Love–God Save Us to Flourish: a Reflection on Isaiah 5:1-7, Philippians 3:4b-14, Matthew 21:33
Do not misdirect hope. What do I mean by that? God is for us and not against us. Yet, suffering is. God does not guarantee that faith in Jesus results in an end to suffering. Humans have a deep need for security, so when we sense things unraveling, we can easily project our need for security on our all-powerful, all-knowing, and always present God. This projecting of our need for security on to God can easily cause us to avoid “the harsh realities of suffering and defeat.” That is misdirected hope. Matt Woodley relates the following story of misdirected hope:
A number of years ago our soccer-loving family helped host a boys’ soccer team from Costa Rica. With their advanced ball-handling and passing skills, this elite team reached the finals of the tournament. In that final game they obviously possessed better skills than the other team, a big and physical American team that relied on bullying and cheap shots. Unfortunately, the officials were oblivious to every foul. They called nothing, allowing even outright “muggings.” After the Costa Rican boys lost 2-1, I had to restrain myself from yelling at the inept officials. I just wanted them to notice the injustices, intervene like they’re supposed to, and make a few calls. Instead, they didn’t do their jobs, and the game wasn’t played fairly. Sometimes people feel that way about God and the way God “officiates” the world. We all know that there are big problems: world hunger, a global economic crisis, mistreatment of the poor, political oppression, and worldwide sex trafficking. Then there are also more personal problems: a friend’s addiction, a marital crisis, a church split, friends who despise each other. At times we feel like crying out, “Why doesn’t God intervene? Why doesn’t God make a few calls and keep the game fair? Why does God let the bullies of life win?” Surprisingly, the Psalms often allow us to bring these questions to God in our prayers. They even encourage and train us in the art of lament, the ability to bring to God our sadness, outrage, disappointment, and anger.
Sigmund Freud refers to the human tendency to project our need for security on someone more powerful as an attempt for “happiness and protection against suffering…through a delusional remolding of reality.” I really want to stop being delusional. Don’t you?
Living 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. 58 dead. 527 injured. Las Vegas carnage. Lament is “the plea of a desperate person.” Due to our sin nature, we must never forget our desperate need for God. Search for comfort and purity in the face of external and internal threats by trusting God. We are not to ponder whether the threat is fair or unfair, nor are we to blame. Pondering whether something is fair or not and affixing blame is a result of misdirected hope. We consistently want God, like the request in Psalm 80, to defeat the “bad guy” and restore life to normalcy for us without pain. We have a difficult time flourishing, we believe, in tough times.
Isaiah 5:1-7, Philippians 3:4b-14, and Matthew 21:33-46 confirm the point made in Psalm 80:7-15: people look to God for salvation for a variety of reasons. First, God restores us deep to the core. God establishes a presence and strengthens us to believe for the long haul. Second, God helps us know from what to be saved and for what reason. It does not take long for us to identify those things that are harming us and why we want help.
Be generous. Love God and others. Do not pass judgment on others. Give praise to God. Lament. And look to God to save you from something specific for a specific purpose. These actions, in word and deed, demonstrate love. Rob Bell, the author of Love Wins writes,
…in speaking of the expansive, extraordinary, infinite love of God there is always the danger of neglecting the very real consequences of God’s love, namely God’s desire and intention to see things become everything they were always intended to be…Love demands freedom. It always has, and it always will. We are free to resist, reject, and rebel against God’s ways for us. We can have all the hell we want.
The message of Jesus is this: who you desire to become does not happen by chance, but by purposed change. When you think about it, misdirected hope is quite selfish. Looking out for the interests of others, that is being a servant leader, begins to view service not as an add-on, but at the core of our very existence. We begin to live when we live outside ourselves.
Yes, we are in the middle of our 2018 Generosity Campaign. Next week is Ingathering Sunday for your pledge cards and ONE THING service response forms. Please be saved from flawed thinking about giving of your time, talent, and treasure to the work of Jesus Christ through this place, our church home, Geneva Presbyterian Church in order to be saved for loving God and loving others. 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
Active Parenting classes; Parents’ Night In and Parents’ Night Out events
2 new youth interns: Val Vega and Matthew Prichard
7 Principles to Make Your Marriage Work class
New updated permanent outdoor signage
Re-organized and more efficient Prayer Ministry
Growing Veterans’ Fellowship Ministry
Spiritual Gift Discovery classes
Estate Planning seminars
As you have been hearing from our “Moment for Generosity” speakers, each one of us must increase our giving, yes, financially and in service. We are to be “doers of the word, and not merely hearers…” Live your life with an attitude of gratitude. Love as a noun and verb is the way God captures us during our being saved from a specific torment for a specific purposed change. God save us from the hells’ we choose and create and save us for heaven, that is, to flourish.
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), 130.
Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents (New York City, New York: W.W. Norton, 1961), 19-21.
Wallace W. Bubar in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 4 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 108.
I must acknowledge John Wilkinson for his impact on my thinking in this paragraph. More from John Wilkinson can be found in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 4, 129, 131, and 133.
Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York, New York: HarperOne, 2011), 113.