• Steven Marsh

Connecting With Others in the Unconditional Love of the Triune God–God’s Love is Always Presen

Author Larry Libby relates the following story:

Bob, my father-in-law, hunts deer every fall in the mountains of north-central California. A number of farmers and ranchers in the area are willing to let individuals or small groups hunt on their property—if the hunters ask permission and show respect for the land. My father-in-law is one of the most congenial men I’ve ever met. It would take a surpassingly cranky landowner to turn him down. Last year he approached a rancher and asked him if he might drive through a certain gate and do some hunting in the evening. When shadows lengthen and the October sun slips low in the west, deer begin to venture forth from their hiding places to graze. The rancher gave Bob a thoughtful look and said, “Yeah, you can come on the land. But you’d better let me ride with you in the truck for awhile. Want to show you some things.” Now, I can imagine most men thinking, Oh, come on! Show me some things? Why do I need a passenger? Either let me in or tell me to stay out. I know how to drive, and I know how to hunt. I’m a big boy, and I don’t need a chaperone! Bob, however, being the man he is, cheerfully assented, and the pair drove through the gate onto the ranch. They had been skimming across a wide, seemingly featureless field when the rancher suddenly said, “You’d better start slowing down.” Why? Had he seen a deer? Bob pulled his foot off the accelerator. But why stop? As far as he could see, there were no creeks, gullies, or fences. Just a wide pasture stretching out to the dusky foothills. “Okay,” said the rancher. “You’d better park right here. Want to show you something.” Bob did as he was told. They got out of the truck in the cool, mountain air and began walking. Then the rancher put his hand on Bob’s shoulder and said, “Look up ahead.” My father-in-law walked slowly forward and then stopped dead in his tracks. Cleaving at right angles across their path—and across the pasture as far as he could see in both directions—was a yawning, black tear in the surface of the earth. Where they stood, the crack was probably 30 feet across. Peering over the edge, the hair on Bob’s neck bristled. Where was the bottom?The sheer, rock-ribbed sides of the great volcanic fissure plunged to unknown depths. Cold, still air seemed to exhale from the blackness below…. Walking back to the truck, Bob marveled at how difficult it was to see the fissure from just yards away…. Bob smiled to himself. Having a guide wasn’t such a bad thing! He gained a new appreciation for a man who knew the terrain—and where to park the truck.[1]

Whatever despair, discouragement, and doubt you bring to church this day, a better way of living is available to you. On this Fourth Sunday of Easter, Jesus says in the Gospel of John, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”[2]Randy Frazee in his book The Connecting Church 2.0 reminds us that loving God and others is the key in knowing and experiencing the unconditional love of God when he writes, “There is no way a person can journey into new territory and calculate everything perfectly. If you wait until you have all your ducks in a row, you will never do anything.”[3]God’s unconditional love for and toward creation is always present.

We understand in The Revelation to John that Christians worship the good and merciful shepherd, yet are tempted to worship power and privilege. Greg Carey writes, “When history jumps off the tracks and chaos reigns, worship matters.”[4]When Christians gather to worship, we connect to God and others in the nurturing and embracing unconditional love of God. It is through the misuse of power and privilege that we are “snatched,” as John reminds us in the Gospel, from God’s path and take detours. But the Good Shepherd pursues the lost sheep as the psalmist indicates. When we become aware that we are found, that God’s unconditional love was with us all along, we understand clearly the psalmist’s declaration, “He restores my soul.”[5]The Hebrew nefesh means “life breath.” Without life breath, humans do not survive. With each breath we take, God brings us back to life.[6]The soul is the core of our identity and at our core is the image of God. Each one of us is created because of God’s unconditional love for human. Human is God’s partner in life. God created us to share in his joy, delight and mission for everyone to know how loved they are. God shepherds us along the journey of life. We simply need to listen to his voice. “The Lordis my shepherd,” the psalmist exclaims. The word “lord” can be an impersonal term meaning master or owner. But for Christians, it is very personal. The Hebrew word translated “Lord” is Yahweh, the personal name of God. Yahweh is our shepherd, not some distant or nameless deity.

God, our shepherd, is good and merciful, because at the core of God’s being is unconditional love. And, we benefit from God’s unconditional love in our undeserving condition. God “follows us” actively, like a shepherd pursues a lost sheep; not passively like a shadow. We will not lack anything that the shepherd determines we need. Why? Martin Luther writes,

A sheep must live entirely by its shepherd’s help, protection, and care. As soon as it loses him, it is surrounded by all kinds of dangers and must perish, for it is quite unable to help itself. The reason? It is a poor, weak, simple little beast that can neither feed nor rule itself, nor find the right way, nor protect itself against any kind of danger or misfortune… Still, however weak and small an animal a sheep may be, it nevertheless has this trait about it: it is very careful to stay near its shepherd, take comfort in his help and protection, and follow him however and wherever he may lead it. And if it can only so much as be near him, it worries about nothing, fears no one, and is secure and happy; for it lacks absolutely nothing.[7]

The Lord is your shepherd. The Lord restores your soul. You will be rescued from immobilizing despair, discouragement and doubt. When the sheep of God’s pasture worship, we reaffirm our corporate identity as the body of Christ and our call as a people of faith. But perhaps even more important, the Good Shepherd encourages us to rise to the challenges before us.[8]

Be a follower of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Don’t wait to act. You will experience the always present no matter what is happening unconditional love of God today, tomorrow and all the days of your life.

[1]Bonne Steffen; source: Larry Libby,No Matter What, No Matter Where (WaterBrook Press, 2000), 5-6. See preachingtoday.com

[2]John 10:27-28

[3]Randy Frazee, The Connecting Church 2.0(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2013), 175.

[4]See Greg Carey in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018), 240.

[5]Psalm 23:3

[6]For a fuller discussion of nefesh and the entirety of Psalm 23 see Marci Auld Glass in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 2, 237-239.

[7]Martin Luther, “Psalm 23, Expounded One Evening after Grace at the Dinner Table,” trans. W.A. Lambert, rev. Harold J. Grimm, In Luther’s Works, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan (St. Louis, Concordia, 2007), 12:153-157 as cited by Marci Auld Glass in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 2, 238.

[8]Some ideas gleaned from Ruth Faith Santana-Grace in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 2, 242.

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