The "Jesus Loves You" Experiment

“Jesus Loves You.” Frederick Buechner tells a story in one of his sermons in which he hears this phrase directed at him as he walks through Central Park in New York one Spring day. He says that it catches him by surprise and it takes him a few seconds to realize what just happened, yet as he stops and turns around to find the person, she is long gone mingled in the mass of pedestrians.

I read this sermon about five months ago, and this story confronted me, challenged me, and would not leave me alone. I have re-read it few times. I decided to try an experiment, and it has made a difference in my life. I don’t feel nearly as bold as the woman in Central Park to speak these words aloud to those I pass on the street. However, as I walk down the street – or wait in line at the store – or people watch at the bus station, I look at each person and in my head say, “Jesus loves you!” This completely changes the way I see people. I say it in Latvian, and I need to learn the Russian – it helps me “contextualize” the situation. (When we were in Rome I tried to say it in Italian.) It challenges my inclination to judge or take offense or gawk or avert my gaze. It reminds me that God truly loves each and every person – the crippled beggar; the arrogant mafioso; the girl too young to have lost her innocence; “Jesus loves you!” – the important business person; the despondent store clerk; the toddler amazed by falling snow and his mother who needed a few drinks to cope with single-parenthood; “Jesus loves you!” – the bitter man to beat down to be amazed by anything at all; the young couple laughing as they walk arm and arm; the other couple whose yelling leads to blows; “Jesus loves you!”- the men from other countries here on “woman trips”; the young women who go after those men; the driver who cut me off in traffic; “Jesus love you!” – the …

Sometimes this phrase leads to giving a loaf of bread or placing a coin in a palm or praying for a person throughout the day. Hopefully this can lead to the courage of the Central Park woman, for it is not enough for me to see people as loved by God, because they need to know it, too. (More on this thought in the next blog.)

This experiment has me thinking of another experiment along similar lines to carry out simultaneously – the “I forgive you” experiment…

As you go through the rest of your day today, May you know in a tangible way that God loves you and that God’s love is for everyone around you. PEACE

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