God wrapped up His message in person, and came knocking on our doors and shaking up our world.
On Friday, my sister-in-law gave birth to a beautiful 8lb 1oz baby girl. It’s not hard for me to imagine the immense love she and her husband must be feeling right now.
I remember the first time I set eyes on each one of my kids. It was an unforgettable moment; with each one came an indescribable and overwhelming sensation that engulf my entire being.
Because this door was open to me, I better understand why the bible uses a parental analogy to describe the Divine and his love for us.
I’ll admit I sometimes struggle to believe that God really loves me. No matter how hard I try, I can sometimes feel a sense of failure and self-condemnation. It’s relatively easy for me to say that God loves everybody else, but there are times when I have trouble believing it about me. What did I ever do to deserve such a blessing of grace and mercy? Have you ever felt this way?
I suspect there’s a tendency for us to question God’s love; especially when bad things happen to us; when our prayers go unanswered; when God seems silent in our suffering and hurting. It doesn’t help our own doubt either when we compare ourselves with others who we believe God made healthier, wiser, wealthier, or prettier than us.
Today’s reading, in fact the entire letter of Romans, Paul skillfully defines God’s grace that is given to us out of deep love for us. A love that can be hard to understand and even harder to accept.
A few years ago, a minister by the name of Judah Thomas asked a group of 4 to 8 year old to define what love meant. As you might imagine, the answers varied from the amusing to the profound.
One child said, “Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other.”
Another believed, “Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.”
Then there was this, “When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you.”
I like this one, “Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.”
One of the older kids told the story, “When his grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t paint her toenails anymore. So his grandfather did it for her, even when his hands got arthritis too. That’s love.”
I believe St. Augustine said it best when he wrote, “God loves each one of us as if there was only one of us to love.” To think you are so important to God that even if you were the only person who ever lived, Jesus still would have died for you. That’s crazy love for sure.
Picture all the crazy things people do to win someone’s affection: Poetry, love songs, valentine cards, embarrassing feats on YouTube. None of these things are as crazy as what God did for you through Jesus Christ. All of which he did it with passion, and great purpose.
I recently read about a man in Wales who for 42 years sought to win the affection of a certain lady before she finally said, "Yes." Every week the rather shy, but persistent man slipped a love letter under his neighbor’s door. And every week she refused to speak to him or mend the spat they had over four decades earlier.
After writing 2,184 love letters without ever getting a spoken or written answer, the man eventually summoned up enough courage to present himself in person. He knocked on the door of the reluctant lady and asked for her hand. To his delight and surprise, she accepted.
Time and time again, God tried to get this message through to his creation, but with little response. Finally, when there was no other way, God wrapped up His message in person, and came knocking on our doors and shaking up our world. You can choose not to answer the door, or refuse to accept such love into your life, but as Paul states, nothing will stop God from pursuing a relationship with us.
Like a teenager storming off to their room and slamming the door – we reject the love of our Divine parent because maybe we think we know better. We stand stubbornly, behind our closed door, and resist this truth – deciding FOR God, just how wrong He is about us.
Now if one of my kids were to do this, we’d go to great lengths to assure them of their self worth; emphasizing their very important place in this world. We would not give up. And nether does God.
God knows us; knows we are afraid and have trouble letting go. But still God is patient. He will wait. And wait. Knocking and knocking.
For as Paul boldly asserts, “nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” Death can’t. Life can’t. The angels and demons can’t. Our fears today, our worries of tomorrow, or any earthly powers can’t keep God’s love a bay. Nothing. Not even a closed door, or a stubborn heart.
“Nothing can drive a wedge between you and Christ’s love. Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, hunger, or homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture. The struggles we face in life, the doubts and questions, the fears and worries do not need to faze us, because Jesus loves us.”
Love is the greatest commandment, Jesus said. It was his prime directive—love for God, for self, for neighbor, for stranger, . . . and even for enemy, as he himself modeled. Love took priority over everything else, including his own life.
Before meeting Christ, Paul (then known as Saul) had no time for this kind of love talk. He was into his pious religious-correctness. To guard the purity of his code, he was even willing to kill. But then Paul saw the light, and let go of his religious correctness for love.
Jesus is the perfection of God’s love in the world. And through our faith in him, “God works for the good of those who love him.” One needs to look no further than the Cross of Christ to understand this.
If God can take the very worst of human activity and turn it into the very best thing possible, then I imagine God can take the worst things in your life and use them for good.
Paul argues, the very fact that God gave his Son as a love offering on our behalf means that he will do anything, give anything, to ensure our spiritual flourishing. God did this not because we deserve it or have earned it, but in order to heal our brokenness and our faithlessness. It’s yours for the taking, if you want it.
Despite all our flaws and imperfections, God is still crazy enough to entrust us with his whole heart. But he wants us to use it…to give it away, freely, passionately and purposefully. As the Apostle John says, “Let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God.”
You are a beloved child of a kind and generous God, who will go to any length… and spare no expense… to have you in his life.
God is standing at our closed door, knocking- asking us to share our life with Him. Whispering through the crack, “I love you” even when we deny Him, or refuse to answer, or refuse to see or to accept his love.
God is dedicated, devoted, and determined to remind us of how special we are, how important, how necessary and how loved we are. All we need to do is open the door and let love in.
Rohr, Richard. Faith Expressed as Love devotional. July 17, 2017
Sermon Illustrations by Judah Thomas (https://www.sermoncentral.com) July 28, 2017.
What idols we afraid to let go of?
This past year my son Sean has been reading the Percy Jackson books, which is a series based on a misfit boy who finds his identity among the gods and demigods of Greek mythology.
In these books, Percy spends most of his time trying to prevent catastrophic wars between the competing gods and titans who are vying for control over the human world. Between all the Greek and Roman gods, not one has figured out that we humans like to fight back. We don’t need gods to rule over us. We’re self-sufficient and in total control of our own life. And this is where things get a bit messy.
Self-sufficiency is one of those things we highly value in the U.S. One needs to look no further than the current leadership in Washington D.C. to understand how pervasive it is in our social, political and even religious circles. Some people will go to any lengths to uphold and protect its celebrity, even if the results consistently disappoint.
In this morning’s reading, the prophet Isaiah offers us a perfect snapshot of a self-sufficient God. The oracle is set against the stark and somber backdrop of a people who have closed their eyes and barricaded their hearts against the One who created them, and redeems and sustains them.
Written in the aftermath of the fall of Jerusalem, Isaiah tirelessly proclaims the righteousness of God as he watches his kinfolk being exiled into Babylon. His words, sadly, fall on deaf ears. After all, who would want a deity that deserted a nation when the horrors of war destroyed all they had? Who’d serve such a God?
These questions are just as relevant today, as more people pull away from or outright deny God’s existence. They refuse to hear the Good News of a God who only wants to love and care for them; a God who never abandons them even when they run away, chasing after false gods.
While Percy Jackson battles mythological gods, many of us are battling ones more cleverly disguised. Money, sex, drugs, and power…these are what Tim Keller calls, “Counterfeit Gods,” the idols we chase after with our heart.
Some are harder to see because they are woven tightly into the fabric of society: designer clothes, custom homes, exotic cars, electronics, our bodies…and our minds. From movie and sports stars to politicians and nationalism, we do not have to look very far to see the many idols we’ve created and allow to reign over us.
A friend once pointed out that his church building was a false god because it got more attention paid to it than the people who came to worship in it. One might argue that this is a bit of a stretch, because a building can’t care for itself. It relies on us to maintain its preservation. Are humans any different? Don’t we rely on others to maintain our physical, spiritual, and social wellbeing? Perhaps we aren’t as self-sufficient as we like to believe.
Think about who and what you rely on to get you through the day. All the various people, and things that keep your healthy, safe, fed, clothed, and free. Then think about the money you will spend relying on others so you can believe you’re “self-sufficient.”
The bible tells us there is a God, and this one particular God freely gives us all that we need for this life, and even everlasting life. The other gods in our world seem only take from us. And when we have nothing left to give, they abandon us.
The bible tells us there is only one God offers us true hope and healing. The others feed off our insecurities, fears, anxieties, and worries.
Here’s the best part, this God the bible speaks of… does all this for us… because of great love for us. “For God so loved the world…” (Jn. 3:16).
“The whole Bible,” St. Augustine observes, “does nothing but tell of God's love.” And in this love of God are the answers to all the "whys" in the Bible: the why of creation, the why of the incarnation, the why of redemption, and even the “why bad things happen to good people.”
So why then would anyone not want this perfect love in their life? What little gods and idols we afraid to let go of?
At some point we all must take a serious look at these little gods we pander to: pride, control, pleasure, possessions, popularity, or approval. And we will have to ask ourselves what will happen when they no longer live up to their promise?
Think about how you feel when people don’t “like” your most recent post or status update. How do you react when people unfriend you on Facebook? We rely on others to give us our self-worth, which leads me to believe we are not so self-sufficient that we save ourselves from ourselves.
So who can? Isaiah says, YHWH can. With great confidence this one particular God who has made a covenant with the world declares, “I Am the first and I Am the last, besides me there is no other god.”
God moves on to taunt the other gods, “Who is like me?Which one of you can redeem, heal, save, love, bless and forgive?” The only one able to answer this is the only one who can state, “There is no other rock; I know not one.”
We are not self-sufficient, but God is. In fact, it’s an essential characteristic of God’s loving nature. With a heart full of love for all of creation, God never grows weary from pouring out love upon all its creatures. Giving, and giving, and giving. It’s free for the taking.
From the beginning of time and throughout, God’s love is everlasting. It’s as solid as a rock. We need not fear or be afraid, never mind deny it. Instead, let us welcome it, and bear witness to it in a world that has exiled itself, and darkened its heart from the true light of peace.
“Fear not” says this God, “Do not be afraid,” for one’s faith comes alive in the dark moments when it is difficult to see the blessing of God. What’s that old affirmation: “Sometimes God lets you hit rock bottom, so you will discover that God is the rock at the bottom.”
Jesus reminds us that we can weather the storms of life by putting our faith in God, and not ourselves. He said, “Anyone who hears my words and does them is like a person who builds their house upon a rock. When the storms of life come, the house will stand. But the one who does not hear and do is like a person whose house is built on sand that washes away in the rain.” (Mt. 7:24-27).
There is no other rock like God, the very foundation of all life, as it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever. And yet, there are those who deny this love, refuse this love, and even abandon this love. We so desperately want to be in control, that we lose sight of this. But let’s be real, we can never truly save ourselves.
Many of us rely on family and friends, therapists and medication, and even church to get us through hard times. These are all good things in their own right, and have helped many people.
But just as an alcoholic relies on booze, or the stock market relies on an investor…those things of this world are only temporary.
Eventually the bottle is emptied. And the money runs out. Eventually your family get tired of carrying your burdens and your friends stop shouldering your pain. Whether it’s human beings or nations, the “I can go it alone” attitude is simply unsustainable.
We alone are not sufficient enough to completely help others muchless help ourselves. There will always be something more powerful than you or me. Thus Jesus points us towards that mighty and all-powerful rock where mercy, grace, and love are hewn.
Jesus came to redeem us, to turn us away from the false idols and counterfeit gods of this life that take our life, and to bring us home to be with the God, the giver of life. Jesus is the model of our faith that leads us towards God’s righteousness and God’s faithfulness to us.
When we turn our eyes upon Jesus, we see God incarnate, with open arms and an open heart ready to pour out grace upon grace. God’s love is yours if you want it. But you can’t take it if your hands are full with all the junk in your life. We have to let those idols go, so our hands can be free to accept God’s love, for the self-sustaining gift that it is.
In our reading today Jesus tells a parable. He begins with, “A sower went out to sow,” throwing seeds here and there and everywhere. Some hit the road and got gobbled up. Others took root in rock piles but didn’t last very long. The ones that landed in the grass got twisted up in nothing good. But a few lucky ones that made it into the rich garden soil yielded an amazing and bountiful harvest.
It’s safe to say Jesus is telling us a parable about God (the sower) and our response to God (as the soil). Alone with his disciples, Jesus explains the seed represents the “word of the kingdom.”
Now, I think this is a pretty straightforward story for someone who knows nothing about farming. But it begs the question what kind of farmer would waste seed? Is the word of the kingdom that cheap that God can just toss it into the wind like a dandelion puff?
Even a novice like myself knows that seeds are vulnerable, and susceptible to all sorts of harmful things. Yet they are tough. Some are pretty resilient if not downright defiant (like the damn-de-lion). Fortified with an armor shell, even the tiniest of seedlings can somehow grow a hundred-fold in just a short period of time. Moreover, a seed, which begins the life cycle, can actually move through death as a means to reproduce new life.
In a spiritual sense, they are mysterious and perhaps, I’ll admit, even a little bit magical. So I guess the real question is: what kind of seed would God want to sow liberally?
I believe the answer is love. God’s love to be exact. For divine love is the first and final word of the kingdom of God. Thus Jesus gives the impression that the sower isn’t all that concerned about which soil He allows His seed to take root in. The footpath, the rocks, the weedy soil… they all get a shot.
As my friend Roxy wrote in an email last night, “God isn't content just to sow to the good soil. Though the farmer would want to preserve his seed for the field, God prefers to be profligate in casting His seed as far and wide as He can - even to those who don't care, or won't respond the way He'd like. This is Grace upon grace. This is especially important since most of us aren't great soil to begin with. It takes a while to cultivate our hearts to be good soil.”
Grace, mercy, forgiveness… these are just some of the fruits born out of God’s love for us. Love is the good news, the Word of God incarnate in Jesus Christ, the very seed of everlasting life. God does not discriminate where this seed is scattered and sown. Thus God doesn’t think twice about grabbing a big handful of love, and liberally throwing it at us to see what it will yield.
My friend Dawn argues, "Just because the soil seems bad doesn't mean some seeds won’t take root." She’s right. We can’t discount what we can’t see in the soil (or on the road or under the rocks). God sees it and that alone is sufficient.
The Burren National Park in County Clare, Ireland is a great example. The name burren literally means, “Rocky place.” On the park’s website it states the area got it’s name “because of its lack of soil cover and the extent of exposed limestone pavement.” Yet despite it’s appearance, it has also been called “fertile rock” because of its mixture of nutrient rich herbs and floral species.”
With its scattered pockets of wet, peaty soil among fissured limestone, Burren is home to twenty-three of Ireland’s twenty-seven unique orchid species, as well as other flora and fauna that grows inside the hidden cracks and crevices of this magnificent place.
Imagine all the stuff we’d miss if we only looked at the good soil. Or if God only sowed love in those who were already good.
The good news is God doesn’t overlook any one of us. God loves us all and wants to be with us. Whoever we are, wherever we are… God has sown into all creation the greatest of his love, Jesus Christ, who took the soil of death itself and harvested everlasting life.
Jesus reminds us the sower throws seed amid the rocky, barren, broken places because God’s vision for the world is often found in strange and broken places. Like pesky dandelion seeds, God’s love floats all over creation, and finds its way into all sorts of nooks and crannies. It’s up to us, the soil, to allow that love to take root.
Our calling is to yield the fruit of love, in spite of our soil condition or any earthly predicament we find ourselves in.
Jesus knows the hard ways of this world. He knows that some of us will reject God’s love with hardened hearts, but even the hardest objects can radiate God's truth and beauty. A diamond is a perfect example. Sadly, too many of us don’t see ourselves as valuable.
Jesus also knows the abundant ways of God. He says some of us will receive God's love and even thrive in it. But when the struggles get real, those people flee. The seed has been planted. So there’s always an opportunity for a new life to sprout even if it’s been dormant for a while.
Some of us will work hard to grow strong in our faith and understanding- but we have to be careful. We are vulnerable too. And the lure of greed and the cares of the world can still overpower us and draw us away from fully relying on God’s abundance.
Novelist Bebe Moore Campbell put it this way, “Some of us have empty barrel faith. Walking around expecting things to run out. Expecting that there isn’t enough air, enough water. Expecting that someone is going to do something wrong. But the God I serve told me to expect the best, that there is enough for everybody.”
God is patient and purposeful; sowing the seed of love anywhere and everywhere because God’s redemptive story can reach everywhere and anywhere we find ourselves.
God is not concerned about which soil the seed falls on because God is confident of the power of the seed. Instead God’s attention is focused on the harvest, the spiritual food that will feed the world.
God knows love has power to take root in the harshest ground, but will it bear the fruit of justice, mercy and grace in spite of the terrain? It all depends on how we respond to God.
This week I hope you will take some time to think this parable. As you do, ask yourself if there is any place in your life where you feel God is not present.
Maybe there’s a difficult challenge you’re facing alone. Maybe you have doubts that are causing you to look elsewhere. Maybe you’re stuck in a place you DON’T want God to be present.
Observe the many soils of your life, relationships, and troubles. Then ask yourself if you really believe there is anywhere on that list that God’s seed of love cannot take root and sprout something beautiful and life-giving, thirty, sixty, and hundred-fold?
Let us pray:
Thank you God for your abundance and generosity of love, patience, kindness, grace and mercy that you have given to us out of great love for us, through Jesus Christ, Amen.
“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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