It’s God’s goodness, not ours, by Pastor Noel

July 9, 2017     Proper 9A     5th Pentecost

 

      I recently read about the number of verses in the Bible inviting us to care for and feed those in need. There are 2,500 verses—quite a few!

      And this is the second most common theme in Scripture. There is something more important!

      The most common theme in Scripture actually has two parts—the most common theme in Scripture is God’s love for us, and our inability to accept it.

      No, I need to revise that. Our refusal to accept that.

      There are also many verses in the Bible that show God as angry, vengeful and punishing. It’s hard to accept love from a God like that.

      The Bible gives us the whole story of God’s history with us: there is the positive, when people recognized God’s love for them and responded; and there is the negative, when things went wrong and they blamed God.

      As you read through the Bible you can see the repeated pattern of forward movement toward God’s love, and then retreat into fear and resentment when God doesn’t make everything turn out just right.

      But, just like that song “I never promised you a rose garden,” tells us, God never promised to make everything turn out just right.

      God promised to be with us. Always.

      The positive response to this, accepting God’s love, is in our Psalm today.

      Here is how God described himself to Moses, “ The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.”

      Throughout the Bible God keeps trying to give us his love—just pour it out for us.

      Our response is not as generous in return. We say “There’s no such thing as a free lunch, so….what’s the catch? What do I need to do to have your love?”

      God says, “Here it is, a free gift.”

      And we say, “I’m not good enough! Let me do this…and this…and this… and then, MAYBE, I can be good enough to receive your love.”

      And we carry that same skepticism into our relationships with each other.

      If you don’t believe me, try doing a favor for someone who’s always been “doing” for others.  Will they graciously say “thank you” for our offer, or will they try to find a way to pay us, to make them feel worthy of our kind offer of a favor?

      And how do we receive gifts and favors?

      As Paul says, we don’t do the things we want to do, and we do the very things we don’t want to do.

      So, instead of joyously accepting and rejoicing in God’s love for us, we give ourselves tests to earn it, and even then we keep it at bay. It’s easier to be afraid of God and turn our backs on his love than to open our lives to living in that love.

      We put ourselves in prisons of fear —not being good enough, always trying to pass the test.

      I saw some animals the other day television. Large animals who had lived in tiny cages most of their lives.

      When they were rescued they had trouble accepting the new, clean, large areas they now had as home. They stayed cowering in a corner, afraid of their freedom and new life.

      One tiger cautiously crept out into sunlight for the first time. He wasn’t sure what to do about the grass under his feet.

      Slowly he explored his new world, sniffing the first trees and bushes he’d ever seen. He found a pond and shied away from it, then got more and more interested until finally he was lying in the water—playing! You could feel the joy and wonder and peace he finally felt.

      I want you to imagine the change in that tiger. Imprisoned in a cage hardly bigger than himself—then roaming free– heaven!

      That’s the difference in our lives when we move away from our prisons of trying to be good enough for God to opening our hearts to accept and revel in God’s love.

      Paul says, “For freedom Christ has set us free.” Jesus shows us the depth of God’s love for us by living it and invites us to live in the freedom of it.

      How can accepting God’s love be freedom? Because when we accept it, know we have it, know how much God cares for us, we are freed from the anxieties of earning his love. And since we can never earn God’s love we will always have anxieties until we let go of that fear, let go of trying to be good enough for God, and let God’s love fill us.

      All those rules we make for ourselves are not going to earn God’s love. All the law keeping and good behavior, they are not worth our time IF we think they win God’s love.

      God’s love is a free, gracious, limitless gift. Like a sunlit tiger garden with trees and grass and

your own swimming pond. Heaven.

      And heaven can be here for us now. Hear Jesus’ invitation to follow him—”Come, if you are weary and carrying heavy burdens, I will give you rest..My yoke is easy and my burden is light.

      The yoke of the law, as it was called, was a burden and a prison. Jesus’ yoke is God’s love, and

he is there with us in that love and to share that love.

      It IS a free lunch and a free gift, AND when we know we have God’s love we can’t keep it to ourselves. Out of prison—in heaven right here on earth! How can we keep that a secret!

      So Jesus invites us to “practice heaven” here and now—to share this wonderful gift with all those folks still living in their prison cages of fear and feeling not good enough. None of us is good enough, all of us are good enough for God’s love.

      We practice heaven by living in God’s love with forgiveness, acceptance, peace, JOY! And the humility to know that we didn’t deserve it any more than anyone else, but God just wants to love us all.

      We practice heaven, as we will say in the Eucharistic Prayer, by living as “new people in Jesus Christ our Lord to show forth God’s glory in all the world.” May it be so.

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details