The Sixth Sunday After Pentecost June 22, 2008
351, 175, 390, 777 [TLH alt., 374]
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.
In Christ Jesus, whose love blesses our lives daily, dear fellow Christians:
Every family has stories it tells over and over again. In our family many of those stories have to do with our cat Sneaker. Sneaker’s claim to fame was that he was able to get himself into the strangest predicaments from which he couldn’t get himself out.
One day Sneaker outdid even himself. He climbed a utility pole and we discovered him perched on top of a transformer 30 feet above the ground. One wrong move of a paw and he would have been toast! A phone call brought a lineman from Arizona Public Service who shut off power to the whole neighborhood. He then graciously offered to climb the pole and rescue our endangered pet. But as he got closer, instead of purring a grateful welcome, Sneaker became more agitated. It apparently didn’t make sense to his feline brain that this man was coming to help. Finally, just as the lineman reached out his hand to our frightened kitty, Sneaker took a flying leap off the pole into thin air and hit the solid rock below. Amazingly, he survived to get into trouble another day. We still shake our heads at the cat’s stupidity and lack of trust.
In a way, though, we can understand. We want things to make sense too and if they don’t we become suspicious and nervous. If someone handed you a hundred dollar bill for no apparent reason, wouldn’t you question the person’s motive and wonder whether the money might be counterfeit? It wouldn’t make sense that someone you didn’t know would just give you cold, hard cash with no strings attached.
Do you think God ever shakes His head at our lack of trust when things He does for our benefit don’t make sense to our minds? I imagine He must. There are many things about God which go far beyond our puny reason. He says that His ways and thoughts are much higher than ours. That is especially true of God’s love.
What do you love: your home, your car, a long summer vacation, a pepperoni pizza? We love our families and friends. I think most of us would say that we love our country in spite of its faults. Love for all of these makes sense. They have value and benefit for us. Our homes provide shelter. Our family shows love toward us. We appreciate the protection and freedom of our nation.
But what if something or someone had no value or goodness? What about the blue-green, moldy chunk of something forgotten at the back of the refrigerator, or the car that leaves you stranded at the worst possible moment, or the person who never has anything kind to say to you? Why love? It doesn’t make sense. The Jews of Jesus’ time had a saying: “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”
So what is your lovability factor? On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being impossible to love and 10 being completely lovable, what number would you give yourself—9, 8, or at least a 7? Each of us would like to believe that we are fairly lovable. But what would others say? What number would your brother or sister give you, or your husband or wife? The closer someone is the more they are going to see you as you really are—the bad moods and warts, as well as your best behavior.
What score does God give us? We haven’t committed any sensational crimes to put us in the news or in a prison cell. We probably get along relatively well with most people. We would like to believe that while we are not perfect, we are certainly not in the same league as murderers and child molesters. The Pharisees would have agreed. They viewed themselves as certainly more worthy of God’s love than the group they labeled: “tax collectors and sinners.” It makes sense.
But God looks deeper than outward appearance. He searches the heart. He knows us inside and out. What He sees in us by nature is no better than what is in anyone else. St. Paul says that we were without strength. We were spiritually helpless and trapped by sin with no way out. We were ungodly, wanting to go our own way. We were sinners who missed the mark of holiness.
God knows the gifts He has given to each of us, gifts which we have not always used faithfully to His glory. He knows the opportunities to serve our neighbor which we passed up. He knows about the resentment and jealousy we have harbored toward others. He knows all the evil we have done and the good we have left undone.
We were by nature God’s enemies. We did not even want rescue. We would have spent our lives piling up earthly possessions, rather than seeking heavenly treasure. We would have embraced friendship with the world, rather than look to the Lord. Add up the score: powerless, ungodly sinners, enemies of the Lord. Our lovability score on God’s scale is less than zero! Who would love unlovable sinners like us? It wouldn’t make sense. There is no rational reason for it.
Yet that is just what God did! God so loved the world! God so loved you! Like my cat we were trapped in a deadly situation of our own making. We deserved to be left to die. But God reached down with His loving hand to rescue those who couldn’t deserve it less. Those who try to understand it end up doubting and questioning God’s motives. The Lord reaches out to them and they take a flying leap away from Him into thin air and fall far and hard.
God’s love doesn’t make sense. It is too awesome and wonderful. It goes beyond human reason and experience. God doesn’t tell us to figure it out logically, but to trust as He says, “I love you, not because of, but in spite of what you are.” The psalmist wrote: “I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations; I will sing of You among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches to the skies” (Psalm 57:9-10 NIV).
How far will you go in showing your love? You might loan a lawn mower to your next door neighbor, but would you give him $1,000? You might be willing to donate a kidney to a family member or even sacrifice your life for a child, but would you do it for a serial rapist? It wouldn’t make sense. Who would do something like that?
God’s love would, did, and does so much more! God showed His love in making this incredible universe. Love was evident in His miraculous rescue of Israel from Egypt. In love He sent prophets to warn and encourage believers. He lovingly provides us with air to breathe, food to eat, and jobs by which to earn a living.
But His greatest act of love was giving Himself. At just the right time, God’s Son offered Himself on the cross while we were still His enemies. Jesus took the blame for every wound our words have inflicted. He took responsibility for every hour stolen from our teachers or employers. He was made accountable for all the immorality our eyes have seen on TV or in movies, for the places we should never have been, and all the things our hands should not have done.
Christ died for all the sins of all people, but not all receive the blessing of the cross, because it doesn’t make sense to them and so they want nothing to do with Jesus. It doesn’t make sense that they cannot at least contribute something toward their own salvation. It doesn’t make sense that God’s holy Son would humble Himself and become the servant and sacrifice for all people.
Don’t try to reason it out. It is far beyond our comprehension. Just look at the proof of God’s love at the cross and trust it instead of your reason. “For the LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will He harbor His anger forever; He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:8ff. NIV).
God’s love seems too good to be true. It is not what we see or expect here on earth. Here promises, friendships, marriages, and families disintegrate because love fails. Could that happen with God’s love? When there are problems in our lives we may wonder whether God’s attitude toward us has changed. When you find yourself falling into the same comfortable sins of gossiping about others, giving in to sinful thoughts, or putting off what you know the Lord wants you to do, do you wonder how God can still love you? Maybe the memory of certain sins keeps nagging at your conscience, and you recall what Scripture says about sin: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters...nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers…will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9ff.).
But then Paul also says, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). And “Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:9-10).
You can be absolutely sure of your salvation in Jesus. He died for us all. With sin paid for in full and taken out of the way, God the Judge has pronounced us “not guilty.” We are justified before His heavenly court. On a personal level we are reconciled with God, just like the prodigal son returned home and was reconciled with his father.
Our standing with God is confirmed by Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. All sins have been atoned for and all is right with God. Otherwise, Jesus would still be in the tomb. And if God loved and saved us when we were His enemies, how much more can we be sure of His ongoing love and blessing now that we are justified and reconciled in His eyes!
God’s assurance of salvation works a new attitude in our hearts—one of joy which cannot be contained. When God tells us of His love and fills our hearts with it, joy moves us to reach out to other unlovable sinners and say, “Let me tell you about the love of God!” God’s demonstration of His love in Jesus’ sacrifice moves us to show His love toward all others, no matter who they may be. Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44 NIV). As justified and reconciled people of God, we want His love to show in our whole way of living. We love because He first loved us! (cf. 1 John 4:19).
God’s love doesn’t make sense. If we try to push and squeeze it into the small, narrow box of our reason, we will only make it less than it really is or become suspicious of it and turn away in unbelief. God’s love doesn’t make sense and that is what makes it so wonderful. It is far beyond anything we can imagine or do ourselves. It is divine, one-of-a-kind love. It alone can rescue us from death and assure us of salvation. It doesn’t make sense, but God loves you and me. God so loved the world! May we hear, trust, and rejoice! Amen.
Love Divine, all love excelling,
Joy of heav’n, to earth come down,
Fix in us Thy humble dwelling,
All Thy faithful mercies crown.
Jesus, Thou art all compassion,
Pure, unbounded love Thou art;
Visit us with Thy salvation,
Enter ev’ry trembling heart.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.