A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery
A Love That Never Quits
February 23, 2012
Psalm 136 is a call and response litany – the leader extols God’s persisting goodness to Israel through one terrible circumstance after another, to which the people shout back, line after line, “His love never quits.” (The Message)
It’s not as though God’s love for wayward children hadn’t been tested, even stretched nearly to the breaking point. In the wilderness following their deliverance from Egypt, Aaron leads God’s people in fashioning and worshiping a golden calf. God responds by telling Moses, in effect, “I’ve had it with this insufferable people. I am going to disown them, and find another people more faithful to me.” Moses remonstrates, “Don’t do it, Lord! What will the watching world say if they see you abandon your people after all those promises you made to them?” According to Moses, God’s honor, not Israel’s disobedience, is the core matter at stake. Israel may have dishonored God mightily, yet God sticking with them despite their faithlessness is the acid test of whether the psalmist is right that God’s love never quits. Never??
A teen in my congregation was kicked out of her home during her senior year for having earned bad grades and hanging out with an unruly crowd. Even though she found a friend to stay with, those months banished from her own home etched deeply into her heart a fear that if she didn’t perform as expected, her friends and family would quit loving her. Rather than declaring to the world that this family stands for something good, the episode became a public black mark on her family, even as it scarred her forever.
The church has often engaged in similar action, shunning members that transgress its bounds of acceptable behavior. Rather than engage the hard work of staying close to those who wander from its fold, the church has often gone the easier route of simply washing its hands of them.
“What will the neighbors say about you if you turn your back on your family?” Moses challenges the Lord. How could the story of God’s dealings with his chosen people become a beacon of salvation for the world if God disowns them when they go astray?
The severity of Israel’s departure from God’s plan can hardly be overstated. There is no more egregious disobedience than brazen defiance of the first and greatest of all God’s commands, yet Moses implores God not to give up on them. Generations later the psalmist and the temple choir are able to shout out as a result, “God’s love never quits!”
Let us make no mistake – it’s not that God turns a blind eye to disobedience. The story of the golden calf ends with calamity being visited on the disobedient, despite God having relented from disowning them. Hebrews 12 reminds us that divine discipline is executed not to run us off, but to bring us closer.
The psalmist’s refrain “His love never quits” carries a corollary – neither should our love for God’s people quit. We may not understand, let alone endorse each other’s position on this or that matter – but in a healthy family, such differences do not cause love to quit.
We are in a terribly difficult patch in our family life right now as Presbyterians. Differences that have long simmered beneath the surface have begun boiling over, and we may understandably wonder whether we can continue to be part of the same family.
I’m glad that a healthy family doesn’t need to live in the same house forever. It is natural and good for children to establish and move into their own households as they grow up. The apostolic community in the New Testament is remarkably fluid, as people move often from one location to another to live and to minister. The point is not to keep everyone in the family forever under the same roof, but to keep loving and owning each other as our family regardless of where our pathways may lead us.
Whether or not we stay under the same roof, we dare not set aside our familial love for one another. If we speak ill of each other or disown one another, what will the watching world say about this divine love that we profess, a love that never quits? Really??
Grateful for God’s faithfulness,
The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, Pastor to Pittsburgh Presbytery
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