Sunday’s Sermon: The Anchor and the Affliction of Love

Texts for this sermon: Psalm 42 and 1 John 4:7-21

This year, we will be using the picture book The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski (ill. by P.J. Lynch) throughout our Advent sermon series. For copyright purposes, I will not be able to share the entirety of that story within the content of these blog posts, but I do encourage you to either check this book out from your local library or purchase a copy for your own personal library. It’s an incredible story with stunning illustrations.

jonathan toomey cover

  • Quick breakdown of sermon series/Jonathan Toomey’s story up to this point
  • And so we continue with our story this morning. – [read pt. 3[1], pp. 18-25]
    • Last week, we talked about little Thomas’ determination to break through Jonathan Toomey’s tough outer shell and about God’s determination to break through all the difficult and dark things that surround us.
      • Didn’t see a lot of evidence that Thomas’ efforts were very fruitful last week → But this week, we see Jonathan Toomey’s chilly exterior beginning to thaw.
        • Cares about impression he makes on Widow McDowell and Thomas – smooths down his hair and cleans himself up before jumping up to answer the door when he hears them knock
        • Concedes to teach Thomas how to carve – story: When the church bells chimed six o’clock, Jonathan Toomey was holding Thomas’s hand in his, guiding the knife along the edge of a [robin’s] wing.[2]
        • Finally willingly speaking to Thomas – actually requests Thomas’ help/elicits his opinion on remaining figures (gradual process)
          • Starts a little grudgingly with angel: “Mr. Toomey, excuse me, is that my angel you’re carving?” “Yes. And would you do me the favor of telling me exactly what I’m doing wrong?”[3]
            • Initiation still comes from Thomas but at least Jonathan Toomey’s response is more than a grunt
          • A little more open with Joseph and wise men: “Next, I will carve the wise men and Joseph,” the woodcarver said to Thomas. “Perhaps, before I begin, you will tell me about all the mistakes I am going to make.”[4]
          • With final figures – Mary and Jesus – Jonathan Toomey loses all hints of sarcasm and grouchiness: “I am about to begin the last two figures – Mary and the baby. Can you tell me how your figures looked?”[5]
  • You know, as I read these pages over and over again this week, I kept picturing an ice cube melting in your hand. Yes, a large part of that imagery has to do with the fact that Jonathan Toomey’s demeanor seems to be warming and softening under Thomas’s adoring and persistent 7-year-old touch. But there’s more to it than that. Have you ever actually sat there and held onto an ice cube while it melts?
    • Holding a melting ice cube = kind of painful → It’s cold – so cold! – and sometimes that cold literally becomes too much to handle.
      • No matter what relationship you’re talking about – family relationships, friendships, or romantic relationships – there’s always going to be friction. There are always going to be times when we disappoint and hurt and challenge one another.
        • Point of clarification: difference between pain involved when someone hurts our feelings and pain involved in abuse (any kind) → abuse is never okay
      • But the risk that’s involved in loving someone is that when you love, you give someone a piece of yourself with the full knowledge and awareness that that piece may well end up getting a little bit tattered and torn.
        • Like holding a melting ice cube, this can be painful = the risk/affliction of love
        • Watch this play out in Jonathan Toomey’s story
          • As roles of Thomas and Widow McDowell expand in Jonathan Toomey’s life, they begin to rub up against those raw edges left by his grief (loss of wife, child)
            • Continues softening that we already talked about
            • Also moments of sharp pain – Jonathan Toomey’s reaction to Widow McDowell bringing out cloth embroidered with lilies of the valley and daisies: “Never open that drawer,” the woodcarver said harshly.[6]
          • Ps gives voice to that breaking point: I’m on a diet of tears – tears for breakfast, tears for supper. … Chaos calls to chaos, to the tune of whitewater rapids. Your breaking surf, your thundering breakers crash and crush me.[7]
            • Speaks of pain and discomfort and struggle we all feel in relationship with other people sometimes
            • Important point: reminds us that it’s even okay to feel this way in our relationship with God
              • Sometimes we pray and pray for something, but God’s answer is not the answer we want.
                • Healing
                • Life change (new job, home, etc.)
                • Relationship
              • Sometimes we become so overwhelmed and so frustrated by things in our life that are out of our control (or seem to be out of our control) that we have to vent those frustrations on someone.
                • God = the easiest one
                • God = the only one
  • We know about this risk. We understand this risk. We’ve even experienced the ache that love sometimes brings. And yet, we continue to love. It’s human nature to seek out others with whom we can be in relationship. → relationships/importance of love anchors our hearts and our lives
    • Describe ourselves in terms of our relationships – I am Mark and Dianne’s daughter, David’s sister, Peter’s wife, Luke and Ian’s mom, Megan’s friend, [Oronoco’s]/[Zumbrota’s] pastor.
    • Organize and schedule our lives in terms of our relationships
      • Appointments
      • Holiday gatherings
      • Free time activities
    • Look for approval and support and affirmation from those whom we love → seek them out when we have questions, sorrow, celebrations, even mundane nothings
      • E.g. – talk to Mom almost every day, whether we have anything particular to talk about or not
    • See central nature of love in NT text
      • Loving one another
      • Loving God
      • Speaks to what a central role love plays in faith: This is how God shows his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might light through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about – not that we once upon a time loved God, but that [God] loved us and sent [God’s] Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sin and the damage they’ve done in our relationship with God.[8]
        • God’s love began it when God came to us in the humble, vulnerable form of a tiny baby – the Christ-Child.
        • God’s love was alive in Christ as he lived and ministered to those in the greatest need, those whom society had overlooked and deemed unlovable.
          • Love that was far from easy/comfortable all the time
          • Led Christ to that ultimate act of life – offering his very life for us to “clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God”[9] (Scripture)
        • God’s love continues to be active in this world in us and through us when we model our actions on Christ.
          • See reconciling capability of love in OT text: Your breaking surf, your thundering breakers crash and crush me. Then God promises to love me all day, sing songs all through the night! My life is God’s prayer. … Fix my eyes on God – soon I’ll be praising again. [God] puts a smile on my face. He’s my God.[10]
            • Well-known phase throughout history: Love conquers all.
          • Our hands become Christ’s compassionate hands
          • Our eyes and our hearts become open to those whom society continued to push aside – those who are …
            • Poor
            • Mental illness
            • “Just too different”
          • Scholar: God’s love is creative. As surely as God breathed life into our earthly frames, God continues to create and to sustain in us a capacity for love.[11]
            • Scripture doesn’t say God only loves this specific group or that specific group
            • Doesn’t say we’re only supposed to love this person or that person
            • Instruction is simple: First we were loved, now we love. … Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.[12] Amen.

[1] Susan Wojciechowski. The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey. (Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 1995), 18-25.

[2] Wojciechowski, 21.

[3] Wojciechowski, 18.

[4] Wojciechowski, 21.

[5] Wojciechowski, 24.

[6] Wojciechowski, 23.

[7] Ps 42:3a, 7.

[8] 1 Jn 4:9-10, 29.

[9] 1 Jn 4:10.

[10] Ps 42: 7b-8, 11b.

[11] C. Clifton Black. “The First, Second, and Third Letters of John: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 12. (Nashville, TN, Abingdon Press, 1998), 433.

[12] 1 Jn 4:19a, 21.