There are two two-word phrases we proclaim and hear at every liturgy -- in every reading, hymn, song and prayer each week; or at least we ought to. The first is for us; the second, so that. If the first, for us, is not proclaimed, heard, read and sung, there is no Gospel. If the second, so that is not proclaimed, heard, read and sung, the Gospel is made useless. God for us so that is both the sum and the minimum necessary for Christian proclamation, worship and mission. If the only thing you remember from today is this: God for us so that, it is enough. The converse is also true: if what we proclaim, pray, sing or hear omits these words or, worse, contradicts them, then we haven't been faithful and we haven't been Christian. God for us so that. Long ago, one of my mentors called this summary "the lively use of the Gospel." Well before that, Martin Luther summed them up as "the Promises of God. " Saint Paul calls them, "the message of the cross." God for us forms us to be who we are meant to be. God for us so that energizes and propels us to do what we are called to do. God for us so that is most clearly expressed in Christ's cross.
God for us so that sounds -- and indeed, is -- very simple, very unsophisticated, and simple
and unsophisticated is not what we want to be. From the beginning of time, we've preferred to make things complicated. We equate "simple" with "foolishness;" and when things seem unsophisticated to us, we become like the followers of Moses "impatient on the way."
God for us so that:
Deep in the midst of the wilderness,
those newly-free followers of Moses, couldn't believe that.
Deep in the darkness of the night,
Nicodemus couldn't believe that.
Deeply entrenched in their debates and wisdom,
the believers in Corinth couldn't believe that.
Deeply enmeshed in our growing fears and mounting cynicism,
we have trouble believing that too.
God for us without reservation, without contradiction, without complication seems too simple.
God for us -- meaning God for all -- for "the world," John tells us; for "Jews and Gentiles," wise and foolish, debaters and debunkers of this age, Paul tells us; for the impatient and the complainers, for everyone who feels as if they're
aimlessly wandering on life's way, Numbers tells us. This is the Gospel, the uncomplicated, unconditional act promise of God: God for us amidst everything; God for us in spite of everything; God for us because of everything; God for us whether we love God or not. Not co-dependent. Not needing our assistance. Not requiring our assent. Today, Moses, Paul and Jesus each tell us that God shows that God is for us not by being unattainably superior but by being common or even inferior like a viper in the wilderness or an outcast criminal on a cross; and in water that refreshes; bread that satisfies, wine that rejoices our hearts; and companions who are with us on our way.
God for us, uncomplicated, unassisted, common and simple, yet always with a purpose; always with a goal: God for us so that.
While God for us is personal -- about me, about you -- God for us so that is more than personal; more than you or me or even us; it's about the whole world, no one and nothing exempt. Jesus puts it this way: "God so loved the world and gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes may not perish but may have eternal life." There are two so thats In that sentence one implied,
which is personal for everyone. One explicit, "God loves the whole world." The center of God's for us is the creation of faith, or better, trust in God. For us God takes the lowest form, a despised and dangerous viper, the lowest form, an outcast criminal on a cross; and the most common stuff -- water that refreshes; bread that satisfies, wine that rejoices our hearts; companions to walk with us.
But the goal of faith is never an end in itself; it is a means and motivation; it is always God's energy surging in and through us so that we can channel those means, that motivation, this energy -- naturally. Joyfully, enthusiastically, expectantly hopefully -- into the life of church, city and world.
How do we, how are we, how will we live out God for us so that? How are we making lively use of the Gospel?
All the things we do specifically for God -- our communal worship, your singing, our serving, our care for "this holy house and for all who offer here their worship and praise" -- must be mere obligation, but always spring from a joyful heart, our so that in response to God's love.
All that we do for the other -- our prayers for the sick, our companionship with those alone; our teaching of children, brunching with each other -- all that we do for the other -- must never become a chore, but always spring from a joyful heart, our so that in response to God's love.
All that we do for "the others" -- breakfast to the homeless, serving and respecting clients of Momentum, using our gifts and talents to teach in our Sunday School, provide hospitality to those who enter here, serve on church committees -- Arts and Design, Congregational Life and Education, Membership Development, Trust and Council and so many more -- must never simply become "doing your part" or "taking your turn," or "keeping control", but always spring from a joyful heart, our so that in response to God's love.
The Climate Change March next Sunday? Accompanying an immigrant to an INS hearing? Advocacy for justice? Prayer for all in need? Not out of guilt or shame or obedience, but all always springing from a joyful heart, our so that in response to God's love. The list is endless. The need will always be here. Our work will never be done. Yet when we do these things as our so
that in response to God's love, we are seldom without joy; seldom filled with fear; seldom without hope that our labor -- our life -- will be in vain.
Let's not complicate it; it's really quite simple, so simple that it seems foolish. God for us so that. The sign of God's power. The sign of God's wisdom. The sign of Christ's cross: God for us so that.
Amandus J. Derr
Saint Peter's Church
In the City of New York