July 14, 2019
God is Not Finished with Us Yet
Did you know that Dr. Seuss was a Presbyterian? Dr. Seuss wrote fun rhymes and wonderful parables, like Horton Hatches the Who—about the responsibilities of parents. Do you remember the Dr. Seuss book Sneetches?
Now, the Star-Belly Sneetches had bellies with stars. The Plain-Belly Sneetches had none upon thars. Those stars weren’t so big. They were really so small you might think such a thing wouldn’t matter at all. But those star bellied Sneetches were snooty and the plain bellied Sneetches felt defeated. So Sylvester McMonkey McBean came along with a star-making machine. Then all the Sneetches had stars; so what was there left to be snooty about? Mr. McBean made a fortune with his star-on and star-off machine, til the Sneetches wised up to his money making scheme. They discovered that stars or no stars makes no difference anyway. So, all the Sneetches got smart on the day. They decided that Sneetches are Sneetches. And they went together to play on the beaches.
People tend to be elitist, like Sneetches. The differences between people are mostly invented by except for human invention. Except for how tall you are and color of skin determined at birth. I’ve always wondered why Caucasians are se bent on suntans or tanning booths if dark skin is socially demeaned. People go to great lengths to put people in boxes of “them” and obviously superior “us.” Paul wrote to the conflicted community in Galatia: “There is no longer Jew or Greek (no special culture, religion or nationality), there is no longer slave or free (no master status), there is no longer male or female (no gender or sexuality superiority).” Early Christians communities lived according to this kind of equality, despite cultural norms. Paul often reinforced this egality, as in his letter to Philemon, in which Paul tells Philemon to welcome back a runaway slave as a Christian brother.
Paul promoted this culture-busting equlity. Like Jesus, he tore down barriers so that Christians would not discriminate against anyone who was different in any way. No one is better than another. Paul exclaimed, “All of you are one in Christ Jesus.” The word “all” is significant. ALL people are children of God. All of you are one in Christ Jesus.” People in the US seem to have forgotten the value of equality and harmony. Given the fomented hatred and fear of people who are different, I am grateful to trust that God is not finished with us, or our world.
Biblical scholars have discovered that this text from Paul was used as the text for baptisms in the earliest Christian communities: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female.” Wow! Welcome to the Christian community! As we celebrate the baptism of Keegon Miller and the baptisms of other little ones this summer, how do we help them and other children to understand God’s grace? “All of you are one in Christ Jesus.” ALL people are children of God! Human harmony and equality is God’s goal.
Many Jewish Christians in the early churches did not yet understand the implications of their newly acquired faith. It was startling news to them that what God wants is not rote obedience to religious laws but God wants people to trust in God’s guidance and grace. Jewish morality laws say, “don’t’ do this and don’t do that.” [see Galatians 2 and 3]. What does God want from us? Obey the Jewish laws of the Old Testament? Well, sure. Paul was not abandoning the ten commandments or other morality codes. Yet Jesus summarized all the commands: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Our mission in our conflicted culture today is to demonstrate Jesus’ wisdom with the way we live our lives. Paul uses the metaphor of putting on the clothing of Christ. If we know we are loved, we respond as genteel children, dressed in peace and kindness and gentleness.
Paul compared Jewish laws to a custodian or disciplinarian. Imagine a nanny who takes the children to the park and herds them with persistent warnings and negatives: “No, no, no, no, no. Don’t do this. Don’t do that.” Before Mary Poppins became their nanny, the Banks children loved to disobey. Like the Banks children, I am inclined to rebel against being told what I cannot do. In contrast. I love doing anything I can for people I love. Being motivated by love is probably true for most people.
The essence Christian religion isn’t to obey regulations but to have faith in God’s love, as shown in Jesus Christ. Christians learn from infancy that we are beloved children of God.
What does it mean to trust in God’s love for us? What makes us believe we can trust God? The challenge to trust God is a lot deeper than trusting Horton who cared for the mother Who bird’s egg, or being inspired by Mary Poppins.
Abraham in the Old Testament is a prime example of faith. Abraham trusted God, even when facing huge obstacles. Abraham trusted that God is faithful to all the promises God makes. Our first obstacle in taking on Abraham-like faith is that we may wonder about God’s dialogues with Abraham and other biblical people. Did Abraham hear an actual voice? Yet, most of us who have a spiritual awareness can sense when we are being led by a divine spirit; or when we are led by our own wants and agendas. Openness to God’s spirit overcomes this obstacle of skepticism about hearing the voice of God.
But nearing God is not the only challenge of faith. According to the biblical narrative, God often makes huge demands. God told Abraham to go to an unnamed place that God would show him. Abraham went. Would you give up your home and the life you are accustomed to—if God told you to pack up and move, giving you no more of an explanation than “to a land I will show you?”
All the real-life and fictional super-heroes we can think of have a destination, a mission or goal. Even Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz set out on the yellow brick road to find the Wizard who could help her and the friends she encountered on the way. Abraham sensed that his mission was to trust God, no matter what. And so, he packed up everything and his extended family and set out in the direction God led him.
But God was not finished with Abraham yet. God promised Abraham and his wife, Sarah that they would become parents of a new family nation. God promised that their descendants would be as numerous as the sands of the sea and the stars of the sky. That’s a lot of progeny. But there was a problem: they were approaching one hundred years of age. Sarah just laughed.
What is faith?—Faith is to trust God when there is no proof, maybe even strong evidence to the contrary. Abraham trusted God’s promises. Sarah was not convinced, and devised a plan of her own, which resulted in her servant giving birth in her stead. The servant’s son Ishmael would be the father of another tribe of people, with whom Abraham and Sarah’s descendants have been in conflict ever since. A child was eventually born to Abraham and Sarah. They named him Isaac, which means, “laughing boy,” because it was like a joke, they being so old and all.
But God was still not finished with Abraham yet. God challenged Abraham to yet another test of faith. God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, the very son who was God’s promise. Faith is NOT always easy. Abraham still trusted God and went to carry out this terror-ful sacrifice.
The story does NOT say that Abraham consulted with Sarah about this test of faith, perhaps with good reason, given her record of broken trust. Abraham still trusted God. When Isaac wondered what was happening, Abraham assured him, “God will provide.” God did rescue Isaac. Such trust in God earned Abraham respect as the forefather of faith for Jews, Muslims and Christians, alike. Could we have been as trusting as Abraham?
God is not finished with us yet.
Having faith means to trust God deeply even in hard times. An example of this is from World War II. Cologne, France, had experience three days of saturation bombing and people were huddled in bomb shelters. On the walls of one of those bomb shelters were scribbled words: “I will believe in the sun when it is not shining. I believe in love when there is no feeling. I believe in God when God is absent.” God promises to be with us in all circumstances. God will provide. Do we believe that God is with us to strengthen us, even in awful situations? God is not finished with us yet.
Gary and Carolyn Spies' child, Julie Anne, had just been born. Julie had serious heart defects. That day, after their pastor baptized Julie, he said, “God bless.” Mother Carolyn fired back, “Our child will be a blessing to this world no matter what.” Paul declared in the midst of personal persecution and attacks on the churches he had started: “All things work together for good for those who know God, who are called according to his purposes.”
Faith often involves taking a leap, like a child leaping from a high place, trusting that the loving person waiting below will catch him or her.
So it is with us: There is no empirical proof that God exists, that we will be rescued. Faith in God’s power and love may be a hoax. God may be a figment of our corporate imaginations and hopes.
Faith is trust that God will catch us when we fall and that God will care for us each and every day. Given our frailties and failures, faith is trust that God is not finished with us yet.