Acceptance

A Strawberry For You

Blest is she who trusted that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled
Luke 1:39-45

Acceptance

One Sunday morning, a preacher went into the pulpit and began to read an Old Testament passage from an Old Bible that had been falling apart and was recently repaired. The preacher was unaware that the page he was reading from and the next page were stuck together with some glue that had seeped in between them. “When men began to multiply on earth,” he began, “and daughters were born to them, the sons of heaven saw how beautiful the daughters of man were, and so they took for their wives as many of them as were (here the preacher turned the stuck page) … three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide, thirty cubits high, made of gopher wood and covered with pitch” (Gen. 6:1-2). After his initial shock, the still puzzled preacher recovered enough to say, “I must admit that the passage I have read is unfamiliar to me. However, I can see that it affirms a more familiar passage which says that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139: 13-14).

So wonderfully are we made that each of us is an unique object of God’s tremendous, infinite Love. God not only gives us the gift of life, He gives us the gift of His tremendous, infinite Love as the Source of our life’s fulfillment. That’s where it all begins for us in our religion. Our religion is not rooted in what we can do for God. Rather, it all rests on what God has done for us.

This is what Christianity is all about. This is the Good News of our Christian Faith. This is why Jesus was born in a smelly little barn. This is why Jesus was raised in the poverty of a humble carpenter’s home. This is why Jesus went from village to village preaching and teaching and healing and rejecting the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and proclaiming the primacy of the Kingdom of God. This is why Jesus endured the bloody horror of His passion and crucifixion. This is why Jesus came out of the tomb, saying, “Peace be with you.” This is why Jesus breathed the very Spirit of God into the world through His first disciples. Jesus lived, died and rose again to make all things new in the purifying fire of God’s Love. Jesus’ mission was to show us the way to unconditional surrender to the mystery of God’s Love.

The reality of God’s tremendous Love is ours to accept, not earn. It is God’s gift, freely offered, never withdrawn; steadfast, constant, eternal. We can’t turn it off. We can’t stop God from loving us. We can’t weaken it or undermine it or command it to go away. And it doesn’t matter who we are or where we are or what we are. God loves us as we are, even though we are not what we should be. The staggering truth is that God does not love the “world” or “mankind” in some vague or abstract way, but that God loves you — the real you, as you are right now — with a love the depth of which we cannot begin to penetrate with mortal eyes. From the Cross Jesus has said to you and to me that God would rather die than be without you. The question that confronts each of us before all others is not “Are you at this moment as pure as the Apostle John or as sinful as Mary Magdalene.” Rather it is, “Are you ready to accept the Gift of God’s tremendous Love down at the center of your being? Are you willing to accept this reality as the necessary point of departure for your journey toward fulfillment?”

Several years ago, Arnold Palmer, the great golfer, played some golf matches in Saudi Arabia. His play greatly impressed the King of Saudi Arabia, and before Palmer left the country the king told him he would like to present him with a special gift. “What can I offer you?” the king asked. Palmer expressed his gratitude for the offer but said that he had enjoyed his visit very much and a special gift was not necessary. But the king insisted and Palmer finally said, “All right. You can give me a golf club. That would really be a nice remembrance of your hospitality.” The next day, so the story goes, a messenger appeared at Palmer’s hotel with the deed to a three hundred acre golf club. Someone has said that the moral of the story is, “In the presence of the king, don’t ask for small gifts.”

There is no blasphemy so great that can cause God to offer you anything less than the greatest gift imaginable. There is no rebellion so wild that can cause God to ever give up on you. There is no depression so deep that can prevent God from continuing to take the initiative with you. He continues, steadfastly, to move into your life in a thousand ways. He persists and persists and persists in this way, out of His tremendous love for you and His burning desire to bring you to fulfillment as a human person.

How clearly did the sacred author of the beautiful 139th Psalm understand this!:

Where can I go from Your Spirit? From Your presence where can I flee? If I go up to the heavens, You are there; If I sink to the nether world, You are present there. (Ps. 139:7-8)

This Gospel begins immediately following Mary’s encounter with the angel of the Lord who told her she would give birth to the Messiah. “I am the servant of the Lord,” Mary answered. “Let it be done to me as you say.” There would be no Christmas as we know it had not Mary accepted that gift of God’s tremendous love as she did. Her acceptance is an essential element of the Incarnation Event. When the angel departed, Mary immediately went to visit her cousin Elizabeth. As if to emphasize the importance of Mary’s acceptance, Elizabeth greets her, saying, “Blessed is she who trusted that the Lord’s Word to Her would be fulfilled” (Lk. 1:45).

A man was being chased by a ferocious tiger. He ran and ran until he came to a sheer cliff. As the tiger came bearing down on Him, he grabbed a rope hanging over the cliff and climbed down out of the tiger’s reach. The man looked up and saw the tiger fifty feet away leering down at Him, waiting to devour Him. Then he looked down and saw jagged rocks sticking up from the ground five hundred feet below. Then He saw two mice beginning to chew into the rope. What to do! What to do! He saw a big, bright red strawberry growing out of the side of the cliff. He stretched out his hand, plucked the strawberry, popped it into his mouth and ate it. Then he said, “Yummy! That was the most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted.” The point is, had the man allowed Himself to become pre-occupied with the jagged rocks below (the future) or with the leering tiger above (the past), he would have completely missed the strawberry (the gift that was being offered to him in the present moment).

In the Book of Isaiah, the Lord God says, “Behold, I have carved you on the palms of My hands” (Is. 49:16). That is a beautiful image describing exactly how God feels about us. God looks at the hands that created us and He sees us engraved in them. We are indelibly part of God’s life — made in His image. Scripture tells us God is that close to us. He didn’t carve us into His palms as a reward. We didn’t earn that exalted place in God’s life. Moreover, we cannot change it. We can separate ourselves from God for a time but God is there offering to make us whole, offering to bring us to fulfillment, offering His Love.

God wants us to experience His tremendous Love now — in the present moment. Forget the ferocious tiger in your past. Don’t worry about the jagged rocks in your future. Fix your eye on the strawberry. Our best human glimpse of God’s tremendous love comes to us in the experience of love in our human relationships. That’s our strawberry. That’s our taste of the good life under God’s Rule. It is not as though we can compartmentalize our personhood and experience God’s love over here and love in our human relationships over there. In this life, our sweetest taste of God’s love comes to us in our loving and being loved by other human persons. “Love one another as I have loved you,” Jesus commands. Love of God and love of neighbor are inseparable. In this Gospel truth we journey toward our fulfillment.

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