March 11, 2018
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22, John 3:14-21
“Nothing You Can Do About It”
The Bible is a love story from beginning to end. It is the story of a God who creates humans in love, stays in relationship because of love, becomes incarnate in love, and calls us to embody that love in all that we do. Psalm 107 begins and ends in God’s steadfast love that endures forever. The final verse tells us that wisdom belongs to those who consider God’s steadfast love. We read this book every Sunday and we look for wisdom for our lives today.
The story in this Psalm is the story of humanity through many difficult circumstances and wrongdoing and the repeated call to thank God for this steadfast love and wonderful works to humankind. This story includes humans wandering in the Exodus, hungry and thirsty, sick, rebelling and EVERY SINGLE TIME God delivers, heals, and loves them through.
I want to write this story today and tell of the ways that God delivers, heals, and loves us through.
What if the Psalm of 2018 included people like this?
Some left their country of origin arriving in a country to find work and stability only to find themselves threatened with deportation.
Some were sick and facing their last days.
Some were wrestling with mental illness.
Some were hungry and homeless.
Some were born into abusive homes.
Some were struggling with addiction.
What if the refrain in the Psalm of 2018 is God’s steadfast love is more than enough?
When we talk about the human situation in this way, it does not mean that there is no pain or suffering. In fact, there is more than enough. It simply means that pain and suffering are accompanied by God’s steadfast love.
The reading from John is a bit cryptic, but it contains the most well-known verse in the Bible – John 3:16 “For God so loved the world as to give the only begotten Son that whoever believes may not die, but have eternal life.” (The Inclusive Bible)
In text study, we read the footnotes about this verse that explained “Eternal life doesn’t speak of immortality or future in heaven, but metaphor for living now in the unending presence of God.” Notes in NRSV
If there is a clear thread throughout the Bible, it is this: “God loves you and there is nothing you can do about it.” God’s love sees us through our pain, our grief, our fear, our loneliness, our illness, our joy, our hope, and our most ordinary days.
David Lose compared God’s love with infant baptism. The infant has no choice. The parents make a decision on the child’s behalf and the child grows up surrounded by those commitments made on his/her behalf. We can’t do anything about the fact that God loves us no matter what.
Dead Man Walking is the story of Matthew Poncelet who is on death row for killing a teenage couple. Matthew is sexist, racist and unwilling to take any responsibility for his crime. Sister Helen begins a relationship with him. She tells Matthew that redemption is possible if he will take responsibility for what he did. He finally admits that he killed them. Sister Helen tells Matthew that God loves him. He cannot wrap his head around a God who could love him. As she walks with him to be executed, Sister Helen says, “I want the last face you see in this world to be the face of love, so you look at me when they do this thing. I’ll be the face of love for you.”
If we believe that God loves us…all of us…no matter what, it changes us. It allows us to look with love on one another and to look with love on those we despise. It changes something in us to be loved.
Fred Craddock tells the story of his father, who spent years of his life hiding from the God who was seeking him out:
"When the pastor used to come from my mother's church to call on him, my father would say, 'You don't care about me. I know how churches are. You want another pledge, another name, right? Another name, another pledge, isn't that the whole point of church? Get another name, another pledge.'
My nervous mother would run to the kitchen, crying, for fear somebody's feelings would be hurt. When we had an evangelistic campaign the pastor would bring the evangelist, introduce him to my father and then say, 'Sic him, get him! Sic him, get him!' My father would always say the same thing. 'You don't care about me! Another name, another pledge. Another name, another pledge! I know about churches.'
I guess I heard it a thousand times. One time he didn't say it. He was at the Veteran's Hospital. He was down to 74 pounds. They had taken out the throat, put in a metal tube, and said, 'Mr. Craddock, you should have come earlier. This cancer is awfully far advanced. We'll give radium, but we don't know.'
I went in to see him. In every window-potted plants and flowers. Everywhere there was a place to set them-potted plants and flowers. Even in that thing that swings out over your bed they put food on, there was a big flower. There was by his bed a stack of cards 10 or 15 inches deep. I looked at the cards sprinkled in the flowers. I read the cards beside his bed. And I want to tell you, every card, every blossom, every potted plant from groups, Sunday School classes, women's groups, youth groups, men's bible class, of my mother's church-every one of them. My father saw me reading them. He could not speak, but he took a Kleenex box and wrote something on the side from Shakespeare's Hamlet. . . He wrote on the side, 'In this harsh world, draw your breath in pain to tell my story.' I said, 'What is your story, Daddy?' And he wrote, 'I was wrong.'"
We are living a love story right now. These are painful days for our congregation. Some of our members are grieving the loss of loved ones. Some are dealing with serious illness and end of life issues. Some are hurting from difficult decisions we have made this year. In all of it, I am seeing God’s steadfast love. It is in the ways we are caring for each other in our grief, in our loss, in our illness, in our pain. It is a commentary on what God continues to do. God’s love is not a pain free zone. But it is God’s love that sees us through the pain. It is God’s love that enables us to be there for one another. Every day, I see or hear stories of the ways you are caring for each other and it is God’s love working through you.
Today, as a tangible expression of God’s love, we offer our gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing. This is an offering that provides disaster relief, refugee assistance, water and food to people around the world. We add our gifts to many others. Every church I have been a part of has participated in this offering. It’s rather amazing to think what my gift of love becomes when it is added to the gifts of love of churches throughout the world. It makes projects possible in over 100 countries.
When we believe in this gift of love, it enables us to change the world. Our actions become a manifestation of this love. And sometimes, they won’t. Sometimes they will be anything but love. Even then, God’s love prevails. God’s love cannot be diminished by what we do or what we don’t do. Know this: God will have the last word. That word will be love.