Sunday, January 4, 2015

God’s Commitment to Us

Preached at Netarts Friends Church
Jan. 4, 2015

When I was a child, I believed God would abandon me at a moment’s notice despite my desire to be God’s child.  I’m pretty sure now that this idea came about from confusion about my relationship with my parents, who as missionaries did what was expected of them and took me off to boarding school at age 7.  I felt abandoned by them, despite the fact that we loved each other.  So why would I expect that God would be more committed to being with me than my own parents?

I am happy to report that God took steps to meet my small efforts at seeking relationship with God, steps that made clear to me that God loves me. Eventually, it became clear to me that God’s commitment to me was deep and wide and thorough, and that it did not come and go based on my behavior or attitude.  My hope today is that by reviewing two examples of God’s commitment to human beings in Scripture, you too will be convinced of God’s commitment to you, both as individuals and as a congregation.

When God made humans, God made space for human choice.  What that means is that we are separate from God, and that separation makes choice possible. But the separation is not hostile from God’s point of view. God did not make space for us in order to reject us but so that we can choose to love. A novel called Almighty Me had in it the problem for the central character of having for a short time the omnipotence of God and facing the fact that his wife was leaving him. He was sorely tempted to simply make her love him by means of his power, but it became clear to him that it would not be actual love. 

So love requires separate persons. God cares so much about a relationship of mutual love with humans that God makes space for them to be separate. 

We can see this separateness in the development of children. Birth separates them from their mothers. They move toward greater awareness of their separation as they acquire competencies like crawling, walking, feeding themselves, and speaking. Often each achievement is accompanied by some distress, perhaps on both the parents’ and the children’s part. Parents who see their children as extensions of themselves can damage their relationships with those children when the children discover they are not allowed to be separate individuals and hinder their children growing into maturity.

So my own testimony is that though I wanted to be God’s child from as far back as I remember, I mistrusted God’s love and underestimated God’s commitment to relationship with me, and thus spent a lot of my younger life afraid and angry.  However, as I became more open to God, to whatever God wanted for me, I discovered more and more that God wanted to love me, that God is committed to me, even when I fail or fall, and that part of God’s commitment is to help me grow up into maturity.

We can see an example of this commitment of God to a human being in the covenant God made with David.  David is one of the main characters in the Old Testament, and some of the best-known stories of the Bible are part of David’s story.  Here is God’s summary and covenant with David as he has become king and is planning to build God a house, a temple.

2 Samuel 7:8-15
Thus says the Lord of Hosts, I took you from the pasture from following the flock, to be ruler of My people Israel, and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut down all your enemies before you. Moreover, I will give you great renown like that of the greatest men on earth. I will establish a home for My people Israel, and I will plant them firm, so that they shall dwell secure and shall tremble no more… I will give you safety from all your enemies. The Lord declares to you that the Lord will establish a house for you. When your days are done and you lie with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own issue, and I will establish his kingship. …I will be a father to him and he shall be a son to Me.  When he does wrong, I will chastise him with the rod of men and the affliction of mortals, but I will never withdraw My favor from him…

Some things to notice about what God says:  God will do this because God wants to do this. There is no mention of a contingency here based on David’s behavior or faithfulness to God.  A no-conditions covenant.  And God was faithful to this covenant with David. As a result, David found he could be generous to Saul’s surviving family, rather than eliminating all the competition. God was his guarantee of permanency.  However, David also committed adultery with the wife of Uriah and then engineered his death in battle, essentially murdering him to cover his crime.  As God promised, God disciplined David for this. God said, “because you have put Uriah to the sword, the sword shall never depart from your house.” The child of that adultery died in infancy despite David’s passionate prayers. And later, one of David’s sons Amnon manipulated David to gain access to a half-sister, Tamar, and raped her. Her full brother Absalom engineered the murder of  Amnon and then later attempted to usurp the throne from David.

We can read David’s prayer of repentance for the adultery and murder in Psalm 51. And we read that David was a man after God’s own heart. But what I want to point out is first that God made a covenant to stay in relationship with David that was unconditional, and that David did bad things and God stayed in the covenant relationship, which included discipline for those bad things.

When David first understood what God had promised, he responded with this prayer (2 Sam 7:18-29):

King David came and sat before the Lord, and he said: What am I, O Lord God, and what is my family that You have brought me thus far? Yet even this, O Lord God, has seemed too little to you; for you have spoken of your servant’s house also for the future. ..What more can David say to You? You know your servant, O Lord God. For Your word’s sake and of your own accord You have wrought this great thing, and made it known to your servant….And now, O Lord God, You are God and Your words will surely come true; and You have made this gracious promise to your servant.

David recognizes that God’s promise to him is unconditional. God is with David for the long haul. It is not the same as a blank check, in that God includes the provision for correction in the commitment, but God will guarantee the promise because God chooses to do so.

I am not King David. God hasn’t promised me that my family will always be superintendents of NWYM. So what has God promised me, or rather us, in the coming of Jesus to do God’s work among us?

In Luke 4, Jesus tells us the terms of this covenant, using the words of Isaiah: I will preach good news to the poor, I will proclaim freedom for the prisoners, I will recover sight for the blind, I will release the oppressed, I will proclaim the era of God’s delight, God’s pleasure, God’s good will.

Jesus said other things to spell out what his coming means to human beings.

I am come to complete the law. (Matt. 5:17)
I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Matt. 9:13)
I am come to divide families. (Matt 10:34-35)
I am come to send fire on the earth. (Luke 12:49-51)
I am come in my Father’s name, representing God’s interests and character. (John 5:43)
I am come from God, whom you do not know. (John 7:28)
I am come to rule the world, to separate right from wrong, to make things clear to those who have been mystified and to mystify those who thought they knew it all. (John 9:39)
I am come to give life, abundant life, superior, extraordinary, uncommon life. (John 10:10)
I am come to light up the world, so that whoever trusts me shall live in the light, not the darkness. (John 12:46)
I will come again and join you to me, so that you will be wherever I am. (John 14:3)

If we were to put these together into the form of a covenant, it might look like this:

As God’s Son, representing God’s interests and embodying God’s character, I will fill up what is lacking in the law, calling sinners to repent.  I will separate right from wrong, bringing light into dark places, even to dividing families. I will bring justice, not tranquility, pruning away all that is not beneficial. I will light up the world and give abundant life. I will join you to me, so that you will be wherever I am. I will usher in the era of God’s satisfaction with human beings, God’s delight in humanity. Live in this covenant, let it live in you, and trust me to do what I say I will.

The angels announced this, singing, “Glory to God in the highest, Peace on earth, good will to human beings.” This covenant is with all humanity. We know ourselves to be separate from God, and now we know that God is not hostile or rejecting. God wants us to grow up, to be our full selves, not chained to fear or hobbled by our mistakes and sins.

So how do we respond to this statement of God’s intentions toward us?  Do we, like David, sit humbly before God, aware that this is all happening because God wants to do it, not because we earned it or are particularly special? The Spirit of God testifies to our spirits that we are God’s children. God is for us. God justifies us and Jesus intercedes for us. Let us rejoice with St Paul that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Please join me in prayer.

What are we, O Son of God, that you have come to us? And this was not enough for you, but you join us to you so that we may be with you.  What more can we say to you? You know what we are. For your sake and of your own accord you have done this great thing and told us about it.  And now, O Son of God, you are God, and your words will surely come true. You have made this gracious promise to us. May it be so. Amen.