God is always First John 4:5-26
Lent III A March 12, 2023, St. John, New Orleans, LA
Children, by nature, think of themselves first.
Whether it's from an inborn instinct for self-preservation,
or the mischievousness and rebelliousness we inherited from Adam,
we all have witnessed behaviors which demonstrate this innate self-centeredness.
From the tantrums they throw when hungry, tired, bored.
Or when they don't get their way,
to the way they can hog the bed, or a sofa, or a chair, when they fall asleep while cuddling an adult.
Children’s behaviors are the simplest form of all the other dysfunctions we acquire overtime.
And most are all centered on the self.
Now, while we like to think of children as innocent, since they do these things so naturally, we see these attitudes and behaviors at work in adults as well.
We adults tend to stand up for ourselves.
We protect what is ours by erecting fences and installing locks and alarms.
We mark our name on things that belong to us.
Even when we are away from our home and our things, we are territorial and protective.
We like our personal space in the grocery checkout line.
W “save seats” for people we know, instead of letting a stranger sit next to us
And we make reservations or buy tickets so that we are able to enjoy a particular meal, concert, or event without the disappointment of being turned away.
And then there is the whole thing about who can and can't stand on the curb at Mardi Gras!
Let's face it, we take care of ourselves and our own first in just about every aspect of life.
But in today's readings, we see that our God is not like that. He acts for us first, and not for himself.
As we read the creation narrative in the Old Testament,
we see all of creation comes into its pinnacle of achievement when he creates Adam and Eve.
While the rest of the world was spoken into existence in an instant, over the course of a specific day,
he formed humanity out of the Earth which he created previously.
In Exodus, he made water flow from solid rock so that his people would not die of thirst and so that they would instead know that God was with them in their journey.
In our gospel, we hear Jesus affirming the faith of a woman who sought the Messiah.
She confessed that the Messiah would tell them all they needed to know,
So Jesus told her that he was, in fact, the one she was looking for.
And in the epistle, Paul tells us about Jesus's actions to forgive us, even before we believed.
We might be tempted to gloss over the actions of God in these texts; to say, that's just what he does.
But look again to the context to see just how amazing it is that God puts us first!
In each case, the story of God's salvation is told about those who doubted or rebelled against him.
Moses led the people of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground,
and yet, A little while later, they accuse him of not being able to lead them to fresh water for drinking.
They asked, “is the Lord among us. Or not?”
The woman who came to Jacob's well;
the ancestral home of the Nation of Israel.
The people of God,
Yet she did so at noon to avoid the shame and ridicule of others
because she was a serial adulteress, married five times and now living in sin with a 6th man.
And then the epistle. Paul is speaking to us, as well as the believers in Rome,
to remind us that our own rebellion and sin has driven a wedge between us and God.
And that, like Israel, or the woman at the well, we have broken our relationship with God.
If we are honest with ourselves, we know it to be true.
We are immature babies crying when we don't get what we want.
We are inappreciative subjects of the King of Kings,
asking, “where are you and what have you done for me lately?”
we are ashamed and guilty.
Outcasts going through the motions and coming to the well of faith,
but doing so in ways which we hope no one will notice, and will just leave us alone.
We are Israel. We are the woman. We are Romans. But God is still God.
And we thank and praise him for that,
because it means he doesn't put up with us, our tantrums, and our acting out in anger, guilt, or shame.
Rather, He preemptively acts to neutralize our self-inflicted suffering and punishments.
He gave water to Israel before a single person died of thirst.
He approached the woman before she could confess her sins.
He died on the cross, before you or I were born.
Even his birth as a baby boy was planned and announced before the first son of Adam and Eve was even conceived.
So that every human that ever lived could have the promise of eternal life and salvation.
So that none of us would be dependent upon ourselves for our righteousness.
And he sealed that promise for us in baptism
when he himself was baptized,
and then when he commanded it for all believers as he ascended into heaven.
God is, and always has been, for you and on your side; Unlike everyone else.
You were first in his mind when he made heaven and earth.
You were all he thought about as he faced death in the cross.
When he taught us to pray, it was so that we would know he cared about our everyday needs.
And as he sends his Holy Spirit to guide you, and his angels to guard you,
it's because he still loves and cares for you
and wants you to remain in your faith as long as you shall live.
So, what do you think about all that?
Have you ever known a love so complete?
Have you ever experienced a love so proactive and positive toward your needs?
Have you ever loved another so selflessly?
I would venture to say no,
because if any person behaves like that, we would call them a pushover
and would question their self-esteem.
But with God, this choice to place you first is not weakness, but strength.
Because only Jesus is both fully God and fully human,
to place you first does not diminish him,
nor does it elevate you above him.
It simply is the economy of God and how he chose to save and behave.
When you think about this relationship that God chooses to have with us, I suppose you could have any number of reactions or responses.
At first it might be fear,
that God would be so pure, especially as he interacts with us sinners, that we would wonder,
“when will the other shoe drop?
When will God jump out and say, “April, fool!”?”
Aside from fear there might be deep embarrassment and Shame.
That, not only are we incapable of meeting God part way where our good works are concerned,
but because he knew we were such failures that he made accommodation for our pathetic behavior even before we were born.
However, I would hope that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, you would quickly be moved to gladness.
When you realize that it is his strength and love which move him,
and that our pathetic, broken, lives are what he is wanting to rescue us from.
God always puts you and I first because, at the last, he wants us with him in paradise.
That powerful, yet humbling, place he puts us gives us cause for pause,
both personally, and as a people gathered into his church.
And during Lent is as good a time as any to think about how you relate to the God who puts you and us first.
As we reflect on his love and provision,
what seems to be an appropriate response?
As we live life without worry of where we are headed after death, do our words and actions reveal confidence and assurance of our faith?
Does our work on his behalf mirror the lengths to which he went to save us?
And lastly, realizing all he has given us for absolutely nothing in return,
how generous are we in acknowledging those gifts and showing appreciation for our forgiven and redeemed souls?
How have we given a witness to the wonderful thing he has done for us and all people?
My prayer for us all today is that we embrace Jesus's love for us, as did the woman at the well.
That we would be able to set aside our own past indiscretions
And, instead, emboldened by his love and forgiveness, go and tell everyone we know what he has said and done.
That way our whole community, just like that little town of Sychar, would come and hear the good news of Jesus.
In his name. Amen.