In this coming Sunday’s lectionary texts there’s quite the juxtaposition between the Old Testament reading and the New Testament epistle.
On the one hand there’s 2 Samuel 11:1-15. The headings in the NRSV describe the story as, first, “David Commits Adultery with Bathsheba,” and second, “David Has Uriah Killed.” More accurately, these should be “David Rapes Bathsheba” and “David Murders Uriah.” This is Israel’s favoured king, the king who would form the template for the Messiah to come. But instead of walking in righteousness and establishing justice through self-giving love, David’s lust and abuse of power leads him to rape and murder.
On the other hand there’s Ephesians 3:14-21. This is a prayer of Paul (or a Pauline disciple) for power and perception, but not the kind that David displayed. This prayer is for spiritual power, to be “strengthened in our inner being” by the presence of the risen Christ and to “know the love of Christ” in all its multi-dimensional fullness. This is a power that walks in righteousness and establishes justice through self-giving love. It’s the power of Jesus the teacher and healer from Nazareth, crucified and risen. It’s the power of the Son of David, the Messiah who surpasses the expectations of his template.
In these days of #MeToo and #ChurchToo, of #EveryChildMatters and #CancelCanadaDay, David’s story is a cautionary tale of what happens when we wed ourselves to earthly power and then abuse that power for our own selfish ends. Paul’s prayer points to a different way: living in the infinite love of God, the Jesus-love that compels us toward justice and peace and joy in the kingdom of God.
This post in an adapted excerpt from my sermon in the series “Four Things,” preached at Morden Mennonite on January 10, 2016. See others in the series: “Forgiven,” “Needed,” “Not Alone.” Here is the full audio of this sermon:
There is something beautiful about falling in love, but there is something sacred about choosing to love.
There is something sacred about seeing people as they really are, a unique bundle of interests and passions and hurts and wounds and skills and experiences and sorrows and joys and hopes and dreams and pet peeves and quirks and more—seeing them for all this, and choosing to love them, choosing to commit yourself to them, choosing to shower them with your affection, your attention, your time, your energy, your very life.
There is something sacred about choosing to love—because this is how you are loved by God. God sees you as you truly are, every bright spot and dark corner of your life, and chooses to commit himself to you, to shower you with his affection, time, and energy, God’s very life.
I often think our view of God hasn’t changed all that much from ancient times.
In ancient times, people tended to believe one of two things about the gods. Either the gods don’t really care at all about humans: the gods only seek to use humans or be amused by them. Or if there is any “love” from the gods it’s about reciprocity: you do X for God, and God will do Y for you. It’s love as payback for services rendered.
But Jesus breaks the pattern. In Jesus God acts first: God so loved the world God sent Jesus into the world, God first loved us. And there is no condition for God’s love: God loves us, period. We don’t need to do the right rituals with the right words. We don’t need to clean ourselves up first, make ourselves presentable. God looks at us, warts and all, and loves us.
This also means that Jesus has severed the connection we make between our circumstances and God’s love. In the ancient view, a view that is still prevalent among many people, including many Christians, if life is good it means God is pleased with me; if life is bad, it means God is not pleased with me.
Again, Jesus breaks the pattern. Think about Jesus himself: he perfectly did God’s will, did exactly everything that God wanted him to do. And yet where did that lead him? Suffering in agony and dying on a cross, crying out in anguish to God.
Here’s the point: our circumstances don’t tell us anything about whether or not God is pleased with us, whether or not God loves us. God’s love has nothing to do with whether or not we are beautiful or rich or smart. Nor does God’s love have anything to do with whether or not we are poor or sick or sorrowing.
But then what does it mean to say, “You are loved by God”? It means this: you have God’s unconditional acceptance, and you have God’s constant, abiding, strengthening, compassionate presence.
Think about it: when push comes to shove, this is how we hope other people will love us. At the end of the day we don’t measure their love by how many gifts they give us, whether they give us stuff to make us happy. Sure, a parent who loves her children loves to give them good gifts, just like God enjoys giving good gifts to us. But those gifts are not a measure of her love; those gifts are not a measure of God’s love.
No, when push comes to shove, when we’re at the end of our rope, we know people love us because they accept us just as we are, and they are there for us when we need them most.
So stop measuring God’s love by whether or not God gives you stuff to make you happy! Stop measuring God’s love by how healthy or comfortable or “blessed” you are!
Instead, know that this is what it means to say “You are loved by God”: God accepts you even when you’re at your worst, and God is right there with you even when you’re at your lowest.
I love how Paul in Romans 8 describes God’s love, and I love how Eugene Peterson has rendered this in his paraphrase, The Message:
Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture…
None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.
You are loved.
You are loved by others, whether you see it or not.
And you are loved by God—unconditionally, without reservation, and always.