Yesterday I tried to describe the love of God towards us as the real basis for personal integrity or wholeness. Today I want to build on that foundation by suggesting that God has a project in mind for those he is making whole.
But I want to first recognize how difficult it is to simply accept the love of God. I know that.
The love of God, as I described it yesterday, can honestly be a little embarrassing. It is embarrassing because it doesn't put conditions on us. It asks much from us and but it does not come to us with conditions that we can meet to make ourselves feel better. When you acknowledge that you are broken. When you acknowledge that you are, in Peter's words, "a sinful man" or in Isaiah's words, "a man of unclean lips," God does not say, "Well clean yourself up, for crying out loud! Put on a decent shirt, wipe your face, cut your hair, wash your mouth out with soap and then I will love you and forgive you." He says, "Your sins are forgiven. Go and sin no more.” Or even more simply, “Come and follow me.”
Especially as men, we want to have earned what we're given. We want to prove ourselves. We want to pay our own debts and we don't want handouts. And when someone comes along and says, "I'll take you as you are," it can be more embarrassing than you expect.
But don't be embarrassed. You have been shown incredible mercy in the Father's plan for rescuing you. But he has also rescued you for a purpose. He wants you for a job he's got. And it's a good job. He doesn't just want to use you. He wants you to join him in something that will complete both his purposes and your integrity.
See, he realizes that you and the rest of your buddies (That's just another way of thinking about the “human race” that gets more immediately at who we really are and what we really want to protect. So when ever someone says "the human race" or "mankind," just think, "me and the rest of my buddies." It will help you think more clearly.) At any rate, you and the rest of your buddies (and me and the rest of my buddies) have messed things up pretty badly by turning away from him and trying to figure things out on your own. What has happened is that our brokenness and lack of integrity has infected the things we have done, the world we have made.
We've messed up our politics, for instance. It's not the politicians who messed it up. It's us. It is natural that we should govern ourselves. Even apart from sin and violence, government helps oil the wheels of our social machinery. Speed limits. Zoning laws. Public parks. Public health. Roads. Bridges. It was very useful that we find a way to do these things together without needing to convene all of us every time we had a decision to make. A politician proper really is a public servant. But we've made politics about power and conflict. "Who won the debate?" too often trumps "What did they talk about last night?" "Whose fault was it that the bailout bill didn't pass" trumps, "What is the best approach to help avoiding suffering in the current economic situation and how do we balance that goal with economic justice?" "What funny personal faults and physical mannerisms will the geniuses at Saturday Night Live use to make the candidates I don't like appear ridiculous?" too often trumps, "Which person has the character, intelligence, leadership skills, and good ideas to help direct our life together as well as we can?"
In similar ways, we've messed up our relationship with creation, the way we educate, our marriages and families, and sometimes, yes, even in the way we run our churches. Don't get me wrong, in each of those areas, there is much left of the good we were created to do. But in each area, there is also a lot of envy, jealousy, bitterness, failure to forgive, hunger for power, and fear that has leaked out into our projects and infected them
But politics, education, care for creation, marriage, family and church leadership might seem a long way off for you. I want to use one more example that is closer to home, something that you have within your hands right now. We have also messed up our friendships.
Our friendships should be like the camaraderie of brothers working together in unity in the world God created for us, using one another's strengths, bearing with one another's weaknesses, finding good projects to accomplish, doing good work, playing hard and well together in all kinds of sports organized and unorganized.
And we naturally share things in common with some more than with others. God had made us remarkably different as individuals in our loves, our delights, our interests and even our tastes. And when you find someone with whom you share a love of poetry, soccer, history, fishing, camping, natural theology, or fine art, it is good and fitting that we enjoy those activities together in a unique way and that the bonds we develop with those people are strong.
But we've too often taken that thing, friendship, and made it about power, identity, exclusion and hierarchy. We're remarkable people. Just like we took the power God placed in the nucleus of an atom and made both generators to run our amazing inventions and a bomb that could destroy entire cities, so we took our social nature and made both friendships that make our very lives worth living and cliques that make some people's lives seem not worth living to them. Our friendships too often take on the characteristics of power politics. Who's in. Who's out. Who are my people, how do we stake out our territory, and how do I protect my place in this circle? Our fear, our lack of integrity, has infected the good things in your life.
But God has had mercy on you and forgiven you for all of that, he wants you to join him in fixing those things. On the basis of the mercy you have received and the wholeness he has made available, he wants you to help him make everything whole again.
"All creation waits," writes Paul, "with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God."