The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
January 16, 2022
Once, Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel posed a question to a panel assembled at Yale Divinity School. He asked the panelists to name the unhappiest person in the Bible. One said Job because he endured such horrific trials; another, Moses because he was denied entry into the Promised Land; still another, Mary because she witnessed the crucifixion of her son. Wiesel said God because He feels such gut-wrenching pain watching His children hurt, abuse and kill one another.
God cares. God’s heart is on the line in how it goes with every last one of us. God is miserable when we do evil and make each other miserable.
Yet, though we can make God’s love of us a source of unhappiness for Him, we can’t make God stop loving us. For that matter, we can’t make God hold Himself back even a little in His love of us. His heart keeps going out to us in concerned caring even though, if He quit doing it, He’d spare Himself a world of suffering.
The first four verses of this Psalm lay out the unrestrained wickedness of which we are capable. The next five verses lay out the unrestrained goodness of which God is capable. Where sin abounds, grace does much more; and even if we fall into the lowest depravity, God rises up in the highest love to reach out to us, set us upright and send us on our way forward. This kind support God offers to even the worst of us. The middle verse of today’s scripture declares: “All people may take refuge in the shadow of [God’s] wings” – that is, under the care of God’s “steadfast love”. God’s love is boundless; its immensity is astronomic and oceanic, for it “extends to the heavens” and plumbs the great deep of the sea. Its vast unearned generosity brings hope to any and all who turn to its light and in that light see light.
The core revelation of the Christian faith is not of the ideal moral and spiritual life, though that’s important, but of God’s boundless grace for those who fall short of the ideal.
Ideals can, if we let them, mock us and crush our spirits. Most of us don’t need to get clearer about what’s ideal; but we all need to get clearer about how boundless God’s unmerited kindness is. God doesn’t just tell us what we ought to be and do; God also forgives us of our failures and faults, and frees us from them by His own power.
God’s boundless love pulls us out of the ruts of our futility and propels us into sharing, in a life-changing way, God’s boundless love for everyone.
Carlos Ferrer experienced God’s astronomic and oceanic love through those who’d experienced it themselves; and it eventually moved him to walk with Jesus and to pass on His love to others.
In January of 1962 Carlos’ family escaped the violent repression of Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution…taking, in the middle of the night, a cargo ship headed to Veracruz, with no possessions but the clothes on their backs. Some distant cousins in Mexico City took them in until they got green cards for entering the United States.
They first landed in Miami, but then a Santa Barbara church offered to sponsor them in California and help them start a new life. Those caring folks found a job for Carlos’ father, covered the rent for a house for 6 months, and supplied each family member with basic necessities.
Carlos couldn’t help but wonder what motivated these church folks to be so generous to complete strangers. Why did they show them such love? Carlos couldn’t figure it out and finally gave up trying.
Thanks to the church’s support, Carlos did well in school and got a scholarship to the University of Texas. There he met some fellow students who were like the church folks back home in California. They also radiated joy, peace and caring; and they attributed it all to having a relationship with Jesus. Carlos eventually prayed to strike up a friendship with Jesus himself. Shortly after making that decision, he remembered those saints in Santa Barbara with a new appreciation, and a light bulb flashed on in his brain. It now made sense to him why they had helped him and his family: Jesus had loved them without bounds, so they loved people without bounds. Their coming to know God’s astronomic and oceanic love inspired them to love like Christ.
And decades later Carlos is still carrying on their legacy of love they left to him by sharing God’s gracious goodness wherever and whenever he can.
May we too open our hearts to God’s love and set off our own chain reaction of it!
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