Henri Nouwen at Crystal Cathedral, Part One | Episode Transcript
Karen Pascal: This week, we have a very special treat for you. We’re going to give you the first sermon that Henri Nouwen preached at the Crystal Cathedral in California. There’s a total of three sermons and they’re so inspiring, but there’s an interesting story about why we have these three sermons. When Dr. Robert Schuller invited Henri to speak at the Crystal Cathedral, this was already the most-watched Sunday morning televised Christian church service around the world. A Catholic priest had never been asked to give the sermon at the Crystal Cathedral before. It was a first. Dr. Schuller told Henri he would speak three times that Sunday.
So, Henri assumed he needed to prepare three different sermons. The truth was that these three Sunday services were normally a repeat, just because so many people attended the services. But fortunately for us, Henri did not understand that one sermon was all that was needed. So he prepared and gave three different messages. I’m so glad Henri didn’t understand. And as a result, we have three very meaningful sermons from Henri Nouwen. In this first in the series of three, Henri tells us with such conviction that we’re the beloved daughters and sons of God. And he helps us understand how to incorporate this knowledge into the very core of our being. In his thick Dutch accent, he starts out to tell us that he’s going to share his face with us, but what he’s really saying is he’s going to share his faith with us. Please take time to listen and let the truth of what Henri Nouwen shares descend to the very core of your being.
Henri Nouwen: I’m really grateful to be with you here this morning, and to share my faith with you. And to the core of that face belongs to my conviction that you and that I, and that we are the beloved daughters and sons of God. I might as well say that from the very beginning: You, we are the beloved sons and daughters of God. One of the enormous spiritual tasks we have is to claim that, and to live a life based on that knowledge. And that’s not very easy. In fact, most of us fail constantly to claim the truth of who we are. I took this flip chart here to give you a little idea about how we often live our lives.
If I draw a little line here, and I say, “That’s my life, my little chronology.” You can also say my little clock time. Well, I was born in 1932 and I wonder what I should put here [at the other end of the line]. Maybe about 2010. It’s not so bad, but that’s really all I have. And you may say, “Well, listen, I came a little later.” So you came here. You may say, “Oh, I have a few more years here.” But it doesn’t make very, very much difference. It’s still a small, little life that you have. A tiny, little life that goes by very, very fast. Like that [snaps fingers]. And the question for you and for me is, “Who are we?” Because that’s the question that keeps us going, because all during our lives we try to answer that question. Who am I? And the first answer we lived with is, “I am what I do.”
And that’s very real. You know, when I do good things and when I have a little success in life, I feel good about myself. But when I fail, then I start getting a little low or depressed. And when I’m getting older, I might say, “I cannot do much, but look at the trophies. Look, I did a lot of good things in my life. Or look at my books or look at the music I wrote, or look at my children I educated, or look, look, look, I did something good.”
Or we might say, “I am what other people say about me.” What others say. You know, that’s very, very powerful, what people say about you. In fact, sometimes it’s most important. If people speak well about you, you can walk around quite freely. But when somebody started talking behind your back or when somebody starts saying negative things about you, you suddenly might feel very, very sad. And I remember speaking to thousands of people, and people saying, “That was wonderful, what you said.” But it was one man who sat up. “Hey,” he says. “I thought it was a lot of nonsense.” And that’s the only man I remembered. It seems as if, when somebody talks against me or against you, that can cut deep into your heart. And when somebody in the morning says something about you, that’s really hurtful. Somebody calls you stupid or so, it can stay with you the whole day and ruin your mood.
And you might also say, “I am what I have. I am what I have.” I’m a Dutch person. I have kind parents. I have a good education. I have good health. I have a lot of things. But as soon as I’m losing any of it, if a family member dies or if my health goes, or if I lose the property I might have, then I can slip into inner darkness. And what I want you to hear for a moment is, quite often, a lot of your and my energy goes into, “I am what I do. I am what people say about me. I am what I have.” And you know, when that’s the case, our life quickly becomes like this, because when people speak well about me and when I have a lot of things and when I do good things, I’m quite up. I’m excited.
But when I start losing, when suddenly I find out that I cannot do anything anymore, when suddenly I find out that people talk against me, when finally, I discover that I lose my friends, I might slip into depression and be very low. And before you realize it, you and I on a zigzag, because we are up when these things are all right, but we are down when we start losing out. And most of our mental work then is to just stay above the line. And we call that surviving. We want to survive, survive. We want to hold on to our good name, hold on to some good product, hold on to our property.
But we know, somewhere, that at the end, there is a rule that says you’re going to die after all. And you know, when you live this kind of life with all these ups and downs, the end is death. And when you’re dead, you’re dead. Nobody talks about you anymore. You don’t have anything anymore. You can’t do anything anymore. You lose it all. And that little, little life of yours and of mine adds up into nothing.
And what I want to say to you today, is that this whole thing is wrong. That that is not who you are. And that is not who I am. That’s what the demon said to Jesus when he went to the desert. He says, “Turn these stones into bread and show you can do something. Jump from the temple and let people catch you, so they speak well about you. Kneel in front of me and then I will give you a lot of possessions. Then you are loved because you do something. People speak well about you and you have something, and everybody’s going to love you.”
And Jesus says, “That’s a lie. That’s the greatest lie, that makes you and me enter into relationships of violence and destruction. Because I know who I am. I know who I am because before the Spirit sent me to be tempted, the Spirit came upon me and said, “You are the beloved child. You are my beloved son. On you, my favor rests.”
That’s who you are. That’s who I am. And Jesus heard that voice: “You are my beloved. On you my favor rests.” And it was that voice that he clung to as he lived his life and people praised him and people rejected him. And people said, “Hosanna!” and people crucified him. But Jesus held on to the truth. Whatever happens. I am the beloved of God. And that is who I am. And that allows me to live in a world that keeps rejecting me or praising me or laughing at me or spitting on me. I am the beloved. Not because people say I’m great, but because I am the beloved, even before I was born.
And dear friends, if there is anything, anything I want you to hear this morning, is that what is said of Jesus is said of you. You have to hear that you are the beloved daughter and son of God. And to hear it not here, but right here. To hear it so that your whole life can be turned around
And listen to the Scriptures: “I have loved you with an everlasting love. I have written your name in the palm of my hand from all eternity. I have molded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you together in your mother’s womb. I love you. I embrace you. You are mine and I am yours. And you belong to me.” You have to hear that, because if you can hear that voice that speaks to you from all eternity to all eternity, your life will become more and more the life of the beloved, because that’s who you are. And then you’ll start discovering all that you do here is nurtured from the knowledge that you are the beloved. That’s who you are. And when you start believing in this, that circle of knowledge will grow, become bigger and bigger and bigger, until it cuts right into your daily life. You will still have rejections and you will still have praise and you will still have losses, but you’re living no longer as a person searching for his or her identity, but you will live it as the beloved. You will live your pain and you will live your anguish and you will live your successes and you will live your failures, as the one who knows who you are.
And I want to give you a little word here. The voice that calls you the beloved is the voice of the first love. First love. John writes, “Love one another, because God has loved you first.” And the great struggle – and it’s not easy; I’m not talking about something easy – is to claim that first love. You are loved before your father and your mother and your brother and your sister and your teachers loved you. The people who love us don’t always love us well. The people who care for us also wound us. And you might know from your own experience, that those who are closest to you, like your father, your mother, your children, your brother, your teachers, your churches, are also the ones who might hurt you most. And how to live that, how to live the truth that in this world, love and wounds are never separated.
We can only live it when we always reclaim that first love, so that we can forgive those who love us poorly, but also so that we can recognize, in the love that we do receive, a hint or a glimpse of that first love, that is real. Could you hold onto that? I mean, every time you have a temptation to become bitter, to become jealous, to lash out, to feel rejected, can you go back and say, “No, I am the beloved daughter of God. And even though I am rejected, that rejection should become for me a way to reclaim the truth. It should be like a pruning that helps me to claim more fully and deeply the truth of my belovedness. And if I can hold onto that and live in the world, then I can be free to love other people without expecting them to give me all that my heart desires, because God has created you and me with a heart that only God’s love can satisfy. And every other love will be partial, will be real but limited, will be painful. And if we are willing to let the pain not make us bitter, but prune us to give us a deeper sense of our belovedness, then we can be free as Jesus and walk on this world and proclaim God’s first love wherever we go.
Karen Pascal: Thank you for listening to today’s podcast. As Henri Nouwen has reminded us, God has created us with a heart that only God’s love can satisfy. When we’re tempted to feel rejected, we need to reclaim the truth of our belovedness and then we can be free to love others. One book I want to recommend to you is Henri Nouwen’s Life of the Beloved. It’s one of my favorites, and the truths captured in this sermon series can be found there as well. For more resources related to today’s podcast, click on the links on the podcast page of our website. If you like, you can actually watch this sermon on our YouTube channel. You’ll find a link in the podcast notes to this video. If you have enjoyed this podcast, please let us know, give us a thumbs-up or a good review and share it with others. Thanks for listening. Until next time.
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