"But they and our ancestors acted presumptuously and stiffened their necks and did not obey your commandments; they refused to obey, and were not mindful of the wonders that your performed among them; but they stiffened their necks and determined to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and you did not forsake them." -- Nehemiah 9:16-17
The Gospel message can be found in many places. This is one of them.
In another place, I find the Gospel message again:
"But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ ...For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God -- not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. -- Ephesians 2:4-5,8-10
So, what is the Gospel message? What do these two passages have in common?
The Gospel message is this: that God loves us despite the fact that we have done nothing to deserve that love.
That is the Gospel. And that has always been true. From the beginning of creation. God loves us, and continually redeems us, wanting us only to learn by his example how to love one another as we are loved.
It is a simple message. But we have great difficulty believing it.
Despite the saving and redeeming wonders that God has performed in our lives, and in the lives of other people, we still think that God's love is qualified, that God's love depends on something we must do.
We build up structures of rules to follow, sometimes very precise rules because we cannot believe that God's love is so freely given. We make rules about what we must wear, what we must look like, what we must eat and drink, about how we must keep our bodies and houses spotless, about who is allowed to learn, who is allowed to teach, about who is "in" and who is "out," etc., etc., etc. We find these rules everywhere we look, even in the Bible. It must be in our human nature to make these kinds of rules and to think this way. We cannot help enslaving ourselves to that which is not important to God, to that which has nothing to do with God's commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves.
And so, God must continually redeem us from such slavery. He continually redeemed the Israelites from such slavery. He even sent his Beloved Son to show everyone a better way, to show the way of redeeming love. Jesus never enslaved himself, or anyone around him, to such rules. He lived only the way God wants us to live.
As John's Gospel states: For God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17)
God will do whatever it takes to get his message of love across to us. Even using flawed humans like you and me.
For we are all like Zacchaeus: God comes to us, makes himself at home with us, and, despite our transgressions, loves us. In the process, God shows us the way of love. That is God's way.
How do we respond to this love? Like Zacchaeus, we try to reciprocate it.
But, sometimes we forget.
How can we always remember? Is it possible for us to love one another perfectly, as God loves us?
No. We are never going to be perfect. We are never going to love one another perfectly. We cannot escape this fact.
All we can do is bow our heads and humbly accept that God loves us despite our imperfections. And move forward, never forgetting this fact either: that God's love for us is steadfast and redeeming.
Dear God, thank you for coming to live in my heart, and for making your home within me, though I am unworthy. Please help me to be as gracious and kind to others as you are to me. Love always, Pam