Swimming in God's Love
by the Reverend Noel E. Bordador
"Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” - Luke 15:1-10
It was twelve years ago today that I was ordained to the priesthood, a few days after 9/11. On the morning of 9/11, I finished the first sermon I was to give as a priest. And the readings were the same readings as today. But when I stepped out of my house and saw the tragedy of that day, I knew I had to scrap the sermon I have just written. I didn’t know that my first sermon as priest was to be a requiem sermon, and I was so worried that I wouldn’t be able to deliver all of it for fear that I would just fall apart in the pulpit because for days leading to my ordination I was just crying for those three thousand people who perished, God’s lost sheep. Twelve years later this week, let us not forget those who have died that day. We pray for them and we pray for ourselves too who survived that day. May we honor the dead by living the rest of our lives working for true peace.
Let me begin my reflection on the Gospel reading today with this ancient monastic story as told by one of my favorite contemporary spiritual authors, the Benedictine nun, Joan Chittister
(Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of Saint Benedict Today, p 28, Harper and Row, 1990.)
“Help us to find God” the disciples asked the elder
“No one can help you do that,” the elder said.
“Why not?” the disciples asked amazed.
“For the same reason that no one can help fish find the ocean.”
The fish is us and the great ocean is God. We are swimming in God. In God we move and have our being. Without God we would not exist. What the story suggests is that we cannot lose God because we exists in him and by his favor. The fish and ocean are two different things, and likewise God and humans are not the same. Yet, we swim in God and that is how we come to have life. Obviously, at times we might feel lost or that we have lost God. Yet the truth of the matter is God never loses us. This is enshrined in the very Baptismal rite of our own Episcopal Church: a rather daring assertion that the relationship and bond that God establishes with us cannot be broken or lost.
Nevertheless, there are those who would tell you otherwise. I used to hear priests and preachers and so called pious and religious people who led me to believe that I needed to earn the love and mercy of God. I used to fear that if somehow I performed less than stellar, I might miss on the love of God. So I lived my life with a great deal of anxiety, always trying to be so perfect just to please God and perhaps earn his love that I almost miss the great teaching of Christ regarding free and unmerited love and grace of God.
In the Gospel today, we read that Jesus is very much at home with people who are struggling spiritually, people who aren’t able to be perfect. He goes them to searching for those feeling lost, like that lost sheep, or lost coin. God is not one who stands aloof in some heaven waiting for us to get our act together and come home. Rather, he is the God who woos us with his love until we realize that we never really left home because like fish that live in the boundless ocean we swim in the boundless love of God.
In his book called Confessions (X, xxvii, Tr. Pine-Coffin, Penguin Books, p 231-232) the great fourth century North African Saint, Augustine, has a beautiful prayer that has become my prayer. In this prayer, he recalls the time when he tried to run away from God, when he didn’t want to have anything to do with God. However, his experience of God is not One who abandons him to his foolishness. Rather, God constantly badgered him, cajoling him and wooing him to come home, or at least to make him realize, that he never really left home or rather, that Home- i.e., God- never left him. Let me end my reflection with these words of prayer of Augustine who described beautifully how God searched him precisely at the very time he felt lost:
I have learnt to love you late, Beauty at once so ancient and so new! I have learnt to love you late! You were within me, and I was in the world outside myself. I searched for you outside myself… You were with me, but I was not with you. The beautiful things of this world kept me far from you…You called me; you cried aloud to me; you broke my barrier of deafness. You shone upon me; your radiance enveloped me; you put my blindness to flight. You shed your fragrance about me; I drew breath and now I gasp for your sweet odour. I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am inflamed with love of your peace.
- God never gives up on us until his touches leave us burning with his love and peace.
© 2013 Noel E. Bordador
Noel Bordador is a queer Filipino worker-priest in the Episcopal Diocese of New York.
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