A Loved Sinner; In That Order

A Reflection on the Readings for Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent

In Youth Ministry we are always trying to find new ways to present old truths without compromising on integrity.  Some might say it is a byproduct of trying to fit faith into 140 characters and others would s\y it is just part of making faith manageable in our teens’ busy lives.  Whatever the cause might be, it is a challenge of ministry.

Today’s readings brought one of these representations to mind.  These are the words that jumped out at me from Ezekiel, “No longer shall they defile themselves with their idols, their abominations, and all their transgressions.  I will deliver them from all their sins of apostasy, and cleanse them so that they may be my people and I may be their God.”  Now I’m sure you can imagine how well “defile,” “abomination,” and “apostasy” would go over as someone attends their first youth ministry event, but this passage is conveying an age-old truth of our faith: repentance and conversion, while involving us, are ultimately achieved through God’s grace.  They begin with God and end with God.  And most importantly, God wants to bring us out of our mess, not wait until we get out of it on our own to associate with us.

All of that was represented in a phrase I first heard at a Youth Conference several years ago, “God loves you just as you are, and He loves you too much to leave you that way.”  That phrase has since become cliché, but it eloquently communicates what Ezekiel was telling us, and what we find in the mystery we’ll encounter Easter weekend, the crucifixion and the resurrection.

crucifiction (1) God loves us before repentance and before conversion.  John tells us that we only love because God loved us first (1 John4:19).  Jesus tells us that “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13), which sheds incredible light on Paul’s reminder that “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  If that is not the action of a God who loves us as we are, I don’t know what is.

Beautiful as that is, our faith goes one step further for our salvation does not stop at the cross.  Paul tells us that the work of salvation was completed by the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:14, Romans 4:25, Romans 6:1-11).f31528661056058f89bfda56f98d2472  Christ died because He loves us as we are.  He rose because He loves us too much to not share His resurrected life with us.  In the words of Matt Maher’s “Remembrance,” “Dying you destroyed our death/ rising you restored our life.”  This is a life nourished by grace and reflecting God’s love, beauty, goodness, justice, mercy, and peace.  However, this sometimes means allowing Him to lead us through our own Good Friday as the parts of our life that are incompatible with the Gospel are redeemed or pruned.  This abandonment of sinful habits isn’t easy, just as leaving an unhealthy relationship is difficult, but what Christ is leading us toward is so much greater.

Sometimes however we get the order of operations confused.  We think, “If I could just get past this, then God will love me.” So as we approach Holy week, let’s allow the entirety of Christ’s work to enter our consciousness and our life.  And let’s remember it in the proper order, God loves us first.  He loves us so much that, in Christ, God pursues us, even into our brokenness. Pope Benedict XVI in Deus Caritas Est wrote, “So great is God’s love for man that by becoming man he follows him even into death, and so reconciles justice and love” (10).  Take to heart the deep love that God has for you, a love that follows us into death, and the great desire He has for you.  For when we know the gift of God’s love and return that gift as our love, we can hardly stay the same.

– Spencer Hargadon


Originally posted by Ite Missa Est here on March 28, 2015.

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