SJF • Lent3a 2011 • Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.+
There was once a man who hated his boss. That in itself is probably not all that rare or unusual a circumstance. But this man really hated his boss. I mean, he couldn’t stand the sight of him. He hated him so much he could taste it; literally: if he caught sight of him — or even worse had to deal with him in a meeting or work session — his stomach would churn and he would throw up a little bit in his mouth. It was that bad. This was hatred he could taste, anger and resentment that would bubble up inside and churn over.
And he didn’t keep this feeling to himself. Although he wouldn’t insult his boss in public, or confront him directly, he wasn’t at all shy about letting his distaste and contempt for his boss be made known amongst the other workers. He assumed, probably rightly, that word of this had gotten back to his boss, but he didn’t care. He said to himself and to his friends and co-workers, “As long as he doesn’t fire me, I don’t care if he hates me as much as I hate him. He probably does, but it makes no difference as long as I do my job, and do it well. He has no cause to get rid of me other than the fact that he hates my guts as much as I hate his. Let him just try to fire me and I’ll take it to the review board and the union.”
This went on for a number of years, and nothing would or could change it. The man did his job but went right on hating his boss and thinking that the boss hated him just as much, in spite of his good annual reviews — with which he always managed to find some fault, some oversight or underestimation of his performance which he attributed to the boss’s malice.
Still the pot boiled. At the company picnics the man could always be found in a circle of other employees, clustered in a group far away from the boss, bad-mouthing him and complaining about him.
Then one day something terrible happened. I should say, one night. For in the middle of the night an old frayed extension cord under a carpet in the man’s house sparked a fire. The flames spread quickly through the whole house — fortunately the man and his family escaped with their lives but the house was a total loss. They stood out on the street in their pyjamas and the overcoats they had hastily grabbed as they ran through the front hallway, watching the firefighters attempt to quell the flames. As the man stood there transfixed by the disaster unfolding before him, his home slowly collapsing in ruins, almost too numb to feel anything, he felt a hand on his shoulder.
He turned to see who it was. It was his boss. Still numb from the emotional weight of the disaster that had overtaken him, he was too surprised to recoil or withdraw. He just opened his mouth and his eyes wide, but no words came out. His boss nodded sympathetically and broke the silence.
“I was listening to the late news and I heard about the fire. When the reporter mentioned the address, I knew it was your house.” In the man’s mind a thought flashed briefly, “He knew my address?” But before he could say a word his boss continued, “I had to come and tell you how devastating it is for me for something like this to happen to one of my employees, especially one of my best and hardest workers.” With his other hand he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out an envelope. “I know that your insurance will cover a most of your expenses, but I’m sure there will be some things they just won’t pay for; so I want you to have this.”
The man, still unable to speak, took the proffered envelope and opened it just enough to see that it was a personal check for $5,000. If he could have spoken earlier he certainly couldn’t anymore. His boss nodded and waved his hand understandingly. “It’s o.k. Don’t say anything; it’s the least I could do for someone in such a state. And here you are out on the street with no where to go... what am I thinking! Let me arrange a place for you at the motel up on the highway until things are sorted out.” The boss pulled out his cell phone, stepped a few paces aside and busied himself with the call.
The firefighters had finally finished their work, put away their hoses and other equipment, and were prepared to head back to the station. The remains of the house, now a pitiful low pile of wreckage and waterlogged ashes, still steamed slightly, and the air was full of a smell of chlorine mixed with charcoal, of burnt plaster and wood and paint and the bitter tang of burnt asphalt shingles.
The man looked to his wife, still unable to speak. She’d heard all the stories, too, time and again — oh my had she heard them — and she was just as amazed as her husband. She shrugged and shook her head. Finally the boss came back and said, “It’s all set. Let me drop you off at the motel.” With that the man finally found his tongue: “I...I thought you hated me!”
The boss looked at him in amazement. “Hated you? Why would you think that? You’re one of my best workers; been with the company for years! I know we haven’t always gotten along, and I know you haven’t always agreed with some of my decisions or policies, or my work style — yes, word does get around — but hated you?” He shook his head. “It never crossed my mind. Now, please, it’s getting chilly — please let’s get you and your family into the car so I can take you to the motel!”
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Saint Paul the Apostle wrote, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” As the Collect for Ash Wednesday reminds us, God hates nothing he has made — and that includes us. God loves us, and always has and always will, even though we have not always returned God’s love. Look at those crabby, thirsty Israelites in today’s Old Testament reading — carping and complaining at Massah and Meribah! And as Saint Paul reminds us, God is hard on us sometimes as a loving parent must be firm with a young child — and the child may not find the discipline enjoyable. But hatred! — hatred for us never crossed God’s mind even when we failed to mind his cross!
+ + +
It is on that cross that God shows us just how much he loves us. From that cross, even from that pain and unspeakable death, Jesus the Son of God spoke words of forgiveness. We did not earn God’s forgiveness and grace — that’s why it’s grace, by the way — something we didn’t deserve. We rebelled against God so much and so strongly that we came to think he must hate us for how we’ve acted towards him. But he doesn’t hate us, my friends. He loves us, not because of what we do, or have failed to do, but in spite of what we do, and because of who we are — we belong to God, who created us and redeemed us; God so loved the world. The fact that fallen humanity has disobeyed and badmouthed our creator — the clay talking back to the potter — means nothing to God, so great is God’s love.
And how much more, as Saint Paul says, now that God has come in Christ and reconciled and justified us by his faithful obedience — the unjust justified by the king of justice himself, the seemingly irreconcilable differences reconciled by the one who keeps the books of life and death — how much more then ought we to understand and rejoice and give thanks for this great gift. It is so much more than a check for $5,000, or even a few weeks at a motel while our house is being rebuilt. The house being built for us in heaven is eternal and everlasting, and the builder is God, who prepares such a dwelling-place for us. God in Christ has reconciled us to himself — has wiped the slate clean and set us on our feet again.
As we continue our journey through Lent, on up to Good Friday when we stand to face the cross of Christ, and kneel in silent wonder at the foot of that cross, and remember what he did for us, let us not be dumbstruck or astonished at this wondrous love: that the King of Bliss should set aside his crown for our souls, but let us sing out in rejoicing, singing on and singing on through all eternity, Blessed be our God who has loved us so much, who has saved us from our sins, and made us heirs of everlasting life!+