The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
January 20, 2019
A man asked his friend, “Do you have trouble making decisions?” The friend replied, “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe…but, then again, maybe not.” The man could not make up his mind about whether he could make up his mind! He just couldn’t decide!
Making decisions is an essential component of the happiest and most productive life. God through Moses told the people: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life!”
Independent of the choices we make, God chose to love us, and to love us irrevocably. His steadfast love is always there for us to take, for free. Yet, we are not free to enjoy it apart from deciding to take it. In other words, while we don’t have to pay for it or earn it, we do have to do something to appropriate it and experience it.
Think of God’s love as like the sun. No matter what we do, the sun shines in all its warmth and light. It is then up to us whether we take advantage of its benefits. We can step out into its bright and balmy beams, or lock ourselves up in the dark dungeons of our pride and fear. We are never free to extinguish its brilliance or to lower the temperature of its heat, but we are always free to close our doors and windows against it and to shiver in a murk of our own making.
God’s love saves humans, but it only saves those who let it be their salvation. All are invited to find refuge under the wings of God’s mercy, but only those who choose to claim the offered blessing make it their own.
God’s love is indiscriminate in that it’s there for anyone to take; but it is also discriminating in that it only belongs to those who take it to heart. Its best blessings are ever available, but they are never automatic. To have them benefit us we must choose to receive them.
But how we do receive them? The close of today’s scripture lesson suggests the answer.
After praising the greatness and goodness of God’s love, David turns to God in prayer, asking that He continue His steadfast love toward those who “know” Him and His salvation toward the “upright of heart”. Though God’s love is not conditioned on our knowing him or our becoming upright, the extent to which we experience the full impact of His love is. We enjoy being loved by God just as much as we are in relationship with Him as Lord and conform our lives to His will.
How deeply and intimately we know God’s love is proportionate to how humbly and faithfully we turn from wickedness to righteousness. This reorientation of ourselves, however, is not achieved by our determined efforts but by our continually choosing to rely on God’s love and grace ahead of our determination and diligence.
In truth, we cannot change ourselves as we need to apart from our depending on God’s love and grace to make it happen. The repentance that leads to life is not willing and working hard for our reformation.
In fact, repenting is not our doing anything about our sin; it is admitting that we can’t do anything about it. The first step repentance is to face the fact that, while we may have the intention not to sin, we lack the power not to sin. Its second step is to do an about-face in where we look to find a solution. We look, not to ourselves, but to a God of steadfast love, depending on Him to bring about by His grace what we never could by our striving!
We are not able to conquer our waywardness without God and His love. To think otherwise is to underestimate the strength of our own waywardness and to overestimate the strength of our own goodness.
Biblical repentance is repudiating our self-reliance and throwing ourselves upon the mercy of a God who is waiting for us to let Him take over and take us where we could never take ourselves. Afterall, God’s generosity extends to the heavens and His faithfulness to the clouds. As we drink from His fountain of life and feast upon His light, His love elevates our conduct and character!
For all that, however, even when we depend on God’s love and grace more than on our resolve and energy, what we do matters. We contribute to the reformation of our lives by doing, again and again, the little, seemingly inconsequential things He asks of us – things like reading the Bible, praying on a regular basis, sharing what we have, and acting with integrity.
The good news is that God, in His collaboration with us, expects no more from us than what He has made manageable for us to do should we be of a mind to do it. Yet, the long practice of our small, mostly unimpressive deeds of faithfulness makes a dramatic difference.
Let me give you an analogy. Most of you have seen chain reactions with dominos, right? If you line up a bunch of those little game pieces and knock one over, it sets off a chain reaction that knocks down hundreds of dominoes in a matter of seconds.
Did you know that every domino, no matter its size, can tip over another up to one-and-a-half times its size? In other words, a two-inch domino can topple a three-inch domino, a three-inch domino can topple a four-and-a half-inch one, and a four-and-a-half inch domino can topple…well, you get the point.
This will go on no matter how large the next domino is. That means that in that progression the 23rd domino in the chain could tip over a domino as tall as the Eiffel Tower!
In the realm of mathematics, there are two types of progression: linear and geometric. Adding two and two to make four is an example of a linear progression. Geometric progression, on the other hand, involves a compound increase in number. Take three to the third power and you end up with twenty-three. Or, if you take thirty linear steps, you’re about ninety feet from where you started; but, if you take thirty geometric steps, you’ve circled the globe twenty-six times!
One component of God’s steadfast gracious love is that He makes more of our little contributions than we might have ever imagined. Doing the little things of faith – for example, keeping a daily appointment for being alone with God and worshiping weekly with others – isn’t linear in its effect but geometric. Every decision we make, every step of faith we take, sets off a chain reaction that leads to a long line of good consequences – some of them so far ahead of us we may not see them until we’ve reached the other side of this life.
God loves everyone without discrimination, but reality discriminates between those who dare to hang their hope on His love and those who play it safe. Let us risk everything and bank on God’s infinitely “precious” love! Let us pray.