Back in the Saddle Again (Part 2)
For those with me on the summit, it took most of an hour to bolster our courage and crab crawl back down the rock field. I’ll never do that again – maybe you have learned a thing or two as well.
We are discussing the sure-fire world of hindsight philosophy: “If I knew then what I know now….” A terrific life philosophy as long as we are certain we will never go back in time and have to follow our own advice. And so confident that pastoral or preaching ministry is in my past, I am looking back at what I would change about my preaching. In the last installment I wrote briefly about how much more time I would invest in preaching about God’s love. I know how often I’ve found myself needing not just a reminder, but reassurance that God still cares about me because everything else (my health, my work, my friends, you name it) points in the opposite direction. And though my wife tells me I’m special all the time J, I don’t think there is anything special about my need to hear that God loves me. We all do, whether we live in a $500,000 house in the mountains or among 500,000 displaced refugees.
In this installment I’m tempted to follow my own advice and write a little more about God’s love. In fact, I believe . The past few days I’ve been reading about a period of time in which God’s people felt totally abandoned. The last time they saw anything thing from their God, the Babylonian god Marduk was having a field day. Marduk had clobbered the Lord – or at least it looked like he had: the royal family and citizens of Jerusalem had been under siege for over two years before the city fell. Then anybody who was even half “important” was rounded up and driven like cattle into Babylonian exile. Their last memory of home was smoke rising from what was left of their city. Unless you were the king. His last memory was watching his sons slaughtered just before his eyes were blinded. I dare you to tell any of these people how much God loves them; I double dare you.
A lifetime later I’m not sure the task would be any easier. That’s where Isaiah 40-55 fits into Israel’s life: when news first comes to the people in Babylonian captivity that the Lord is about to bring them home.
From the east I’ll bring your children;
from the west I’ll gather you.
I’ll say to the north, “Give them back!”
and to the south, “Don’t detain them.” (Isa 43:5-6 CEB)
God is coming to bring them home.
Who could blame them for being skeptical? Why should God care now, after all these years? Isn’t it clear that God is powerless on Babylon’s home turf? We hear all of these sentiments and more echoed in the text. Everyone is afraid (43:1, 5; 44:2, 8), hopeless (49:14), and unsure that they can trust the Lord (40:27). One oracle after another says the same thing with different words: The Lord, your God, loves you.
In an outburst of rage,
I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting love
I have consoled you, says your redeemer, the Lord. (Isa 54:7-8)
Because you are precious in my eyes,
you are honored, and I love you. (43:4)
Can you dare to believe it? Whatever it is that frightens you – and these people are frightened (42:3, 5; 44:2, 8). Can you allow your trust in God to replace your fear?
It’s so much easier to believe that God is angry at me, that I am unworthy of God’s love. And it’s true: the last thing I deserve is God’s love. And it’s so much easier to expect nothing of God. I take God off the hook for doing anything so I can never be disappointed or hurt by God again. The prophet challenges us not to give in to the fear and doubt. Dare to believe the Lord loves you and could no more forget you than a nursing woman could forget her baby: but even if she forgets (and it’s impossible to imagine), the Lord will never forget (49:14-15).
The mountains may shift,
and the hills may be shaken,
but my faithful love won’t shift from you,
and my covenant of peace won’t be shaken,
says the Lord, the one who pities you. (54:10)
Preach and then preach it again: God loves you! The prophet is determined to get the message across, and if I were do it over again I would join him. Because I know well how difficult it is to believe and how easy it is to doubt – not in a set of propositions, but in the love God has for us.
So let me ask you to pause, take a deep breath, and listen: God loves you. Even with all the stuff you are hiding, and all the dials and gauges that claim God doesn’t care at all, hear me: God knows and God loves you!
Until we meet again,