• Steven Marsh

Love–God’s Unrelenting Love and Mercy: a Reflection on Isaiah 25:1-9, Philippians 4:1-9,

Church people, that’s who we are, come to places of worship with all kinds of wants and varied life experiences. The good news is that the host of our service is the Good Shepherd, whose disposition is one of unrelenting love and mercy. The image of God as our host emphasizes “God’s compassionate and merciful nature by picturing God as providing guests sustenance in overabundance.”[1] God’s care for God’s children comes from God’s covenantal love which is promised to each one of us.

What is the disposition of the shepherd? In the Concise Oxford Dictionary, the word “disposition” is defined as “a person’s inherent qualities of mind and character.” The disposition of some people is to be negative and judgmental. The disposition of God, our shepherd, is one of acting lovingly and mercifully toward people. I thank Paul Harvey, the syndicated radio personality, for the following story. Harvey relates,

Cattle-rustling is a major problem in Uganda. The Ugandan army daily attempts to reunite cattle with their owners. The biggest difficulty lies in proving ownership. The BBC’s Nathan Etungu witnessed the process beginning in a village north of Mbale. He told the BBC’s Network Africa that when an elderly woman stood before the herd a remarkable thing happened. She called her cows by name and to the amusement of the soldiers, as each cow heard her voice, it lifted its head and then followed her. As far as the army was concerned, it was as strong a proof of ownership as one could find.[2]

God, the Good Shepherd, relates to each one of us by name. That, my friends, is love and mercy.

Isaiah 25:1-9, Philippians 4:1-9, and Matthew 22:1-14 confirm the point made in Psalm 23: God’s disposition is to shepherd each of us individually, and collectively, as a church family, with unrelenting love and mercy. First, since God’s covenantal love is everlasting, there are always grounds for hope. God’s love is of such great magnitude, even the direst of circumstances are eclipsed by it. Second, because God’s compassion is an outcome of God’s covenantal love, joy is a matter of disciplined perception as opposed to an emotion dependent on circumstances. Perception is reality. Then, others see effective Christianity and just perhaps respond to God’s invitation to a new way of life.[3]

Followers of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd supplies our every need, not because we deserve, earn, or acquire it. God supplies our every need, because God’s disposition is to dispense, extravagantly and unrelentingly, love and mercy to us. Living one’s life with an attitude of gratitude. That requires generosity. Generosity is an outgrowth of being loved and loving. It’s hard to be generous when we feel beaten down by life. Yes, the Las Vegas shootings were horrific and this week’s executive order by our President to unwind the Affordable Healthcare Act insurance subsidies for the poor threatens a category of people that Jesus refers to as “the least of these.” The Good Shepherd’s heart demands a response from the Church in generosity. Our friendship with the Good Shepherd necessitates such gratitude. The hospitality of God is not limited to any race, gender, or social political group.[4]

Be generous. Love God and others. Do not pass judgment on others. Give praise to God. Lament. Look to God to save you from something specific for a specific purpose. And accept God’s unrelenting love and mercy for you. These actions, in word and deed, demonstrate love. Rob Bell, the author of Love Wins writes,

When we say yes to God, when we open ourselves to Jesus’s living, giving act on the cross, we enter in to a way of life. He is the source, the strength, the example, and the assurance that this pattern of death and rebirth is the way into the only kind of life that actually sustains and inspires.[5]

This is In-Gathering Weekend. You have the opportunity to be generous by turning in your 2018 pledge card and ONE THING service response form.

Have you increased your pledge of time and treasure for 2018? In 1997, twenty years ago, The Rev. Robert Bohl, a past moderator (1994) in the Presbyterian Church (USA) writes,

One of the curious things about Presbyterians and stewardship is that those who have the least tend to give the most. Percentage-wise more people with incomes of less than $25,000 tithe (give 10 percent) than those with a greater income. The same is true of the way they give their time and talents to the church. Perhaps it is because they have learned one of the great theological and Biblical truths that Malachi taught the Hebrew people about the reward of the faithful: “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, … see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing” (3:10). On average Presbyterians give 1.5 percent of their annual income to the church–an average of about $580 annually, which results in a total amount of $1.5 billion. If every Presbyterian tithed, together we would give $9.5 billion.[6]

In 2016, the percentage of annual income given by Presbyterians was 2.3%. That’s progress toward tithing, but we can do better. In anticipation of your generosity, here are a few things in store for Geneva in 2018: 10% of all giving will continue to go toward global and community ministry; we have two new youth interns: Val Vega-Olmos and Matthew Prichard; and there will be new updated permanent outdoor signage. We are to be “doers of the word, and not merely hearers…”[7]

Live your life with an attitude of gratitude. Love as a noun and verb is the way God captures us and wraps us in a “comfy blanket” of unrelenting love and mercy. God sustain and inspire us to rest in the truths that you are the Good Shepherd who is the source, the strength, the example, and the assurance of living a life of generosity.

[1]Stephanie Mar Smith in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 4 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 152. 

[2]Heard on Paul Harvey (2-28-03); “Ugandan Cows Know Their Names,” BBC.com, (2-25-03).

[3]I am grateful for some insight gleaned from James Burns, Nathan Eddy, and Marvin A. McMickle in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 4 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 146-169.

[4]Adapted from Stephanie Mar Smith in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 4, 154. 

[5]Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York, New York: HarperOne, 2011), 136.

[6]Robert Bohl in the May 1997 edition of Presbyterians Today.

[7]James 1:22

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