No Hoops, Just Love, June 16

No Hoops; Just Love

Proverbs 8:1-4, 21-33; Psalm 8; Galatians 2:15-21; John 16:12-15

The Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

Catskill and Palenville United Methodist Churches; June 16, 2019

 

Today is Father’s Day.   I have a wonderful father.  I’ve been blessed and showered with his love from my earliest memories, and I trust even before that.  Dad worked hard to take care of us; he commuted into New York City every morning and came home twelve hours later.  He played football with us on weekends, and led us in rousing choruses of Home on the Range in the car.  He read to me as we sat together in the big white chair in the living room; when The Wonder Clock told us in its preface that we needed magic hats to enter the fairy tales we were about to read, we found ridiculous hats and wore them night after night, through all twenty-four stories.  All of which is to say, he loved me.  He still does.  I saw him just a few days ago, and I’ll see him again on Thursday night at my nephew’s high school graduation.  One of the gifts of coming back east, besides serving these three wonderful churches and being near our grandkids, is that I’m only an easy two-hour drive from my parents’ home in New Jersey, and I can visit them much more frequently than I could from Minnesota.

 

I trust I’m not the only person here who loves or loved their father.  I trust I’m not the only one who has been deeply loved by their dad, or by a stepdad or an uncle or a grandfather or a great-grandfather.  I also know that there are people not as blessed as I have been, people with strained relationships with their fathers, or who never knew their fathers at all.  I trust God holds them and loves them as their dads couldn’t or wouldn’t. 

 

Being deeply loved is not a universal human experience.  But it’s familiar enough that Jesus uses a father’s love as a primary metaphor for the love of God.  Many people have had loving parents, or have been able to be loving parents, and so understand at a core level just how powerful a parent’s love can be.  That’s the foundation of the good news of the gospel.  God’s love, deep, constant, personal, and eternal – for you, for me, for each and every person on this planet.  God so loved the world, the whole world.  What kind of love? The love a daddy has for his children.  Psalm 103 makes the same declaration – as a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who serve him.  Hosea 11 speaks of the Lord’s love for the people as that of a loving parent: 

 

Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms;
but they did not know that I healed them.
4 I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love.
I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks.
I bent down to them and fed them.

 

So why is Paul having such a hard time talking about God’s love and grace to the Galatians?  Because the Galatians are like most of us:  although we like hearing about God’s deep love for us, we’re sure it’s different, not quite as special, for others.  The Galatian church is split.  Among them are Jews, people who knew God as children, who grew up embraced by the love of God proclaimed in the Law and the Prophets.  They trusted God’s love, and they celebrated Paul’s proclamation of God’s gift of Jesus, Savior of the world, Redeemer and Lord.  But their connection with God began, for the men, at least, with their circumcision, a practice performed by Jews since Abraham’s covenant with God, many, many generations before.  Now Paul, a good Jew himself, was inviting people to come to the throne of God’s grace without any of the laws God had asked of them and their ancestors.  That just seemed wrong.  Shouldn’t they have to do something?

 

Paul says no.  No circumcision, no dietary laws, no prior knowledge of scripture or memorization of the Psalms.  No effort on our part has anything to do with our salvation.  That’s what God has done for us.  In Jesus Christ, God makes clear that our hope lies in God’s love for us, not in what we might do to access that love. 

 

God’s love frees us.  There are no hoops to jump through.  There are no requirements to fulfill.  There is simply the acceptance on our parts of the grace of God.  The willingness to say yes.  Yes, God, I’m in.  No matter where you lead me or who else you bring alongside me on this journey, I’m in.  The scary part of living the gospel, then, isn’t the fear of God’s wrath, it’s the realization that God’s love will change us.  Like the Galatians, we kind of like the feeling of superiority over others, either because of our piety, or because of our chicken barbecue recipe, or because of the baseball team we support.  And Paul is insistent that none of that, nor anything else that distinguishes us from others, ultimately matters.  God’s love for us matters, and claiming it means we move ourselves into that world where that truth expands our lives.  We open ourselves to the presence and power of the Spirit of Christ, and like Paul we say, it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.  From there we move to that place where we can embrace those words from Wesley’s covenant prayer. It’s #607 in the Hymnal. 

 

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.”

 

That’s where Paul wants to take the Galatians, and to take us as well, to a life that is guided by God’s hand, formed by God’s grace, and inspired by God’s Spirit.  It all starts with love.  It all starts with believing that God’s love is at least as powerful and wonderful as your daddy’s love ever was or is, at least as deep and intense as your own love for your children is.  It all begins with daring to believe that you, with all your eccentricities and unique ways of being, with all your history of successes and failures, with all your flaws and imperfections and your gifts and abilities – that you are known and loved by the source of all life and the power of the universe.  That your life matters and the concerns and joys of your heart and soul are important to God.  But it doesn’t stop there.  Because the love that holds you will change you, and the concerns of your heart will begin to resemble the concerns of God’s heart, if you let that love become your way.  With God you will learn to love your neighbor, and your enemy, and the stranger who comes to your door needing food, and the schoolkid who is afraid of going hungry this summer.  This journey, from concern about our own lives to caring for the lives of others, is at the heart of John Wesley’s proclamation of the faith.  God’s love calls us to personal holiness and social holiness, concern for our life in God and for the lives of our sisters and brothers in the world. 

 

Call your dad today if you can.  Tell him you appreciate his love, or just tell him you love him.  If he has died, tell your kids and grandkids stories about him.  Dads, enjoy your day, let your kids and grandkids see the joy you take in them.  And friends, whether or not you celebrate anything at all today, dare to open your heart to God’s love, trusting that that love will hold you and lead you into more love, transforming love.  And that it will be good.  Amen.

 

Proverbs 8:1-11, 22-31

8Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?
2On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand;
3beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
4“To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.
5O simple ones, learn prudence; acquire intelligence, you who lack it.
6Hear, for I will speak noble things, and from my lips will come what is right;
7for my mouth will utter truth; wickedness is an abomination to my lips.
8All the words of my mouth are righteous; there is nothing twisted or crooked in them.
9They are all straight to one who understands

     and right to those who find knowledge.
10Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold;
11for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.

 

22The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,

     the first of his acts of long ago.
23Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24When there were no depths I was brought forth,
     when there were no springs abounding with water.
25Before the mountains had been shaped,
     before the hills, I was brought forth—
26when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil.
27When he established the heavens, I was there,
     when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
28when he made firm the skies above,

     when he established the fountains of the deep,
29when he assigned to the sea its limit,
     so that the waters might not transgress his command,
     when he marked out the foundations of the earth,

30then I was beside him, like a master worker;

     and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always,

31rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.

 

Psalm 8 (UMH 743, response 2)

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

     You have set your glory above the heavens.

Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,

   to silence the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.

You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,

     whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

 

Galatians 2:15-21

15We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law. 17But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. 19For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; 20and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.

 

John 16:12-15

12“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.