“All the promises of God find their Yes in him…”
2 Corinthians 1:18-20
I got in trouble once in the 2nd grade when a boy across the room passed a note to me. Of course, in transit, the note was opened and read by every kid between him and me. By the time the note reached me, they were all snickering. I opened the note and saw why. It said, “Callie, I love you. Do you love me?” And it had two boxes to check, one for yes, one for no. I didn’t know which one to check. On the one hand, I didn’t want hurt the boy’s feelings. I didn’t hate him. But, on the other hand, I didn’t want be his girlfriend either. So I checked both boxes. Yes AND No. And I wrote underneath: “I like you, but I don’t love you.” Then I folded it up and passed it back. Of course, that’s when the teacher confiscated the note, and, much to my dismay, read it aloud front of the entire class. I was mortified.
We both got in trouble that day, except that she did say, “Callie, I am proud of you for what you wrote. Second graders are way too young to be in love.” Maybe so. All I know is that I have spent a lifetime learning to love. It’s not always easy. We human beings are so complicated–mood driven, self-absorbed, fallen creatures, confused by feelings, ambivalent about a lot of stuff, perhaps, most of all, about love.
Not so with God, says Paul. With humans it may be yes OR no, or maybe yes AND no. With God, it is always YES. Always. How many different ways does the Bible try to tell us the love of God is total, unconditional, everlasting, absolute, eternal, and forever. This is the nature of the covenant we read about in scripture: ” I will be your God and you will be my people. Even when you fail to be my people, I will not fail to be your God. Even when you fail to hold up your end of the covenant, I will still hold up my end of the covenant—and yours too.” Think of the cross in that way: God holding up both ends of the covenant, taking it upon himself. That’s grace! That’s why we call it amazing. Remember: if grace is not amazing, its not grace.
And yet, down through the ages, so much of our religion has been obsessed with taking that amazing grace God and slicing it, dicing it, canning it, packaging it, pickling it, selling it, putting all kinds of conditions and restrictions upon it. If you do this, God will love you. If you don’t do that, God won’t love you. Like this hamburger joint I ate in one time. I was so hungry, but everywhere I turned there were these hand-lettered sign taped the walls and doors: Do not sit on tables. Restrooms for customer use only. Local checks for amount of purchase only. Please order by number. Vanilla frosties only. Dipped one size only. No shoes, no shirts, no service. Please bus table. Be nice or leave. Trash cans not for diaper disposal. Gee. Are we having fun yet? There is a lot of religion like that out there: full of Don’t! Stop! Beware! Keep Out! Not Allowed! Prohibited! Abomination! It is a gospel of conditional love.
Not so with God, says Paul. To the Ephesians he writes of “the height and length and breadth and depth of the love of God which surpasses all knowledge.” “By grace we have been saved. This is a gift, a free gift, not our own doing.” To the Corinthians: “Love never ends.” To the Romans he writes “where sin abounds grace abounds all the more.” Again, “there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.” “If God is for us, who is against us? Can anything separate us from the love of God? No. I am convinced that nothing in all creation, not even death, can separate us from the love of God.” Again: “Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, neither has it entered into the hearts of humankind what God can do, who makes the things that are out of things that are not, who makes dead things come to life again.” How many different ways does the Gospel try to tell us that God’s first and final and forever word to us is YES?
This is not a God you can slice or dice, buy or sell, control, contain, or kill. This is a God of unlimited possibility, for in him ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE–YES! This is not a stingy God meting out our rewards over here and our punishments over there, but One who grants his children a staggering amount of freedom–permission to be who we are, to experiment with our lives, to color outside the lines, to make our own decisions, to take leaps of faith, even to stumble and fall, get back on your horse, and begin again. YES. And in the midst of all those possibilities and all that permission this is a God who promises to be with us always. Yes.
It’s not that there are no boundaries, no rules, or that anything goes. Anyone who is parent knows this. When we say no to our children– no you can’t fingerpaint on the living room walls, no you can’t drive the car until have a license, no you can’t play with fire, no you can’t pull your sister’s ponytail–it doesn’t mean we don’t love them. By no means! Yes, we love them, we love them more and more, we love them with an everlasting love that so far outweighs all the little nos that go into raising a child and growing up. But I remember something that I learned in one of my seminary courses: For every no you say to a child you must counterbalance it with 7 yeses. Because the word No sinks in so deeply. Because No is so much easier for us to believe. Is it not one of the first words we learn to say?—even before we learn to say Yes, right up there with mama and dada is No!
I remember when one young mother brought her darling little girl to see me about being baptized. The whole time they were in my office, the child, who was 2 at the time, kept saying, over and over again: no, no, no. Her mother was so worried: “That’s all she says. What if that’s all she says at her baptism?” I could see her point. How would that go? “I baptize thee in the name of the Father (no!) and of the Son (no!) and of the Holy Spirit (no!)” But when that day came, after her baptism, as I carried her around the sanctuary to meet her new brothers and sisters, she waved to everybody and sweetly blew kisses, as if she were Queen of Carnival. Yes! That’s what baptism means, my friends: it is God’s unequivocal Yes to us: Yes you are mine. Yes you are loved. Yes you are precious in my eyes. We spend the rest of our learning how to say Yes back to him.
That’s why I want to say to you today, in every way I can, at least 7 times: Yes ! Because: if the message of Easter is anything it is most certainly God’s resounding, eternal Yes to us, in spite of the world’s rejection, denial, betrayal, condemnation, crucifixion, and all the ways did we still say no, no, no to that outstretched hand of love.
On that first Easter Sunday so long ago, when the women went to the tomb expecting to find a heavily guarded corpse, there were no signs plastered on the stones saying: Die sinner! You traitor! Where were you when I needed you? Keep Out! Beware! Jesus is coming back and boy is he mad!
On the contrary—in the still of that Sunday morning, in the soft light of rising sun, the stone rolled back, the grave was wide open and impossibly empty, the grave clothes left behind, with men in white, the angels, the gardener, the Lord, and the resounding message: he’s not here! he has risen, just as he said, go and tell the others, it is not the end, but rather something more, a New Beginning, the future open wide! Yes. And the world has never been the same! All the promises of God converge on this day of days, find their Yes in him, in his unconquerable love, and the victory of life stronger than death.
The great Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it like this: “Where human beings say Lost! God says, Found! Where people say, Condemned! God says Saved! Where people say, No! God says, Yes!”