God Knows Us. God Loves Us.
Oct 27, 2019
God Knows Us. God Loves Us.
I’ve become quite a thrift shop explorer recently. I do not have time for rummage or estate sales, but there are four stores in the area that I frequent looking for that which is unique, like new (or was never used), fits into my various collections, and, of course, is a good deal. I give away much of what I find, or sometimes, I keep it and make room by donating what I already owned so that I’m faithful to my “buy something, get rid of something,” rule.
One of the things I find interesting is how items are priced, which often seems to have no rhyme or reason. How is value, or lack thereof, assessed, I often wonder. That’s why a story told by Pastor Chuck Sligh caught my attention.
He writes that one of his wife’s favorite places in England is Stoke-on-Trent, the location of all the china outlets. They ventured into the Royal Albert outlet, where he noticed that everything on a particular table was the same price, even though there was a wide divergence in the quality of the different pieces of china. Some only had minute nicks or cracks in them that required a magnifying glass to find, while others were quite obviously damaged. Holding two plates he asked the sales lady, “Why are both of these the same price?” One was grossly marred, while whatever was wrong with the other one was not evident. She looked over the second one and pointed to a tiny, almost imperceptible flake in the pattern and said, “Every piece must be absolutely perfect to sell retail.”
But Pastor Sligh continued to question why the one with many imperfections and the one which required a china expert to see the flaw, cost the same. Her response was, “As I said, every piece of china must be absolutely perfect to sell at retail price. From our point of view, there is no difference between the two pieces of china in your hands. Both fall short of our exact specifications for perfection.” (1)
Those words reminded Pastor Sligh, and me, of the Apostle Paul’s statement in Romans 3, “For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus….” Or, as Pastor Sligh put it, “…before God, there is no difference: we all fall short of God’s standard of perfection.”
I’m guessing that most of us do not struggle with the idea that we all have sinned, but perhaps we do question the concept that we all are on equal footing in God’s eyes – the one with the barely discernable flaw, say a tendency to lie, is the same as the one with a major chip missing, say having committed murder. And, we balk at the understanding that our behavior does not earn us points with God, or demerits, that impact our eternal condition. The idea that no one can reach God through his or her own merits, abilities, good conduct, or works is familiar, but not all that easy to grasp when it comes down to it. Why?
It’s because we misunderstand sin, viewing it as behaviors (lying, cheating, stealing) rather than a condition common to all humanity. It’s true that defining this condition is difficult; one way to think of it is as a sense of being insufficient and unworthy of love. That’s what leads to sinning, which reveals itself in everything from self-reliance and self-righteousness to bullying and murder.
Pastor David Lose says there are two ways to deal with sinning, either punishment or forgiveness. The problem is, though, that in either case people are not changed, they are still stuck in the condition of sin UNLESS, the feeling of unworthiness is replaced with feeling (and being) completely loved and accepted. That’s grace, a gift of God that comes through faith in Jesus. It’s maintained through a relationship with God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The problem is, though, that people create their identity apart from that relationship. Listen to Pastor Lose’s description of what happens then: “Eventually, however, these attempts fail. No matter how much wealth I have, I cannot buy love. No matter how many hours I work or awards I garner, I have no guarantee that they will create for me a sense of meaning and purpose. No matter how much power I accumulate, power does not equate acceptance. And when our attempts at self-justification don’t seem to work…we only redouble our efforts wreaking personal and communal havoc in the meantime.” (2)
That’s when Jesus’ statements from today’s Gospel lesson are meaningful, “…you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” and “…if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” That freedom comes in this simple reality, God knows us and (in spite of that), God loves us.
That’s the message that Martin Luther discovered in scripture that led to his nailing of the 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517, an event which sparked the Reformation and led to the birth of the Lutheran Church, which we celebrate today. And, that’s the message that has transforming power in the lives of Zoe, Thomas, Jessica, Max, Myah, and Fiona, who are affirming their baptisms today.
During all my years as a pastor, I have stressed during confirmation that the rite does not signal an end, but a beginning, not graduation out of church, but graduation into deeper commitment to one’s faith life. Frankly, I see some evidence, but not as much as I would like to see, that those words are heard. So, I hold on to the promise that the truth of grace, which has set us all free, will be a reality in the lives of these young people, and all of us. It has the power to transform.
It’s true that we all are on equal footing in God’s eyes, and that our behavior does not earn us points with God, or demerits, that impact our eternal condition. That’s because it’s also true that we are saved by grace through faith, both of which are gifts of God.
We are freed from the condition of sin that leads to our feeling insufficient and unworthy of love. Or, if that’s too many words, there’s this: God knows us. God loves us. When we can grasp that, we will live by grace. Everything that happens in our lives will flow out of the unconditional love God has for us. If that’s the case, our hurting world will be transformed by Zoe, Thomas, Jessica, Max, Myah, and Fiona, and us all. AMEN