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Reflection September 8, 2019
"God’s Abundant Love:Maranatha!" - by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
There’s a passage from the prophet Isaiah which serves as a bedrock of all faith: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire, you shall not be burned and the flame shall not consume you … Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.” (Isaiah 43: 1,2,4)
What an amazing proclamation from God through Isaiah. God loves us. God loves all creation through the enormous expanse of created time. The greatest highlight of God’s love was the birth of the Son into our world. But his birth was not the culmination of God’s love. We await the culmination, which will happen when Christ returns to complete creation.
My 45 years of preaching can be easily boiled down to this: God loves us! I wish to point out two dimensions of that love in this week’s Advance.
When we love someone else, what is the first thing we must do? The first thing we must do is to accept the other person. We begin the process of loving another when we accept the other completely even with the person’s faults and flaws (or maybe because of those faults and flaws?).
This acceptance doesn’t mean that we don’t want the person to grow and become a better person. But the first requirement, the first demand of love, is acceptance. To accept other people is basically to let them know they are lovable as they are, that they are cherished as they are!
As the Swiss medical doctor and psychotherapist, Paul Tournier stated it: “At the heart of personality is the need to feel a sense of being lovable without having to qualify for that acceptance.” Let me restate Tournier’s quotation in the words of Romans 5:8: “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
God proves God’s love for us in that while we were still living as flawed and fragile humans, God became one of us. Talk about an incredible act of acceptance. Not only did God accept us in our inherent human brokenness but this divine acceptance went to an incomprehensible extreme. Divinity decided to step away from divinity and enter into the full reality of human existence and experience.
I imagine there are some readers who remember the 1961 bestseller, Black Like Me. This book, by John Howard Griffin, was a riveting account of a white man changing the color of his skin and then traveling for six weeks through the deep South in 1959 to see how he’d be treated as a black man.
There had been other accounts of life as a black person, such as Ralph Ellison’s classic 1953 novel, Invisible Man, but Black Like Me had a tremendous impact on helping white people understand the reality of racism in America. I read it as a freshman in high school and it helped me understand racism in a whole new way.
I bring up Black Like Me, because it points out how difficult it was in 1959 for a Southern white man to really know the experience of black people living all around him. Griffin needed to change his skin color in order to truly know what it was like to be a black man. Griffin did this experiment because of his hope of helping heal the wound of racism. I believe his book helped heal at least a bit of the racism that plagued our country then and continues to haunt us down to the present.
I mention this because what we see God do in the Incarnation is so beyond our imagining. God, the Maker of All There Is, the Source of All There Ever Was or Ever Will Be (two further good names for God), wanted to heal the wound that comes with being born human.
Being born human is a great gift and grace, to be sure, but it carries a wound with it: the wound of alienation from our Maker which can be seen in our deep alienation from one another. God decides to heal this alienation, this wound, by becoming human. God loves humans so much that God decides to become one of us. Can we really wrap our minds around this profound reality?
I believe that some of us who accept the truth of the Incarnation of God may do so too easily, too readily. Yes, the Incarnation proves God’s love many times over again, but only if we are careful and thoughtful about accepting it.
If we accept the reality of the Incarnation, then we’re called to treat each other differently than we do. It means we accept the fact that each and every one of us is precious. And if we’re truly precious, then we’re called to act on the truth of this reality.
We’re so precious in the eyes of God, in the eyes of our Creator, that God leapt into the empty womb of a virgin to experience firsthand what it means to be human. This is the most profound way God could find to fully accept the wounded human condition and all of us born human!
Because of this divine love, we’re called to treat each other as awesomely accepted, as profoundly precious. God loves all of us no matter what! We’re loved and accepted without having to earn God’s love and acceptance. God gives it to us as a free gift of grace. So we, as believers, need ponder how to respond to this gift from God.
We can respond by ceasing all oppression and all violence against one another. We can respond by loving one another as we’ve been loved. We can respond by accepting gentleness and kindness as our true human condition rather than arrogance and aggression. We can respond by cherishing each person.
One way we can respond is by seeking healing for the many human ways we react to one another with brutality. One way we can respond is by blessing each other with God’s love, even those who cut us off in traffic, even those in prison for committing terrible crimes.
After acceptance, I believe another vital dimension of God’s love is God’s desire for us to live deeply, to stop living only on the surface of things. God wishes for us to experience all we can experience, but with intensity, with passion. And one of the ways we live with intensity, with passion, is to recognize everything as sacred.
Because God loved us so much, God became human. And in this process, all the experiences of being human have become sacred. In Christ, human life has been filled with a new vitality, a new depth.
Because Christ laughed, laughter is now sacred. Because Christ cried, tears are now sacred. Because Christ ate, eating is now sacred. Because Christ did all the things that humans do, but without sin, now all the activities of the human person, with the exception of sin, are sacred. Because Christ became human, human life is profoundly sacred. Because Christ was born, all creatures born are sacred.
Each of us is called to treat our individual lives as sacred. We cannot allow ourselves to be degraded because we’re sacred. We cannot allow ourselves to sink into every kind of addiction and remain trapped there because we’re sacred. And, yes, I know as a pastor and as a professional counselor, addiction is not easily healed.
We’re called in Christ to stop demeaning our brothers or sisters because our brothers and sisters are sacred. We cannot steal from one another because we’re all sacred. We cannot kill each other because we’re all sacred. It’s a shame that Christianity seems to have so little impact on our leaders. As G.K. Chesterton so well-phrased it: “It’s not that Christianity has been tried and found wanting; (Christianity) has been found difficult and not tried.”
Christianity is HARD! It’s not easy. But, Lord knows, I don’t want to burden any of us with expectations of perfect behavior. I’m decidedly imperfect. Everyone reading this Advance is decidedly imperfect. Every one who comes to our beloved church is decidedly imperfect.
I wrote some weeks ago the article, We Are Not Fixable. Let me add that we are improvable but not perfectible. And nothing will radically change until Christ comes again. Among the final Greek words in the Bible, we find the word, Maranatha, translated as: “Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:21) May it be so and may it be soon!
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor