God is not mad at you

Trinity Sunday always follows Pentecost because the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost complicates our thinking about God. We think we know God the Father, and Jesus shows us who the Son is, but the Holy Spirit remains a mystery to many of us.

Sometimes on Trinity Sunday, we pastors complicate things even more by trying to explain the Trinity the way we might explain how an internal combustion engine works. All we do is confuse the daylights out of people, not to mention ourselves.

As I wind down my time with you as pastor, I am very conscious of having only a few weeks left and so many things I want to share with you. So today I’m going to offer you three messages in one. And it’s no mere coincidence that these three mini-messages happen to concern Father, Son and Holy Spirit – in that order.

Part one: God is not mad at you.

Not the Father, not the Son, and not the Holy Spirit, but especially not the Father, whom many of us have been taught to fear. Many of us have grown up hearing the mixed message of fundamentalist-evangelical pop religion. You know it well. God loves you very much and has a wonderful plan for your life, but if you don’t shape up, God is going to send you directly to hell, where you will roast in agony for all eternity.

As often as we hear the part about God loving us, it’s the second part that worms its way deep into our heads and influences everything we do. Truth is, most of us, most of the time, are pretty sure that God is mad at us and that God is just looking for an excuse to clobber us. It’s an awful feeling, isn’t it, feeling that God is out to get you?

Against this anti-gospel I wish to declare the real gospel. Our English word “gospel,” you know, comes from the Anglo-Saxon “godspell,” meaning “good story” or “good news.” Some Christians have managed to turn it into very bad news.

Here is the good news. God is not mad at you. God may often be disappointed in you because of the way you treat yourself and others, but God is not angry with you.

Consider this statement that runs through the Old Testament like a refrain: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 103:8).

What the Bible sometimes refers to as God’s anger is better described as God’s disappointment over what our sin is doing to us. It’s similar to what any parent feels when a beloved child screws up bigtime. Our sin hurts God in ways that we cannot fathom, but I think what may hurt God the most is the toll that sin takes in our lives and in the lives of those we mistreat. What really hurts God is our inability to be happy in God because we are so mired in sin.

“God is love,” according to 1 John 4:8. And God never stops loving us, ever, because loving is basic to God’s nature. It is never said that God’s anger lasts forever, but it is frequently said that God’s steadfast love lasts forever. The Hebrew word we frequently translate as “steadfast love” is hesed. It occurs several hundred times in the Old Testament. That is impressive testimony to its importance.

It is frequently said that there is nothing you can do to make God love you more and nothing you can do to make God love you less. You can try to impress God all you like with more good works or more prayer or more Bible study, but there is nothing you can do to make God love you any more than God loves you already. Similarly, you can do the most awful things imaginable, and there is nothing you can do to make God love you any less than God loves you already.

God loves you exactly the way you are. There is always vast room for improvement, and God will always push you toward that, until you become the person God created you to be. But, to mangle a hymn lyric, God loves you just as you are.

God loves you, period. That’s the mantra of Rudy Rasmus, who pastors a huge United Methodist church in Houston. Rudy is famous for saying: “God loves you, and there’s nothing you can do about it!”

For your mental and spiritual health, I urge you to ignore all the voices from pop religion that tell you that God is mad at you. That’s a lie. God loves you. God will never stop loving you. And there is nothing you can do about it!

Part two: Jesus shows what God is like.

This ought to be one of those “duh!” revelations, but so many people just don’t get it.

Let’s glance at the testimony of the New Testament, starting with the words of Jesus himself. John 10:30: “The Father and I are one.” John 14:9: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” John 14:11: “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”

Hebrews 1:3: “He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being…” Colossians 1:15: “He is the image of the invisible God…” Colossians 2:9: “All the fullness of deity lives in Christ’s body.”

Get the point? If you want to know what God is like, just look at Jesus. Why is it necessary to say this? Because a lot of people when they think of God think not of Jesus but of the angry God image that have based on some memory they have from the Old Testament.

They think of God smiting all those who worship the golden calf. They think of God ordering the slaughter of every man, woman and child in the cities that the Israelites conquer in Canaan. They think of these atrocities and more, and they say: “God is really not very loving. In fact, God is a monster.”

But we do not believe that every word of the Bible is the final word. We believe in progressive revelation. That means that God reveals more and more of God’s self as the story the Bible tells progresses through the Bible. So the incomplete picture of God that we get in parts of the Old Testament may be very different from the more complete picture of God that we get from the New Testament.

Jesus himself talks about this. At one point on the night he is arrested, Jesus tells his disciples: “I have much more to say to you, but you can’t handle it now.” And he adds, “When the Spirit of truth comes, the Spirit will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:12-13).

Before we turn to the work of the Spirit, though, let’s finish this thought. God is just like Jesus. If you can’t imagine Jesus doing something, then you shouldn’t imagine God doing it. If you don’t believe that Jesus would order the slaughter of innocents, don’t believe that God would order it. Because God the Father cannot do what Jesus would not do, just as Jesus cannot do what God the Father would not do.

Let’s follow that thought a little further. Since human beings are made in the image of God, and Jesus is the perfect image of God, we also can say that Jesus is what a genuine human being looks like.

So if you want to know what God is like, just look at Jesus. And if you want to know what a genuine human being looks like, just look at Jesus. Keep your eyes on Jesus, and you’ll be OK.

Now part three: The Holy Spirit is alive in you, remaking you in the image of Jesus.

The point of salvation is restoring us to the image of God in which we were created. Since this is the image of Jesus, when we are restored to the image of God, we will look just like Jesus.

1 Corinthians 15:49 contrasts our present state with our future state, saying. “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.” That is, just as we have borne the image of sinful Adam, we will bear the image of the new Adam, Jesus Christ.

In Colossians 3:9-10, the Apostle Paul says we are stripping off our old self and clothing ourselves with the new self, “which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.”

2 Corinthians 3:18: “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”

Earlier I mentioned the term “progressive revelation.” It sounds scary to some people. Does that mean it’s not in the Bible? Well, guess what? A good 80% what you’re routinely told by pop religion isn’t in the Bible at all. It’s just pop culture propped up with some random Bible verses that don’t say what you’re led to believe they say.

Progressive revelation? The Bible hints that slavery is evil but never comes out and says that. Today, the Holy Spirit testifies to our spirits that slavery is evil. A few verses in the Bible say that women should not be pastors, but far more others testify that from the very start women have always been pastors. And that is the clear testimony of the Holy Spirit today, though some churches have closed their ears and minds to such testimony. These churches worship patriarchy and imagine that it is God.

God is not mad at you. God also is not a sexist jerk.

I could go on. The Holy Spirit is not done talking to us. The Spirit did not die at the end of the apostolic age. Nor did the Spirit die when writings of the New Testament were completed. God is not dead. The Son is risen, and the Holy Spirit is very much alive and active today, and we ought to be actively listening to the stirrings of the Spirit in everything we do.

Thanks to the testimony of the Spirit, we are able today to see more clearly than ever before what God is saying to us about how to live in peace with our neighbors. There are still things that, as Jesus says, we are not able to handle yet. This side of Resurrection life, we will always see, as Paul describes it, “but a poor reflection as in a mirror” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

But that reflection keeps getting clearer, and it’s not because we keep getting a whole lot smarter. It’s because the Holy Spirit keeps speaking to us, as Jesus said, to guide us in all truth to all truth.

Friends, God loves you and there is nothing you can do about it. If you wonder what God is like, just look at Jesus. And if you wonder what your long-term future will be, just look at Jesus, because the Holy Spirit is working in you to make you just like him.

Amen.

This message was delivered May 30, 2021, at Edgerton United Methodist Church in Edgerton, Kansas.

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