Monday, August 22, 2011

God' Providence and Steadfast Love

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost - Romans 12:1-8, Psalm 138, Matthew 16:13-20

Psalm 138 has been described as one of the happiest psalms in the Hebrew Bible. It is a psalm of endless praise to God. Many psalms are songs of lament asking where God is amidst the pain and suffering. But Psalm 138 is a happy psalm – a psalm that begins with thanks, gratitude and praise to God.

This psalm primarily teaches us about what God does and how we should respond to God. The author of the psalm praises God for steadfast love and faithfulness, answering humans, increasing strength, speaking, regarding the lowly, preserving, reaching out, delivering, and fulfilling God’s purpose for humans.

One of the main themes flowing through this psalm is what Christian theologians refer to as the doctrine of God’s providence. God’s providence is about God’s ordering of creation and how God acts in the world. The author of this psalm has no doubt that God is the creator who intervenes in the world, the history of Israel and the lives of individuals.1

We may question or wonder whether God continues to intervene in the world today. In the Hebrew Bible we read about God’s conversations with Abraham, Moses and Saul, and to the prophets, just to name a few. God leads and guides them. But we might wonder about the intimacy of God’s communication and action with God’s people in this day and age.

Christian theologian Paul Tillich wrote insightfully about God’s active relationship with creation and described how God continually works through history in a way that preserves human freedom. “Providence is a permanent activity of God. God is never a spectator; God always directs everything toward its fulfillment…through the freedom of human beings and through the spontaneity and structural wholeness of all creatures.” 2

Both Tillich and the psalmist seem to be saying the same thing about the Divine. God is holy, high, and eternal AND God is responsive, loving and intimately involved with creation and its creatures. This is a paradox of omnipotence and intimacy. God is beyond what we can comprehend and yet God is present and involved in our lives. God is so vast that all the kings of the earth will praise God, and yet God has a specific vocation for individual human beings. God is forever, and yet God will stretch out God’s hand and will strengthen the believer.

This paradox of omnipotence and intimacy is an expression of God’s loving faithfulness. In Hebrew the word hesed is translated as “steadfast love,” “amazing grace,” or “loyal love,” and in this psalm as in other places in Scripture, hesed expresses God’s passionate, faithful love for creation. The God who is beyond time intervenes in history on account of this steadfast love and amazing grace.

Like the psalmist, our response to God’s hesed, God’s steadfast love and amazing grace is our thankfulness, gratitude and praise. However, it would be a mistake if we consider that our thankfulness, gratitude and praise are enough. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that we should all live lives full of thankfulness, gratitude and praise to God; however, there’s more that God requires of us.

To paraphrase St. Paul’s appeal to the Romans, ‘Because of God’s amazing grace and steadfast love, we each have unique gifts whether they be prophecy, ministry, teaching, speaking, giving, leading, welcoming, healing, and caring. Each gift is unique and necessary and valuable. And one is not more valuable than another. As the Body of Christ we need everyone’s gift in order to thrive.’

So do we wonder about the intimacy of God’s communication and action with God’s people in this day and age? I believe God continues to communicate with us through God’s word, prayer, worship, and one another. And I believe that God acts in the world today through us, through our thankfulness, gratitude and praise and – most importantly – through our use of the unique gifts God has blessed each and every one of us with.

I invite all of us to consider how we might use our gifts to the building up of God’s kingdom here at Church of the Ascension and in our daily life and work. In three weeks we will hold our annual Ministry Fair which highlights various opportunities and ministries for each of us to sign-up to use our God-given talents and gifts. Each gift is unique and necessary and valuable, and Ascension needs everyone’s gift in order to thrive.

We are God’s hands and feet and heart in the world today. Respond to God’s hesed, God’s steadfast love and amazing grace, by using the gifts God has give you with thankfulness, gratitude and praise. Then like the psalmist we will sing “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.” Amen.

1. Mary Elise Lowe, Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 3 from Proper 16 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011) p. 369.

2. Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951) 1:266-67; quoted in Peter C. Hodgson and Robert H. King, Readings in Christian Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1985) p. 146 as found in Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 3.

3. Mary Elise Lowe, Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 3 from Proper 16 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011) p. 370.

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