The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
July 4, 2021
For this Independence Day, I felt led to talk about dependence – not ours on God, but God’s on us.
After losing family members to Hitler’s gas chambers and suffering himself the horrors of a concentration camp, a Jewish man abandoned his faith. Yet, out of compassion for fellow survivors, he dedicated himself to helping others recover from the nightmare.
One day, on a long train ride, he noticed a passenger wearing a yarmulke. He idly studied him, and was not impressed with what he saw: a dull look in the man’s eyes, a clumsiness in relating with seatmates and a gracelessness in personal grooming. “What a schlub,” the first man thought. “I hope this poor guy can manage to get where he needs to go.” Then he turned away to look out the window and watch the towns flash by.
The next time he glanced over at the man, his attention was arrested. He saw that the man had pulled out a prayer book and was mouthing its words as he rocked slightly back and forth in prayer. “What a pathetic display of piety!” the first man said to himself. “I pity God if that’s the best He’s now got to serve Him.”
He pondered that thought for a while, and caught himself feeling sorry for God. All of a sudden, it occurred to him, “If I have compassion on human beings, shouldn’t I also have it on the divine being? After all, God must suffer for want of good help.” And from that moment, the man practiced his faith again. He attended synagogue, helped individuals and assisted God in making this troubled world a little better.
The Almighty, by His own sovereign decision, made Himself dependent on limited, imperfect, inconsistent human beings. Though we can do nothing of significance apart from Him, God chooses to do many significant things only if we collaborate with Him in bringing them about. We collaborate by trusting Him and following His will.
Thus, if we refuse to act with faith and faithfulness, we thwart the realization of God’s dreams. If we say No to sharing generously out of our abundance, some whom God wants to feed go hungry. If we decline the opportunity to act kindly and graciously, some whom God wants to befriend never sense His love. If we act like the people of Nazareth and close our minds to acknowledging God’s presence in our midst, we hinder God’s working in our world. We create again the sad situation Mark describes in today’s scripture lesson, wherein God “could do no deed of power there.”
The Almighty makes Himself vulnerable to our choices! So, if we care about Him and hate to see Him frustrated and disappointed, we’ll have compassion on Him and make a contribution to support His efforts. We’ll agree to be sent out like the twelve to proclaim God’s word, heal those in need and defeat the forces of evil.
Yes, God blesses us just because He loves us. But He also blesses us because there are still others He loves, and He depends on partners like us to bless them for Him. In other words, God blesses us to be a blessing to our neighbors. Salvation is never for us alone.
If we fail to bear this in mind, we risk becoming like that member of a trapped cave-exploration group whom the other members helped squeeze through a narrow tunnel to get to the surface and call for help, but who in the excitement of his emerging into the sunlight initially forgot about those on whose behalf He’d been sent out to rally a rescue effort. Only when he calmed down and came to his senses did he recall that he’d been saved to bring the same salvation to others.
Salvation is never all about meeting our own needs. It is always just as much about meeting the needs of others. In saving us, God frees us from our self-centeredness that we might care about others and join Him in His work to free them from what oppresses them.
We should give thanks that we live in the land of the free, but we should also give mind to the fact that we only experience full liberty by living under the law of love. Victor Frankl had it right when he suggested that the Statue of Liberty on America’s East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on its West Coast.
Let us then use the freedom God’s given us to fulfill the responsibility He’s given us. Let us, because He has put Himself in a position of dependence on us, become dependable, and be all in on His sending us out to embody His love to others.