This was my first “official” sermon at Auburn:

Some years ago, a young professional woman living in New York City told her priest, in the wake of yet another breakup, with yet another man, that she was “so … very very … tired of always having to try to change who she was to try to please some … very very trying … man. Why,” she asked, “couldn’t someone simply love her for herself?”
To hear some Christians, you’d think that God is a rich, powerful old man who lives in a mansion outside of town. He invites us to be honorary members of his family. Which means, in practical terms, that once a week, we all have to put on our very best clothes and our very best manners for a formal tea at his mansion. And we’d better watch out. Because if we offend him in any way, he keeps a fully staffed torture chamber in his basement. And once once someone goes into the basement, they are never seen again.
Neither the endless stream of boyfriends (or, if we reverse roles, girlfriends) nor dear Uncle God with his torture chamber really love us – do they? Because they do not accept us for who we are.
Our God, the God Jesus calls Abba, actually loves us.
If there is one thing I want you to hear during my time with you as your Priest-in-Charge, it’s that our God loves us. As we actually are. God loves us with the same nurturing, self giving, sacrificial love that we always hope parents have for their children. In fact, I’d say, God’s love for each and every one of us is the model we are trying to follow in loving our children, our spouses, our neighbor – which is simply another way of saying fellow human beings.
I think it’s hard for us to accept this. Maybe because, when we allow ourselves to think about it, we know how far from perfect (and deserving of this kind of love) we are. But that’s the point. Love is a gift. In theological terms, it’s Grace.
Now, certainly I could do things that would sabotage my marriage – I could act in ways that are destructive to my marriage. In fact, I’m sure I do sometimes act in destructive ways. I think that’s part of what it means to be human.
But my love for Anne changes the way I live. Sometimes, often I hope, I do things, I choose to do things, I want to do things, because I know they will please Anne. And I want to please Anne. Because I love her. I care for her well-being. I want to act in ways that will make her happy and make her life better.
And when I do this, I often find, surprise surprise, that this ends up making my life better too!
Still, Anne’s love for me is, and always will be, a gift.
Nothing I can do will earn her love.
And suggesting to her that she ought to love me because of all I’ve done for her – that I’ve earned her love and she owes me her love – is one of the more destructive things I could do to our marriage.
God’s love for each and every one of us is a gift too.
Hopefully we want to act in ways that will please God – ways that will probably make our lives better and fuller too as a byproduct. But God actually loves us. The real us. The person we really and actually are. God knows us – fully. And God loves us.
God always invites us to move our lives in directions that will draw us closer to him. And, in the same way that an angry teen can leave home in anger and reject everything their family stands for, we can leave God.
But God still cares about our well-being.
God still wants what’s best for us in our lives.
God still loves us.
We don’t have to accept the gift of God’s love.
But that gift is always and everywhere on offer.
God loves us so much that, in the person of Jesus, God gave his life for us – so that we would always know that whatever we’ve done, wherever we’ve been, God still has a place waiting for us in our true home.
God’s hand is always extended, waiting only for us to take that hand and come home where we are truly known and loved.

I say this to you in the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Amen.