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Posts Tagged ‘redemption’

An Inclusive God

So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its raging. But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights. Jonah 1:15,17

The story of Jonah shows a face of God that will manifest fully in the New Testament in the person of Jesus – a face of inclusion. The prophet Jonah was told by the Lord to go to Nineveh and warn the people to change their wicked ways. Jonah did not want to go because Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, a country that had long dominated Jonah’s homeland, leaving Jonah’s people bitter. Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh carrying the Lord’s message of salvation because Jonah did not like the people of Nineveh. He would have preferred that the Lord destroy them for their past trespasses, instead of providing another chance through the warning of a reluctant prophet.

As the story goes, Jonah received his instructions to head east to Nineveh; instead, he boarded a ship headed west to Tarshish, fleeing from the Lord. Jonah fell asleep below deck as the Lord caused a great storm to hit the ship, threatening to break it apart. The crew, frantic to save their lives and their ship, confronted their run-away passenger. Jonah confessed that God was causing the storm because of his disobedience. He told the crew that throwing him overboard would calm the seas. Eventually, the crew threw Jonah over the side and the seas grew calm. A large fish swallowed Jonah, and he spent three days in its belly before being spit up onto dry land. The Lord, again, tells Jonah to go to Nineveh. This time he goes and tells the people to turn from their wicked ways. Much to Jonah’s likely chagrin, the people repented and God saved them from destruction.

Trying to hide from God is never a successful strategy, at least not in the Bible. Beginning in Genesis with Adam and Eve trying to hide from God in the Garden of Eden, many different characters try to hide from God in various ways, but they never succeed. I catch myself trying to hide from God sometimes, although I am old enough to know better. Anytime I say or do something that I know is inconsistent with the way Jesus lived – something selfish or harmful to others – a part of me hopes God does not notice. I can be a narcissistic person, and I believe God provides me with opportunities daily to help me become more other-focused. It is those opportunities from which I often try to hide or ignore.

Jonah preferred that the people of Nineveh should die in their sin. He felt that was what they deserved. God, however, is an inclusive and persistent God of grace. This God is portrayed by Jesus as the good shepherd who leaves his flock of 99 to save one wayward sheep who has wandered astray (Matthew 18:12-14). This is the same God that in the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), throws a huge party in celebration of the return of his long, lost son. God rejoices when any lost child (regardless of age) is brought back into the fold. We humans are quick to judge, and we are quick to label others as good or evil, Christian or non-Christian, right or wrong. God, however, sees beyond our dualistic categorizing to the heart of a being created in God’s likeness. All are precious, loved, and worthy of redemption, regardless of what the Jonah’s among us believe.

When we try to hide from God’s calling, we often find ourselves in a dark and lonely place. We are given time to reconsider our actions – thankfully, not in the belly of a fish – and we are always given another chance for more inclusive behavior. God’s patience is infinite, but God’s persistence is relentless.

An inclusive God is calling. What and who are we excluding?

Note: this is the thirteenth in a series of Life Notes on the Faces of God

 

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A Sorry God

The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. Genesis 6:5-6

Some people believe the story of Noah’s Ark to be historically accurate, meaning that the events happened as described in Genesis. Others believe the story is mythical, meaning it is not factually correct, but rather was written to teach the reader something about God and God’s relationship to man. While I respect both views, I am most interested in the Noah’s Ark account for what it teaches about God, more so than what it may teach about history.

As the story goes, God looks over his early creation and sees corruption and wickedness. Humankind is behaving in a way that makes God sorry for creating them. God decides to destroy all living things, except for Noah and his family. From them, the human race will then be regenerated. Noah is to gather pairs of every other living thing, build a huge ark to preserve this cross-section of creation, and prepare for a flood of enormous proportion.

To consider that God might be sorry for something God created is inconsistent with the way I was taught to understand God. According to the story of Noah’s Ark, the depravity displayed by human beings toward each other and toward the rest of creation seemed to catch God by surprise. While the Bible does not explicitly say that God made a mistake, the story certainly makes it sound like that is the way God saw the earlier creation. For me, the fact that humanity’s corruption and wickedness made God sorrowful is an indication of how intimately God is involved in and cares about this creation. If that were not the case, why would God be sorry?

God did not introduce corruption and violence into our world – we did. Yet, because God experiences creation through us, corruption and violence break God’s heart along with ours. Wickedness is a creation of the human mind, not God’s, and yet God is victimized by it every bit as much as we are. The pinnacle of human depravity in the Bible is the crucifixion of Jesus, where humanity applies its cruelest techniques of torture to maim, humiliate, and kill the One who came to display and model divine love in human form for us.

I think there are at least three lessons we can take from the story of Noah’s Ark. First, God suffers with us in our suffering, and God is involved with us in relieving that suffering. Second, just as God saw something worth saving in Noah’s family, so God sees something of value in each of us, something worth salvaging, and something that can be used to further God’s work on earth. No matter how far we have fallen, how corrupted we feel, or how badly we have messed up our lives or the lives of others, God can and will redeem us. Finally, perhaps God is not all-knowing in the way we usually assume. Perhaps even God cannot predict the depths to which our free will can sink us. What we do know about God, based on Romans 8:28, is that God can and will make all things work together for good for those who believe. God needs on our help and cooperation, however, to build the Ark that will lead us out of whatever swamp we find ourselves in.

Note: this is the sixth in a series of Life Notes on the Faces of God

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Life Notes—April 11, 2013 

“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.  For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”  Galatians 5:13-14

One of my favorite singer/songwriter/recording artists over the past several decades has been Dan Fogelberg.  He had a wonderful talent for uniting intriguing lyrics with beautiful melodies, and many of his songs held me spellbound for many listenings over many years.  One of his lesser known songs is “Sweet Magnolia,” a story of two young, independent souls whose paths cross in a fierce romantic way.  The line in the song that has stuck with me since first hearing it in the 1980’s is this:  “Magnolia, now I see, that freedom isn’t free, and love’s the only true redeemer…”  The two young people who fell madly in love, also held a similarly impassioned love for their freedom.  As is often the case, love and freedom, when not properly understood or handled, do not always peaceably co-exist. When focused exclusively on freedom, one often longs for the blessings that come from freely giving up at least a portion of that freedom.  And, of course, the opposite can also be true.  But very often, giving up a portion of one’s freedom to serve another person in love, like in marriage, can actually result in an exponentially more freeing experience.  Thus the line, “love’s the only true redeemer.” 

Paul’s letter to the Galatians considers freedom and love; not romantic love per se, but love for others.  He says we are called to freedom.  Jesus, through his life, death and resurrection, redeemed us from our enslavement to sin and provided the opportunity for a new life through faith.  Redemption brings freedom; and much of what had been forbidden by the law became permissible. But just because something is permissible does not make it a wise or preferred choice.  We have free will to choose one path over another, but Paul warns not to use our freedom for self-indulgence, but to serve one another in love.  Love is a verb and requires action.  Action requires a sacrifice of freedom, as choosing one action necessarily means not choosing another. And what is love without freedom, or freedom without love?  No one wants to be loved by another who is forced to love them.  We want to be loved by those who chose to do so of their own free will.  Love finds its highest expression in sacrifice. And freedom finds its highest expression in love.  Like Jesus on the cross. Love is the true redeemer.

Tom preaches downtown where Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary. Tom’s sermon is “The Power of Vision,” based on II Corinthians 1:1-11.  Reverend Sharon Howell will be installed as Pastor Emerita at the west campus services, where Mitch will preach at 9:00 and 11:00.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Exercise your freedom in love…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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