For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that who ever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life
Let us pray:
Hide me behind your cross, Lord Jesus. Articulate the Father’s heart through my voice and let the Holy Spirit breathe new life to us, opening our ears to hear the message of God. Amen
Ecclesiastes is a book of contrasts, almost like quick thoughts jotted down throughout one person’s lifetime. They are doubts and hopes and observations that come to one conclusion. The same one Proverbs says is the only way: the fear of the Lord is the meaning of life.
These verses in chapter 3 were compelling enough to form a song, one probably most people have heard in their lifetimes – one that reflects on the ebb and flow of life. The Byrds added a ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’ lyric to reflect the cyclical nature of time and life – everything happens as though a wheel of time spins in the heavens and as it go along, things happen in their seasons.
It’s a sweet perspective, with a large appeal – based on the popularity of the song. However, the reality is that while things have some measure of cyclical nature, the only way to actually make sense of all the things under heaven, the only way to understand all that happens – is to have a God’s eye view of the universe – the one thing we long to have (God sets eternity in the hearts of men) and yet which we cannot. It is only reserved for God to know and see and understand all that is and was and is to come. God has a handle on the nature of activity in our world and if it isn’t all mapped out to the nth degree, God at least sees the myriad directions it can ebb and flow. We have these verses to remind us that our own understanding will always wind up having to fall back to the main idea of Proverbs: Fearing God is the beginning of wisdom, and it is the only way to make sense of all that happens in our world - good, bad, and neutral.
This past week, there are wildfires burning out of control in California, another shooting at a bar in California, and incidental, smaller things have happened to each of us – maybe one has lost their job, one has failed a test, one has started a new job, one has gotten a bad report from the doctor.
The only way to understand – or at least make room for – any of these things bad or good is to reflect on the nature of God and rest in the knowledge that God is watching, God is preparing us, God is preparing the world for the return of Jesus – and while we wait, when we fear God we can know that no matter what our circumstance, God is there.
God didn’t resolve every fear and tear and sorrow and breaking thing. God didn’t suspend time and the reciprocal nature of our world. Instead, God’s resolution for the brokenness of sin and the challenging circumstances that have been part of our lives since the Fall in the garden – God’s resolution was to put on our vulnerable flesh and walk among us.
We don’t fear a distant God, we don’t fear a God who has no investment in us and our lives – rather, we fear a God whose entire mission has been to provide rescue for us, and that has been done not by a God who throws thunderbolts and lightning strikes, but by a God who reveals himself to us as a babe in a manger, who becomes one of us to save all of us.
Recently, Eugene Peterson, the one who paraphrased scripture in the Message version, passed away, and one of his sons eulogized him this way:
"My dad's message was that good news always plays out best in relationships. The writer of Genesis tells us that at the end of each day of creation, God looked around the world that He had done, and saw that it was good," Leif Peterson said.
"I think my dad did that a lot. He was always looking around at the mountains, at the flowers, at the birds, at the relationships forming and playing all around him, and you could tell from that signature twinkle in his eyes, what he was thinking 'oh man that's good, that's really good.'"
Leif Peterson revealed that he used to joke with his father and tell him that he "only had one sermon, one message" despite decades of creativity in sharing the Bible with people in new ways, something which he believes to be fairly accurate.
"It's almost laughable how you fooled them, how for 30 years every week you made them think you were saying something new," he said as part of a poem addressed to his father.
"They thought you were a magician in your long black robe hiding so much in your ample sleeves, always pulling something fresh and making them think it was just for them," he continued.
"They didn't know how simple it all was. They were blind to your secret."
Leif Peterson said that he knew his father's secret, however, as he had been telling him for 50 years.
"For 50 years you steal into my room at night and whispered softly to my sleeping head. It's the same message over and over:
'God loves you. He's on your side. He's coming after you. He's relentless.'"
In Ecclesiastes, we see a revelation that our doubts do not confound God, nor do they surprise him. Rather, our doubts are normal and the longer we explore and investigate and learn, the more we recognize that our doubt is the beginning of understanding the Truth – that the God who created us, loves us enough to let us doubt everything about who he is and what he does, but still draws us near. Draws us close. And whispers love in our hearts.
As we have been doing every week in this series, I will remind you of what it looks like to say that the love of God is found in every page of Scripture:
What does it mean to say God loves?
God loved us enough to create us, to form us from the dust.
God loved us enough to let us fail, to let us choose our own way over God’s – to let us chain ourselves to sin and defeat and heartbreak and sorrow and death.
God loved us enough to provide a rescue, a way back: through wanderers, murderers, adulterers, defaulters, promise-breakers, foreigners, strangers, and lovers.
God loved us enough to show us mothers, judges, kings, and prophets who loved and spoke for God and kept reminding us of the promise of redemption
God loved us enough to show us how evil and wrong continually mess things up and how obedience to God fosters holiness and bestows blessing
God loved us enough to send us Jesus, the only begotten Son of God, to preach and live peace, grace, hope, joy, and love.
God loved us enough to see Jesus rejected, to see him die, to see him buried.
God loved us enough to raise Jesus from the dead and send the Holy Spirit to remind us of all we have in him and empower us to live like him.
God loved us enough to want us to live like Jesus – an abundant life infused with all the fruit of the Spirit, redeemed, free, loved.
God loved us enough to still let us choose our destiny.
God loved us enough to promise the hope of forever, of resurrection from the dead, and judgement.
God loved us enough, God loves us enough, God will always love us enough.
For God so loved the world…
God loves you.
God wants you to know it. God wants you to live in it.
God wants you to be able to love others because you know you are loved.
God’s love is expressed to us every week, most tangibly, as we gather at this table: The Son who died and yet lives, gave everything so we could know the depth of God’s love.
So, Come. Drink the wine. Eat the bread. Know you ARE loved.
God loves you. Go, love the world with him.