Saturday, November 16, 2019

Relentless Love, Year C, Pentecost 23, Luke 21:5-19

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
Some of you may be familiar with Eugene Peterson, a Presbyterian pastor and scholar, writer of many books, and translator of the Message Bible.
Last week I ran across the following on Facebook:
“Eugene Peterson’s son Leif said at the funeral that his dad only had one sermon—that he had everyone fooled for 29 years of pastoral ministry, that for all his books he only had one message.
It was a secret Leif said his dad had let him in on early in life.  It was a message that Leif said his dad had whispered in his heart for 50  years, words he had snuck into his room to say over him as he slept as a child:
“God loves you.
God is on your side.
He is coming after you.
He is relentless.””

I love that message.
It is truly the heart of the Gospel.
We’d do well to write it on our hearts and cling to it, throughout all our goings in and coming outs.
Let it be the first thing we think of each morning.
Let it be the last thing we remember each night.
God loves you.
And as a lover God wants only the best for you.
And God is on your side.
                How many times have we envisioned God has an adversary, not an advocate?  Someone to fear, not love?
God’s on YOUR side.  Remember that.
God is coming after you.
The parable of the Prodigal Son is one of my favorites.
Of course the story line there is of the wayward Son who left his Father’s house to go to a distant country, where all sorts of adversity befell him.
Finally, coming to his senses, he returns home to repent before his father and beg to be accepted as a slave and servant.
His Father, however, had been waiting and watching for him, and when he saw him ran to greet him, embrace him, and welcome him home.
All that is very familiar to us.
But I think there is one thing Eugene Peterson got right, that the parable had wrong.
“God is coming after you.”
God doesn’t just wait and watch, hoping that you yourself will decide one day to return home.
God is actively seeking you out and pursuing you wherever you roam, and God will simply not rest until he finds you.
Which brings up Eugene Peterson’s final point:
God is relentless.
God will not give up on anyone as lost.
God will not give up on anyone, period.
God will not give up.
Not until all of us are in his arms and embraced by his love.
“God loves you.
God is on your side.
He is coming after you.
He is relentless.””

In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus speaks of the future in ominous tones.
“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.”
Hearing stuff like this can make us quiver with fear and anxiety about what is coming.
What does the future hold and can we endure.
This last week I wrote the following in my blog:
One irreversible change that has occurred globally is the interaction between diverse cultures and people.  The world is becoming smaller.  And our experience of one another is expanding.  Advances in communication and travel have brought the world closer together resulting in an experience of diversity never before imagined.  When I grew up in Irene, SD, our town was comprised almost exclusively of Norwegian Americans.  The next town over was Danish American.  And so it was across the Great Plains.  During the time of homesteading ethnic groups settled together.  Interaction with other groups and communities was very limited.  The result was a sense of homogeneity.  Irene was Lutheran and exclusively White.

The question for the future will be whether we seek to cling to a tribalism that is a remnant of the past, or embrace a diversity of people that reflects the interaction between people of different ethnic, cultural, political and religious backgrounds.  For the Church the implications are straight forward.  We will either seek to maintain the exclusive claims and closed communities of the past or we will learn to thrive in a world that is pluralistic.  Within the Church we will need to become more ecumenical, beyond the Church we will need to address interfaith relationships, and individually we will have to deal with diversity as a 'next door' issue.

I'm actually excited about the prospects for the future.  I believe that the human experience will be richer for the diversity.  But we will have to get over the desire to mandate conformity in order to enjoy it.  Religious communities will not even be able to maintain homogeneity within their own membership ranks.  That's not so bad, unless you’re compelled to fight about it.”
Is diversity something that excites you?
Or is it something that alarms you?

Are you prone to embrace it?
Or to fight it?

When people from every walk of life, and every corner of the world are thrust together there will be conflict.  There simply will be.
There will be wars and insurrections.
Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
Jesus goes on to say:
“You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name.”
2,000 years have passed since Jesus uttered these words.  One question is whether those events of which he speaks have already transpired, for example, during the persecution of the Church in the first Century.
Or whether these words warn us of a future that is yet to come.
It is both.
The early Christians experienced these conflicts.
And as we become more diverse as a society, and as the world finds itself brought together more and more by travel and communication, the conflicts are going to intensify.
They will intensify because human nature is to abhor diversity and seek conformity.
Amid all this upheaval, amid all this turmoil, amid all the conflict and trials there are two messages to remember.
The first is Eugene Peterson’s message:
“God loves you.
God is on your side.
He is coming after you.
He is relentless.”
And the second message is like it, but different in a very important way, that is, the message that is so important for us, is also true for our neighbor.
“God loves them.
                God is on their side, as well.
God seeks them out.
                And God will relentlessly continue to pursue them until he can embrace them in his loving arms.”
In other words, “we are in this together.”
There are two things that are very difficult for us to embrace at the very core of our soul:
That God loves me.
And that God loves you as well.
And so we need to remind each other of that message.
Day after day.
Year after year.
God only has one message for us:
“I love you.
I’m on your side.
I’m coming for you.
And I will not give up.”

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