(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on September 4, 2016)
This is a bowl of Skittles. What color is your favorite? [ASK] Are you a random eater, or do you save your favorite color for last, or do you eat your favorites first? [ASK] I have this pattern where I’ll grab a handful, and I’ll then eat them in order from least favorite to favorite.
But if I were to tell you, you can only have ten Skittles to eat, would you choose your favorites? I would! This is sort of how life works. In a world of limited resources, it gets pretty cutthroat when people are choosing things, and the least favorites often get left behind.
Many of us have those memories, those images of being on the playground and people are choosing sides for some game. All of us have those fears of being the one left standing there, the one no one wants on their team. This is what the world is like. This is why we often want to try harder, grasp for the rope, try to get the leg up, like we talked about last week. This is why we compare ourselves to others and put others down to make ourselves feel better…we don’t want to be the left over who isn’t chosen.
This is why we sometimes hide our true selves, why we cover up our secrets and hide our shame…we are afraid if people knew who we really are, they wouldn’t like us, wouldn’t want to be around us.
But of course then when we think of God it gets really scary, because we know God, by definition, knows everything.
We can’t hide from God. So often the fear is, God’s not going to choose me. I’m going to get left like the gross flavored Skittle at the bottom of the bowl.
Today I want to paint the true picture for you, the true picture that is so completely opposite of feeling unloved, unchosen, not good enough. We’re going to leap through the bible, through God’s history with humanity, and see all the ways that God has already chosen us, already stepped toward us, already has reached out with a hand of rescue. Today is the good news: when it comes to the Skittle bowl of humanity, God loves EVERY flavor!
Here’s the hope we have as people who follow Jesus: before you were born, even before the world began, God has been reaching out to us.
There are so many times we feel like we are at the end of the rope and just can’t hold on, that we feel like we can’t stretch our hands out enough to be rescued; but the truth and the hope of following Jesus is that it is God who has done all that needs to be done. It is God who reached first.
The first book of the bible is the book of Genesis, and it begins with God creating everything. But if we read more carefully, we see some of the purpose, some of the reason, some of the love: it says: “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”
That word “hovering” is interesting in the original Hebrew language Genesis was written in. It’s a word used for a mother bird hovering, brooding over her nest full of eggs, caring for the life that is to come. This is the first picture of God the bible gives to us-a caring, loving, mothering God, doing all the work so that life will explode into creation.
All the rest of creation that gets described-the light and dark, the land and water, the plants and the fruit and the animals and the people-it’s all the choice of God who wants to bring life into being and launch it on its own journey. God does all of this hovering, brooding, caretaking work for one purpose, really. Do you know what it is? God chose people for relationship, for community. And God wanted people to join in caring for the earth. God wanted to walk in the garden with people in the cool of the evening.
Do you see how the very existence of the world, the very existence of humanity is a sign of God’s love for us, of God choosing US to be in community with?
It’s the very purpose of creation, for all people to be in right relationship with each other, with the created world, and with God. God made the first move, the first choice, in creating us all.
And even wrong human choices can’t stop God from choosing us. Most people, even if they haven’t ever read the bible, know the story of Adam and Eve and how they disobeyed God and ate fruit that God told them not to. They disobeyed, and that disobedience brought consequences: the knowledge of good and evil, but also fear and shame. Genesis 3 says “the eyes of both of them were opened”, and what they saw made them afraid and ashamed.
But this disobedience, this wrong choice, couldn’t stop God’s choice for relationship and love. Just like always, God showed up for the evening walk. Genesis says, “The man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called… ‘Where are you?’”
It’s true that we are like those first humans. It’s true that we disobey God, and it opens our eyes to wrong and to fear and to shame. But so many times, I feel like the church somehow communicates the wrong thing about this. Our disobedience and sin definitely hurt us, and the people around us, and put a barrier in our relationship with God. But at no point does God ever stop desiring us or loving us. Way back at the beginning, all the way through history to now, God keeps showing up for a walk with us, and calling out to us: Where are you? God has and is always reaching first. We don’t have to grasp, we don’t have to try harder, we don’t have to hide or cover up our bad choices to convince God to love us and choose us. We don’t have to grasp, because God is always reaching first.
If creation is not enough to convince you…
There’s more! Psalm 139 beautifully talks about how God knits each of us together in our mother’s womb. It says there is nowhere we can go to get away from God’s Spirit. To use the analogy from earlier in the meeting, every skittle is God’s favorite! God creates us and chooses us all, and God keeps reaching out even when we go our own way.
God is so unlike how our world functions. People are constantly evaluating and picking favorites. We’re accepted or rejected based on our looks, our clothes, our skin color, our success in school, our skills, our gender, our behavior, our financial success…so many things make us in or out with different people. But God is completely different! Just as God hovered over all creation, lovingly bringing it to life; just as God knit you together in your mother’s womb; just as God kept showing up for the evening walk with Adam and Eve even after they disobeyed and were hiding in fear…God still chooses you. Nothing you do or don’t do can stop God from choosing you, from loving you.
The biggest sign of all is Jesus.
What the bible teaches us in the book of John, what we believe, is that the one who spoke everything into being actually became a flesh and blood person named Jesus. God’s love for us was so unstoppable that even with the mess humanity has made of this world, Jesus became one of us and walked and cried and sweated and struggled just like us. Jesus is the huge sign that God still chooses us, no matter how awful the world gets.
The book of Romans says that “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus suffered humiliation and ridicule and abuse, just like the worst things we have experienced, because he chose to love us. Jesus didn’t disobey God at all, but willingly took all our disobedience on him, along with all our suffering, and it died with him on the cross. This is the giant scream into the cosmos that God loves you, God chose you, that God reached first!
You are worth everything to God!
You are worth God becoming human, just like us, in Jesus. You are worth Jesus’ suffering and death. You are worth God’s time and presence now and always. Jesus is the life changing reality that shows it isn’t up to us and our efforts-Jesus is the reality that shows God has already taken us by the hand.
Let there be no doubt in your mind: God loves you. God wants you. Jesus died to take on your suffering and your disobedience and put it to death. When God brought Jesus back to life, that’s our giant beacon of hope that all the junk in the world, all the things we talked about two weeks ago that cause us to lose our grip…all of that stuff can’t have the final word, can’t be the end of the story. God’s life giving, resurrection power is greater than ALL of it!
God’s already done what is needed and reached out to you and me. But all the things we see in our world are still there. God doesn’t promise that life won’t look ugly sometimes. God doesn’t promise us “success”, however we might define that.
But God does promise to pursue us and never let us go. God does promise to show up wherever we are. God does promise to offer us wisdom and to lead us and bless us. That’s the crucial verse of Psalm 73: “You’ve taken my hand. You wisely and tenderly lead me, and then you bless me!”
This is our good news and hope! Next week, we’ll talk about how we need to choose to accept this, choose to walk hand in hand with God. Adam and Eve disobeying and hiding from God didn’t stop God from searching for them…but they did have to choose to come out of the trees and restore their relationship with God. We’ll talk next week about choosing to walk hand in hand, but today we celebrate what God has already done in Jesus. God has reached first! God has done all that needs to be done.
We’re going to enter a time of open worship.
If you find it helpful to have something to guide your thoughts in the silence, spend some time celebrating all the ways God has shown love to us. Thank God for God’s love. If you’re still struggling to accept it, ask God’s Holy Spirit to help you know that you are loved by God.