We have a re-occurring theme throughout the whole of Scripture, which is highlighted in our texts today. In short, I could say “God’s love is radical” and sit back down.
The ‘punchline’ today: “God’s love is radical”.
But, how do we know this?
We know this because of a relational cycle, repeated over and over again, with God. It has not been for days and months, or even years and decades, or even centuries, but millennia… the whole of our sacred and human history.
- God makes a covenant (contract, agreement) with God’s people.
It is relational: “I will be your God and you will be my people”.
- Every. Single. Time. We, humans, break the covenant (contract, agreement).
We are the ones at fault.
- God becomes upset and disappointed.
Do you understand being sad, disappointed, and angry when a child goes rogue?
Do you understand that from time to time, a child does not act in their best interest?
Do you understand that a child does not always act in the best interest of the relationship?
We can understand this as parents, teachers, and other care-providers.
We, as the beloved children of God, break our agreement with God.
We cause the distance in our relationship with God.
God becomes disappointed.
And then, God makes yet another covenant with us.
And then, we break that covenant.
And then, the cycle continues as it has for millennia since the literal dawn of time.
And yet, the cycle still continues now.
We encounter it within each of our Scriptures.
In Exodus, the Israelites are roaming in the wilderness and have become impatient. The Israelites want that promised land of milk and honey… and they wanted it yesterday.
Moses is on the holy mountain talking to God, recording the guidelines for their relationship with God and with one another. We all know the scene, Moses comes down and throws the tablets on the ground where these shatter, because before the people have even received the guidelines of the covenant, it has been broken. The Israelites have created an idol, worshiping it because the God that brought them out of slavery and captivity in Egypt is not working fast enough for them.
The nostalgia has settled in to their community and they are saying:
“Oh, I remember that milk and honey in Egypt, it was fantastic!”
“Oh man, Why did we ever leave Egypt?”
Nostalgia is dangerous, for we remember the good like milk and honey, but we forget the bad like bondage, slavery, and captivity.
Moses mediates and reminds God of the covenant, God’s never-ending, never-breaking, unstoppable love for the worthless, sinful critters that are humans.
Our Psalmist wrote aware that they are one of those worthless, sinful critters.
The author asks God:
“Please work within me, putting that covenant on my heart, clean my heart, and
restore a right spirit within me, so that I can be a better partner
in our relationship that you have called us into with you.”
Jesus talks about this.
Jesus says that a shepherd will leave 99 sheep, unattended in the wilderness, to go looking for one.
Does anyone else think this sounds absolutely insane? irrational? illogical?
And yet, Jesus teaches that God will leave 99 ‘righteous’ or ‘self-righteous’, who trust in their own ability to maintain the law/covenant, in order to find any single repentant person. Then God will rejoice finding the one that, similar to the author of the Psalm, knows they are not in right relationship with God and neighbor.
This is a radical concept.
In 1 Timothy, the story of Paul is retold. Paul, as Saul, actively persecuted the practitioners of The Way, the earliest name of Christianity. Paul did not care if you were a man, woman, or child; if you were following the teachings of the rebel named Jesus, you needed to be held accountable for it. Until one day, Paul is on the road and Jesus literally comes and meets him exactly where he is, literally on the road of his journey.
Jesus essentially tells Paul:
“Get off your high horse. You are not ‘right’.
Let me show you the truth, then use you for the sake of the gospel”.
So, Jesus basically says “be that one lost sheep that repents and I will do great things through you”.
“The Creation of Adam” by Michelangelo
is painted upon the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
A friend pointed a detail out to me once.
Now that I have seen it, I cannot un-see it.
The fingers of Adam and God are almost touching, which I had realized before.
But, God is fully stretched out, pointing as far as possible.
Adam, however, is lounged and reaching like “eh”.
Adam is definitely not reaching for God, as though expecting God to continue reaching towards him while communicating this is as far as I am reaching.
This is a perfect illustration for our relationship with God throughout the whole of Scripture.
God is consistently reaching out into our world and to each one of us.
And we are like “eh, this is as far as I am reaching. You come the rest of the way”.
We do this in part because of our human nature rooted in sin, which is being curved in on the self.
But, this is radical love.
Radical love is when you continually, literally for millennia, reach out to be in relationship with persons who continue to turn away from you in mind, body, and soul.
And yet, Jesus says, if you are a lost sheep God will seek you out.
If you are a lost coin, God will find you.
This section of the Gospel according to Luke, includes another parable that could be named “The Lost Son”, aka The Prodigal Son.
I was once told, if someone tells you something three times, especially in the same conversation, to listen because it is the truth and/or their desire.
We have three parables in a row about the irrational, illogical, and radical love of God for each and every one of God’s creations.
I begun saying that I could say “God’s love is radical” and sit back down, because even hearing these parables cannot communicate, nor can we fully know, understand, or comprehend the radical love of God. But, I invite us to ponder the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son, the broken covenants throughout the millennia, and how God’s love is truly, truly unconditional for God is always reaching out for us.
May we not be “Adam”, rooted in apprehension or lack of energy, but let us lean in and reach out to be in a better relationship with our creator and neighbors rather than say “eh”. Amen.
Scriptures were Exodus 32: 7-14; Psalm 51: 1-10; 1 Timothy 1: 12-17; and Luke 15: 1-10.
Originally Preached on 15 Sept. 2019 at Trinity Lutheran (Union City, Indiana).