Seven letters that say it all

Toni Morrison wrote a tragic and wonderful novel called “Beloved.” It’s the story of a woman named Sethe caught in slavery in the 1800s who, at one point, flees while pregnant from her slave masters to live with her mother-in-law. She gives birth on the run, and when almost re-captured, her precious child dies. In her devastation, she seeks out the man who carves tombstones. She has little money, but he says: “I’ve got a little sliver of granite left over. It is just the size for a baby’s tombstone. If you can give me seven letters in the next few minutes, I have a little time and I’ll carve the tombstone and give it to you for free.” Sethe couldn’t read or spell; she had no idea how many letters would fit. At the baby’s funeral, the preacher had said over and over the words “Dearly Beloved,” so that’s what she wanted on the tombstone. But the man said that was too many letters. So Sethe said, “Would the word ‘beloved’ be too long?” He counted on his fingers: “B-E-L-O-V-E-D.” Then he carved those seven letters that represented a great love and a crippling loss.

Sometimes people call me “preacher,” and I don’t mind. I prefer to be called “pastor,” or by my first name, but after all, I do preach. It’s a gift to be able to stand before others and share a word that I hope encourages and blesses.

What will I say each week? I hope that as I preach, no matter what topic or theme, people will hear the consistent word underneath the words: “beloved.” I want people to know they are dearly loved. Each person is precious, unique, wonderful. This is not my message; it’s the consistent message of the Bible, although there are some obscure, confusing parts that get a lot of attention. The long arc of the Bible is love. Across time, continents, cultures and generations, the message is the same: B-E-L-O-V-E-D.

If people could grasp how beloved they are, letting that truth sink deep into their bones, I believe that we would be able to endure most every hardship in this life. If they could hear that word above all of the painful words pronounced over their lives — no good, a failure, hopeless, ugly — our world would be so much better.

When Jesus was baptized, the story goes that the heavens opened, and the Spirit of God descended on Him like a dove. Then there was a voice from heaven: “This is my Beloved Son; with Him I am well-pleased.” (Matthew 3:17) Sometimes when I baptize people, I remind them that God speaks the same words over them: “Beloved. With you God is well-pleased.”

Wherever you are today, in whatever unyielding circumstance, however great your despair, know that you are the beloved of God. Let that truth be carved upon the stone of your life.