June 14, 2020 /2nd Sunday after Pentecost / Richard Holmer
1st Reading Exodus 19:2-8a/ 2nd Reading Romans 5:1-8 / Gospel Matthew 9:35-10:8
Standing in Grace
You may know someone who has given up on God. It happens. People can reach a point of profound skepticism or deep despair. The cause might be the tragic loss of a friend or relative, or a cruel injustice, or a prolonged illness. People give up on God – stop believing, stop following, stop hoping. We know how church membership and worship attendance have been declining in many places. People get distracted and caught up in worldly pursuits and preoccupations. Some come to see God as an underachiever, or even as unjust. They can’t comprehend how an all-powerful and loving God can permit so much pain and suffering in this world. Many Christians do experience moments of doubt or uncertainty, yet continue to trust in God. People of faith then wonder – I wonder – why do people give up on God?
But perhaps a better question is: Why doesn’t God give up on us? Let’s face it, this world is a mess! Humanity keeps demonstrating over and over again our capacity for INHUMANITY – for injustice, cruelty and exploitation or just everyday selfishness. Why doesn’t God just pull the plug and start all over again? God did so once before, by means of a great flood . . .
The Ten Commandments are abused and disobeyed on a regular basis – or ignored altogether. People covet what they don’t have. We lie, cheat and steal. We’ve seen stealing and murder right before our eyes on TV. Marriage vows are broken, families drift apart, not much honor is shown to parents, to the Sabbath – not even to God. Jesus tried to keep it simple for us – he boiled all the commandments down to just two:
Love God with all your heart.
Love your neighbors as yourself.
And we confess every Sunday that we fail on both counts. You have to wonder why God didn’t give up after we crucified his only begotten Son. God sent the Lord of Life to show us the truth about God – and we killed him. We tried to snuff out the Light of the World.
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So then, why doesn’t God give up on us? We could start by asking the Israelites why God didn’t give up on them. Today we heard their bold affirmation, made at the foot of Mount Sinai: “Everything that the Lord has spoken, we will do.” That promise lasted a few weeks until they got tired of waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain – and decided to worship a golden calf. The Old Testament chronicles all the ways the Israelites repeatedly turned away and disobeyed God. Yet God stayed faithful.
And why hasn’t God given up on a Christian Church that has taken so many wrong turns? Our history as God’s people includes: Inquisitions, crusades, witch trials, religious wars, supporting slavery, devaluing women, abusing children, commercializing the faith. Why does God not give up, throw in the towel? Many prophets of God asked this question.
Hosea pronounces the indictment against God’s people:
You have plowed wickedness,
you have reaped injustice,
you have eaten the fruit of lies.
Because you have trusted in your power
and in the multitude of your warriors, (Hosea 10:13)
Things haven’t changed much in 3,000 years, have they? Yet speaking through Hosea, God speaks not condemnation but compassion:
1When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
2The more I called them,
the more they went from me;
they kept sacrificing to the Baals,
and offering incense to idols.
3Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them up in my arms;
but they did not know that I healed them.
4I 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. (Hosea 11:1-4)
God’s love for us is like a doting parent – a love that is deep and without limits. And the prophet Isaiah likens God’s compassion for his people to that of a devoted husband:
5For your Maker is your husband,
the LORD of hosts is his name;
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
the God of the whole earth he is called.
6For the LORD has called you
like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit,
like the wife of a man's youth when she is cast off,
says your God.