“Man’s (Humanity’s) accidents are God’s purposes.”
In honor of mother’s day I thought I should share some parenting humor:
A teenage boy had just passed his driving test and inquired of his father as to when they could discuss his use of the car.
His father said he’d make a deal with his son: ‘You bring your grades up from a C to a B average, study your Bible a little, and get your hair cut. Then we’ll talk about the car.’
The boy thought about that for a moment, decided he’d settle for the offer, and they agreed on it.
After about six weeks his father said, ‘Son, you’ve brought your grades up and I’ve observed that you have
been studying your Bible, but I’m disappointed you haven’t had your hair cut.
The boy said, ‘You know, Dad, I’ve been thinking about that, and I’ve noticed in my studies of the Bible that Samson had long hair, John the Baptist had longhair, Moses had long hair…and there’s even strong evidence that Jesus had long hair.’
To this his father replied, ‘Did you also notice they walked everywhere they went?’
American radio personality Gil Gross tells this story:
A young couple had one little girl and a new baby boy. The little girl wanted to be left alone with the baby, but the parents were afraid. They had heard of jealous children hitting new siblings and they didn’t want the baby hurt. “No, no” they said, “Not yet. Why do you want to be with him? What are you going to do?” “I just want to be alone with him,” the little girl said.
She didn’t back down. She begged for days. Finally the parents gave in. The baby’s room had an intercom system and they decided they could listen in—the baby’s room was right next to theirs—if the little girl hit the baby they would hear him cry and rush right in.
The little girl went right into her new baby brother’s room. She went right over to the crib. She leaned real close to the new baby and over the intercom her parents heard her whisper, “Tell me again about God, I’m already forgetting.”
The author of our Psalm communicates a lovely truth about Divine love---we are an open book to God, and God never lets us out of God’s sight. This is the Psalmists way of saying that God is like a parent; and we are God’s children.
What do you know about children? In a recent conversation someone was relaying a couple of stories from his family. His children’s behavior was taking him and his wife by surprise. “It’s been far from perfect,” he said, “ Our son isn’t interested in going to college, he’d rather excel in extreme sports—the kind that don’t pay—and our daughter is dating a young man who grew up in New Jersey and is making plans to live there—with her. This is not how my wife and I planned our children’s future.”
Children don’t grow in a straight line, do they?
The Source of our Life knows this—that you and I don’t grow in a straight line—and still says to us, “I know everything about you,” AND “I never let you out of my sight.”
Not that we don’t give God a little bit of a scare. When our granddaughter Harper reached her first birthday she was walking more than she was crawling. But the family hadn’t caught up with her new skill. Her father had placed her in the living room with her mother and a handful of other adults and then relocated himself to the kitchen table to read the messages on his phone. I was doing meal preparation in the kitchen. Suddenly he felt her little hand on his knee. (I had watched as she quietly crawled out of the living room and over to the kitchen table and then stood up, using the chairs for support, until she had reached him.) Startled he said, with fear and delight, “What are you doing over here?”
Fear and delight—that about sums up the parenting relationship don’t you think? Not just with parent and child but also with God and child; you and me; us. There is this humor, you see, between God and us—God finds great joy in the relationship, longs for our happiness—rises and falls with us—gives to us, forgives us, surprises us, protects us, and relieves us. Don’t you think God observes us and thinks, with fear and delight, “What are you doing over here? I put you over THERE.”
This is grace—this playful relationship between God and humanity. God enjoys watching us grow just like we enjoy watching our own children grow.
However, this gracious understanding of the nature of God has stiff competition, or an enemy or two so to say. The first enemy of grace is what I’m going to call poor theological understanding of the nature of the Divine. Some of us were handed a different image—God as judge and condemnation—God focusing on our weaknesses—eager, willing to dissolve the relationship.
In the movie A Knight’s Tale (2001), starring actor Health Ledger, we meet a young man who is tired of being a peasant squire, and hungry, and unimportant. His name is William. William reinvents himself as a knight and enters jousting tournaments—a sport only to be entered into by nobility. His enemy is Count Adhemar, who desires winning above all else. The first time Adhemar defeats William, Adhemar leans over him and says, “You have been weighed, and measured, and have been found wanting.” Since this is a movie with a happy ending, William gets a second chance at Adhemar and wins, in spite of the fact that Adhemar cheated, and gets to lean over Adhemar and say, “You have been weighed, and measured, and have been found wanting.”
I think this line describes how some persons have been taught God is with us—one who weighs, measures, and finds us wanting. If this is true grace wouldn’t be grace at all because the ability to experience second chances and many, many kindnesses would be the result of our having mastered perfection –grace would be about us—what we can will ourselves to DO. This isn’t the understanding of our psalmist. Grace is who God is despite our behavior; merciful, kind, good, even illogical. God constantly interrupts our lives with love and opportunities. That’s a credit to God’s nature.
One of my favorite Dennis the Menace cartoons shows Dennis walking away from the Wilson's house with his friend and sidekick, Joey. Both boys have their hands full of cookies, and Joey asks the question, "I wonder what we did to deserve this?" Dennis delivers an answer packed with truth. He said, "Look, Joey, Mrs. Wilson gives us cookies not because we're nice, but because she's nice."
Grace is so illogical—only God could have thought of it! But for those who have parented, well, we understand it. We don’t love our children because they are accomplished, do we? We love them because they are ours. This is how it is with God. God loves us because we belong to God. God’s fear isn’t that we’ll misbehave. God’s fear is that we’ll miss the relationship.
Everything is about Divine encounter---the God who does not detach from us---in an incredibly violent, hurting world filled with poverty, sickness, and fear. Which brings me to the second enemy of grace, SKEPTISICM. We are tempted to think that the presence of tragedy and evil speak to the non-existence of God, when what we are called to accept is a mystery around evil. I once heard this in a dream, “You can’t make sense of a tragedy, a tragedy makes sense of you.” I struggled with this dream interpretation for months before sharing it with a friend. “What do you think it means?” I asked her. “We’re so busy trying to figure out why the fire started,” she responded, “Instead of responding to the persons in the burning building.”
“Even if we go underground you are there,” exclaims the author of Psalm 139, “This is too much. I can’t take it all in.” The Psalmist has pushed through the smoke screen, so to say, and discovered that the source of all life is amazingly tender, compassionate, and fair. How humbling. Can any one of us take God all in?
Prayer: Teach us, Kind God, to embrace you—to move beyond the world’s skepticism and simply accept that we are yours no matter what. Amen.
(This sermon was preached by Reverend Dana Keener at Central Christian Church in Billings, Montana.)