Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Fourth Day After Easter

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
 whose hope is in the Lord their God, 
who made heaven and earth,
 the sea, and all that is in them;
 who keeps faith for ever; 
who executes justice for the oppressed;
 who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free; 
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
 The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
 the Lord loves the righteous. 
The Lord watches over the strangers;
 he upholds the orphan and the widow,
 but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. (Psalm 146:5-9)

He heals the broken-hearted,
 and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3)

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you.” (John 15:12-16a)

If you’ve ever showed up to a party that is already in full swing, you know how it feels: Conversations are in motion, the music is playing, the food is out and partially eaten. But people greet you as you arrive because you’ve been expected all along and they’re glad that you’ve finally arrived.

Sometimes people view God as being outside of the drama of human existence and then, after people scream, yell, and pray, he finally decides to intervene so that he can get back to tricking us with fake planets like Pluto or whipping up the next natural disaster just to mess with things.

The Bible offers a different picture of God: He is already involved in everything that is happening. It is God who creates and sustains all life; it is God who initiates justice and care for the hurting and the needy; it is God who brings healing to the wounded. Yes, people do cry out, but not to a god who is deaf half the time to their cries, but instead to the God who is fully aware, fully present, and already at work.

Jesus presents the face of God within his own life and character. Jesus loves those who have followed him, and he loves them as friends. They are not simply religious functionaries; they are beloved friends. He tells them that they have been drawn into what God is doing in the world and are a part of his work.

“You did not choose me but I chose you.” People sometimes debate about these words as if they are about some sort of determinism regarding how God chooses who is in and who is out. But Jesus is speaking about how God works: God’s work comes before anyone is aware of what is going on. God is the initiator and we get to respond to what he is doing. The disciples did not hunt up God by chasing down Jesus and demanding that he let them join his club. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness, wrestling in prayer, and then chose his followers as an answer to that time of communion with his Father.

Every time we respond to God we are showing up to a party that is already in full swing. When we trust our lives to Jesus, God doesn’t say, “I’m really glad that you showed up. Now, what is your name, again? I’m really kind of busy, you know.” God has been at work in and around us the whole time, drawing us, calling to us, loving us even as we went along our own merry way. God started the party without us, but he also reserved a seat for us, waiting for us to finally arrive.

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