectations are just disappointments waiting to happen.”

Have you ever prompted a “thank you” by saying, “you’re welcome” when you felt robbed of your acknowledgement? Maybe holding a door open for someone who then walked on by, or letting someone move ahead in a line, or trying to get your kids to understand how social interactions work. We prompt– you’re welcome, because someone didn’t meet our expectations.

Which got me to thinking how God never does that! Not once throughout the canon of scripture do we hear the word of God declare – you’re welcome for every good gift you have been given. The most repeated phrases in scripture have nothing to do with God reminding us of where we fall short. Instead the phrases are, “do not fear” – a reminder of our strength, faith, trust and courage. Or, phrases like what we hear from Isaiah this morning – you are mine, called by name, honored, precious and I love you. Reminders that we are loved unconditionally.

That is the expectation that fills the questioning hearts of those gathered at the river this morning. Can it be true? Is their such thing as a God of Love who doesn’t bother reminding us of our indebtedness but our belovedness?

Here is a story of a mother, father and daughter ("Letter Day Saint" from This American Life, 14 min if you want to listen) and I believe it beautifully shares the challenges, the joy and grief and courage of our moving towards unconditional love.

We simply can’t do it, not all the time, which is why we need God. Invariably we have to let go of our expectations - that is the holy surrender. This is the most courageous work of trusting God will lead us through the refiner’s fire of letting go of our what we want, the outcome we desire – instead choosing “do not fear, I am with you.” Always. No matter what happens.

The moments when hearts are breaking are the times the wheat is being separated from the chaff – the life-giving stuff is seen and felt and its very clear what can be thrown away.

Every sacrament, like Jesus’ baptism this morning or the last supper he shared that becomes our Eucharist every Sunday, is a reminder of this. That we already have received God’s unconditional love. We don’t need a drop of water to touch our heads for us to be forgiven. We don’t need to put a wafer in our mouths to be saved.

We need those signs, those sacraments to remember.

The work of our entire lives is accepting this truth, surrendering to this truth in the times when our hearts are breaking open in grief and joy and love. This is why Paul reminds us working out our salvation is an act of fear and trembling (Phil 2:12). Or why John the Baptist says the Spirit will come with fire. Or why we are always being reminded by God and the angels – do not fear, I am with you always.

God is Love. God loves unconditionally. Read the words of Isaiah. Write them to yourself. Take and eat. Receive and accept. You are precious. You are honored. And God loves you.

This is the source of the love we have for ourselves and the love and compassion we share with everyone else. Amen.

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