Everything Want to be Loved - First Congregational Church of Los

“Everything Want to be Loved”
February 14, 2016
Dr. R. Scott Colglazier
Senior Minister
First Congregational Church
Los Angeles, CA
Scripture Reading – I John 2:7–11
Well, it’s Valentine’s Day, and that means there’s a swirl of emotion present in our congregation this
morning. If you’re in love with someone, then it’s a day of great celebration and romance. But if
you’re not in love someone, then perhaps you’re celebrating today as Independence Day. And that’s
fine too. Of course, love is complicated. We all know that. Years ago I asked a girl to be my
Valentine and she said she couldn’t be my Valentine for medical reasons. I said, “Why?” She said,
“Because you make me sick.” So it goes. Well, wherever you are today in relationship to love, I wish
you a blessed Valentine’s Day.
The title for my sermon this morning comes directly from the novel, The Color Purple by Alice
Walker. “Everything want to be loved.” That’s what Shug Avery says to Celie as she tries to explain
God to her. “Everything want to be loved.” And it’s true. As human beings we are wired to give love
and receive love, and I’m not just speaking about that delicious experience of falling in love. There
are all kinds of love. It’s the feeling that we count to someone. It could be family. It could be
friendship. It could be the kind of love we feel in a community of faith.
Certainly this is why the centerpiece of our faith is that God is a God of unconditional love,
goodness and grace. And so, as our Bible reading suggests, if we really want to find God, all we need
to do is love. And if we refuse to love, then we’ll never find God. It’s that simple. To say that God is
love is another way of saying that the ultimate point of human existence is love. It’s not about
making the most money. It’s not about having the most toys. It’s not about garnering the most
prestige. It’s not about gaining the most power. The point of life is love. That’s the Christian
But I want to say something else today. For those of you who are musicians, you know every well
that the silence between the notes is just as important as the notes themselves. And for those of you
who are artists, you know that what you don’t paint on a canvas, the negative space, is just as
important as what you do paint on the canvas. And as a preacher I know that what I choose not to
say on any given Sunday is often more important than what I do say.
In the same way, we cannot love, without the experience of absence. Absence. I’m thinking about
that for a couple of reasons today. First of all, in the book, The Color Purple, one of the story lines is
that Celie loves her sister Nettie. These two girls loved one another. Yes, they had a bleak existence.
And yes, they grew up in miserable circumstances. But they loved one another. Part of the story is
1 that Celie and Nettie are separated. Celie was eventually married off to a man, and the man was
mean and cruel toward her. Nettie was sent off to work for a family, and she eventually goes with
that family to Africa to become a missionary. Almost every day Celie would write a letter to Nettie.
But she never heard from her. And Nettie wrote letters to Celie. But Celie never saw those letters,
because her tyrannical husband hid the letters from Celie as an abusive exercise of power. What you
see in the novel are two sisters – they love one another desperately – but their love is forced to
embrace a palpable sense of emptiness. It’s love that grows around absence.
Why am I sharing this with you today? It’s because at some point all of us will have love that
becomes an experience of absence. It could be the loss of a spouse or partner. It could be the road
not taken with this person or that person. It could be the love you wanted, say from a mother or
father, but you never quite got it. It’s absence. It’s emptiness. One of the most difficult experiences
in life is when you love someone, but for whatever reason, the other person does not love you in
return. When loves comes to such an abrupt end the absence is almost overwhelming. I notice in our
church week after week the number of people who live so far away from their families. Family in
Japan. Family in the Fillipines. Family in Nigeria. Family in Germany. Family in Mexico. It’s love,
but it’s love that learns to live with absence.
I’ve never really talked about this experience, but I think you’ll understand what I’m trying to say if I
share it this morning. I lost a lifelong friendship a few years ago. And to this day I still don’t really
know what happened. There were some misunderstandings. There were some hurt feelings. I’m sure
I did or said something wrong, I don’t know, but for the life of me, I don’t really know what
happened. They withdrew, it was a couple, they withdrew from me. And then they grew more
distant. And then I reached out and we had a few conversations, because one of my personal flaws is
that I think I can make everything better, but nothing was better. And then I wrote pleading,
begging, contrite letters that went unanswered. And what I thought was a week or two or maybe a
month-long rupture in our friendship has now grown into a loss that is going on five years.
I loved them. I thought of them as family. Closer than family. But it’s now love that is growing
around an absence. I still think about them all the time. I have dreams about them. I wonder if they
ever miss me. I wonder if they are happy. Something happens to me in my daily life, and I have a
reflex, like a psychological muscle inside my soul, and I want to reach out to them, but the
friendship has become like a phantom limb – it’s not there anymore – yet I still feel them in my
body. Maybe not all of you but some of you know what I’m trying to say. I’ve learned – no, I’m
learning – that if you open yourself to love the presence of another person, at some point you’re
going to have to embrace some absence too.
There’s even a sense that sometimes we feel this with God. If you really want an honest depiction of
the faith experience, all you need to do is read the Psalms. Of course you’ll find in the Psalms ringing
endorsements of God. That God is a rock. That God is a king. That God is from everlasting to
everlasting. But you also see another side in the Psalms. Sometimes the psalmist cries out, “Where
2 are you God?” “Why have you deserted me, God?” “Wake up and listen to me, God. I need you
right now!” What I’m saying is that even our love of God must find a way to embrace what feels like
the absence of God.
I’ve noticed something over the past few years in our church. It’s that some of you are here today
because even though you thought you were done with religion and done with God and for sure you
thought you were done with getting up and going to church on Sunday morning, you kept feeling
something. You kept feeling the phantom presence of the divine. And I’m so grateful that you are
finding your way to a love of God that also embraces absence. Some of us are finding that even
though we thought we were done with God, God wasn’t quite done with us. And so we’re here,
searching for the presence of God and enduring the occasional absence of God.
Okay, there’s one more reason why I share all of this with you today. It’s because I have a favorite
love poem I want to read to you. It’s Valentine’s Day after all! But it’s a love poem of presence and
absence. It’s by the great Irish poet W.B. Yeats. The poem is titled “The Song of the Wandering
Aengus.” The Aengus, in Irish mythology, was a kind of god of love or poetic inspiration. Think of
it as the Irish version of Cupid. Instead of a red heart you get a green heart. It’s a poem about a man
who goes out into the woods, catches a fish, and then that fish turns into a beautiful woman. But if
you’ve ever done any fishing, you know that sometimes the fish gets away. I love this poem because
it is so mysterious and because it’s a reminder that sometimes we experience love in the form of
presence and sometimes in the form of absence. Take a listen. The Song of the Wandering Aengus
by William Butler Yeats:
I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.
When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.
3 Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.
Friends, it’s Valentine’s Day. Wherever you are with love today – presence, absence, or both – let’s
affirm again that nothing brings us closer to the heart of God than love and loving others is always
the pathway to God’s heart. Some days love is fullness. And some days love is emptiness. But it’s still
love. Which is why I say every Sunday – because I really feel it and I really mean it – I love you all.
Let’s love one another. Amen.
Rev. Dr. R. Scott Colglazier, Senior Minister
Rev. Laura Fregin, Associate Minister • Dr. Tom Eggebeen, Interim Associate Minister
Dr. Jonathan Talberg, Director of Music • Christoph Bull, Organist-In-Residence
Wilshire Center • 540 S. Commonwealth Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90020 • Tel 213.385.1341