The Pastor’s Pen – March 8, 2020

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blessed…for a reason’

March 8, 2020

Scriptures: Genesis 12:1-4a, John 3:1-17

So…there is this plan.  A plan to fill the earth with goodness, to make it once again back into a garden of grace…a plan to erase the stain of humanity’s first decision to walk away from God and to try and live apart from grace…

And it is a plan that has been within the heart of God from the beginning as shown in the beautiful harmony of Creation before that selfish moment…a plan revisited by God seeking, finding, and calling one good person to start the process of revelation over.  The call in our first reading to Abram, a herdsman in the hill country, for him to stand in a place of receiving a blessing from God…so that, in order that, for the purpose of, expressly to…be a blessing to others. A call to start a chain of goodness that would spread from one person to another as each one chose to follow the call or command to love, as God first loved us.

And that plan, which was unfamiliar to all at the time, as well as a new way of being entirely, had a rough start, as God surely knew it would.  And that in turn, brought about the extension of that initial blessing in the incarnation of God’s love in Jesus of Nazareth. A moment of revelation that was direct and present among us, a moment that could not be denied by those who witnessed the awesome power of God’s love, for all that was shown through the words, the actions, and the lived-out example of this man.

But God was nowhere near done equipping humankind to be able to love and to pursue the kingdom of grace that was the original vision of Creation.  And so, in the incarnation of love in Jesus, there was also the gift of the Holy Spirit…the gift of grace offered to humankind that truth, and a passion for justice and holy indwelling love might be within each one who sought it.  That God’s present and visible love might be there for all to witness, as the miracle of Jesus among us, thereby became a means for vessels formed of common clay to hold within, the grace of God’s love.  This was the total fulfilling of God’s original gift and call to Abram, to receive a blessing so that the one who received it could then extend that portion of holy love and blessing to another.  The Holy Spirit was given in order to fulfil this call to Abram, to make it possible, to make it crystal clear that God’s plan and desire from the start was for all of humanity to be blessed by one another and, in so doing, to thereby find the pathway back to living and dwelling in the original harmony and balance of God’s good and blessed creation.

So that is the pathway God offered for the fulfillment of Abram’s call.  But as anyone would attest, we still have a long way to go to reach our destination.  In fact, we are so far from realizing or experiencing the ‘kingdom’ Jesus spoke of on so many fronts, that at times it can seem like an almost hopeless task.  We still are selfish, we still fight and war over so many things, we still withhold love and grace on the flimsiest of excuses, we still refuse to acknowledge that our appetites for all that we take for granted not only create, but perpetuate a system that is deeply oppressive to so many of our sisters and brothers, while simultaneously sending the earth, our home, closer and closer to a place of no longer being able to sustain life as we know it. Every day, species of both plants and animals are coming under increasingly dire attack, and many have, and more surely shall succumb, never to be seen again.

In a sad commentary, the recent shutdown of businesses and factories in China due to the spread of the coronavirus has allowed the air and smog to clear such that large regions are visible to satellites for the first time in ages.  And as the climate changes around us, polar regions both north and south are experiencing record high temperatures, melting ice sheets that are centuries, even eons old, all while vast islands of plastic trash are breaking down into tiny bits and choking out life in all of our oceans.

And to go along with that, the dark stain on our nation’s history of racism and prejudice towards so many of our sisters and brothers has not abated whatsoever.  In fact, deadly outbreaks of hateful white nationalism seem to be occurring with greater and greater frequency.

So…it should be obvious to safely say, that there is much more for each one who has received the blessing of the Spirit to do in seeking to pass that blessing on, and to allow it to do its own holy work of bringing light and life into the darkness we are up against.

And that brings us to the third point of our discussion of just how well laid out, the plans and purposes of God are…in that, Jesus tells us that all who are born of the Spirit, all who have acknowledged and welcomed the Spirit into their hearts, all who have ever reached out to our Lord in prayer…will then be asked to go, to do, to share and to bless wherever the winds of grace take you…

For, as unfortunately we hear so seldom in John’s gospel, there is an affirmation of God’s plan and purpose in John 3, verse 17.  Now most of us memorized John 3:16 as children and can readily recite it to this day – ‘For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever might believe in him shall not perish, but have eternal life’.  Which is indeed a wonderful promise upon which to place our hope and trust.  However, it has also been long used as a measure by which individuals try to arrive at an entirely different conclusion than this passage in its full context, was meant to convey.  So many in the Christian faith have used this one verse to establish who is and who is not worthy of God’s love and grace and who exactly is going to go on to Heaven after death. 

I must confess that as a young person, I was one who saw this one verse, verse 16, as a ‘test’.  As a marker by which one could judge with assurance whether or not one was in God’s good and saving graces.  The way I heard it was, if you believe in Jesus, and if you confess with your lips that He is Lord…then and only then will you be in line to receive eternal life’ 

In fact, this is one of those passages, which my grappling with, enabled me to truly find God and to learn that our understanding of God’s love was in large part woefully inadequate.  For my mom, despite having descended originally from the Quaker tradition, had grandparents who intermarried with those of the Unitarian faith and as a result were thrown out of the Quaker faith and assembly.  Therefore, my mother was raised in the Unitarian tradition which is not within the Christian faith tradition whatsoever, as Unitarians do not believe in the Trinity of God, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Their faith is much more oriented towards humanism and a focus on relationships between humans, than on the one God they believe in as ‘God the Father’, or ‘God the Mother’.

In short, there was no way my mother was ever exposed to the whole concept of the Holy Trinity, or the Christian bible as she grew up, and had no basis to actually say or do what John 3:16 seemed to be insisting was the way, or the only proper pathway to actually inherit a share of eternal life.  And to say that that fact was disturbing to me is an understatement…for I loved my mother dearly and found myself saying that, ‘If God would refuse to accept my mother into Heaven for this reason…then that was not a God I wished to follow after either’.

And then I came across John 3, verse 17, and that made all the difference for me.  For John 3:17, at least for me, totally dismissed this idea that one had to say certain things, or believe in a very particular way in order to be loved by and accepted by our God of love.  I was taught in seminary that John 3:17 is meant to be read every time verse 3:16 is read, as it follows on, or further explains the prior verse.  Verse 17 of chapter 3 tells us, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” In other words, it was never God’s intention to ‘condemn the world’ whatsoever, it was never in the plan to consign more than half of humanity to eternal silence or much worse, simply because they did not do, say, or believe the exact right formulas.

So, that was surely a relief for me, but it also made God much, much bigger in my understanding.  It made it possible for me to see God truly as one who loved without condition…as one whose plan was intended for the goodness of every single one of those who were created in His image.  It opened my eyes up to the fascinating possibility that God’s plan and purposes were for something other than simply being preoccupied with sorting out or ‘weeding out’ those whose life on earth was less than ‘Sunday School’ perfect.  It made it possible for me to see God as one whose mercy and love we speak about, as being real, and genuine.  It gave me a way personally, to fit back into the faith without nagging or lingering concerns about the real goodness of our God.

So, to recap just for a minute, I have asked you so far to consider that there is a plan and purpose of God regarding our life together, and the way it all fits in with our place in, and role regarding Creation as a whole.  And that those plans are for the good of all Creation.  I have asserted that in God’s initial call to the herdsman Abram, he sought to have him understand that God was going to bless the herdsman greatly, in order that we would then be a blessing unto all others.

I then asked you to consider that the gift of Jesus among us, and of the Holy Spirit, was a means by which humankind could actually live into this call to be a blessing unto others…and that the Spirit always will lead an open heart into places and circumstances of need, where that gift will have the best opportunity to be of loving service.  Indeed, the winds of the Spirit are, only ever restricted by our willingness or lack thereof, to love one another.  And then finally, we heard affirmed in the third chapter of John’s gospel, that God’s plan was not only for all, but that at heart, it still seeks that all of humanity might be restored to loving relationship, both with God and one another.

But it is in our reading we shared from Psalm 121, that we hear the full scope of God’s love and intent. Aside from ‘watching over us in both our coming and our going’, the psalm tells us directly that ‘God will keep our life…’.  That’s it…no conditions, no qualifications, no, ‘you have to believe this way’, or ‘say these things’, or ‘act in such and such a way’, in order for you to be greatly blessed by God, that you might be able to bless another. 

The Psalmist tells us that indeed there is a certain flow, an unstoppable rhythm to God’s plans, and that once we allow ourselves to be caught up in it, then the fullness of God’s love will carry us forward, lifting up and protecting us as we are joined in with the desires of our God, bringing the goodness of God’s plans for the reconciliation of all humanity within the blessing of Creation into clarity and focus all around us. 

The call to love one another is no less than a call to gather together as a blessing, one for another…that we might join once again in tending the garden of God’s delight…

…come, let us hasten to fully love, by fully sharing the blessings we have already received.

…amen

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