The Reckless, Pursuing, Love of God

The day was crisp and gray. I love fall days like that, where the sky lets through just a bit of sunshine and the wind chills the air. There’s something powerfully mysterious about those days; and in that mystery, I feel drawn closer to God. 

On that particular crisp and gray day, I hiked across a path. There are two ways to the Berry College reservoir. I took the harder, foot path, way, which requires climbing up a steep mountain and then back down. But the reward is worth it. The last part of the path walks along a babbling brook and, as you walk, the reservoir, this wonderful mountain lake, comes gradually into focus. 

I was taken away by the sight of the lake in front of me. I’d brought my e-reader in my pocket so that I could sit and read once I arrived. And when I did, I felt the majesty and glory of the King of Kings around me. The gray sky captivated my attention with its mystery, the wind reminded me of the power of the Holy Spirit that is always around me, and the water reminded me of the salvation of God. 

For a while, I sat on a large rock and just took in the sights and the sounds. I eventually pulled out my book and began to read one of my favorite authors, but not before I felt myself swept away. 

The darkness I knew at that point in my life was gone; at least, for the moment. I felt that “surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life,” and experienced that “even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me, your rod and your staff—they comfort me.” 

Let’s hear our scripture for this morning, the famous number 23.

Scripture

God provided luxuriantly for me that crisp, gray, day. 

I wonder, when has God provided luxuriantly for you? 

The darkness was around me on that day. I knew what it was to “walk through the darkest valley.” I’ve known that several times in my life so far. And yet, there I was on that rock, with a table set before me, my head anointed with oil, my cup overflowing.

Now, I don’t normally think of my head overflowing with oil as luxuriant. But in ancient Israel, that was one of the many uses of olive oil: to soothe the skin and protect against the sun as a rudimentary sunblock. To have your head anointed with oil was a luxury in the ancient world, and here David experiences that luxury. 

Like the luxury of being captivated by God, revealed through creation. 

You prepare a table before me…you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 

When has God provided luxuriantly for you? 

It’s perhaps different to consider that question. If I were to ask when God provided for you, maybe you’d point to when you were struggling financially and there was provision. Or maybe to when there was a health concern for you or someone you love and there was healing or release. Maybe God provided through bringing someone into your life. Maybe God provided by leading you to this church! 

We’re accustomed to considering where God has provided. But provided luxuriantly? 

Like a head anointed with oil. Or, a cup that overflows with the best wine. Here, the table that is set before David by The Great Shepherd has wine in abundance; a luxury, too. Then, goodness and mercy follow David all the days of his life, allowing him to rest secure in the house of God. That’s also a luxury. 

Except the English doesn’t do this justice. The verb follow here also means pursue. Goodness and mercy pursue David, and they pursue us, too. God’s goodness and mercy, God’s faithfulness and unconditional love, pursue us, track us down, seek the lost, find us when we’re hurting, know us in the broken places, and keep pursuing us until we’re willing and ready to accept the luxury that’s being offered to us. 

There’s a contemporary worship song that speaks directly to this, one I know several of our youth love. The first verse and chorus go like this:

Before I spoke a word, You were singing over me

You have been so, so good to me

Before I took a breath, You breathed Your life in me

You have been so so kind to me

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God

Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the 99

And I couldn’t earn it

I don’t deserve it, still You give yourself away

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God

God’s unconditional love chases me down, fights til I’m found, leaves the 99; a reference to the parable of Jesus where the shepherd, the Great Shepherd, just like in this Psalm, Ieaves 99 sheep to go after the one sheep that has strayed, rejoicing when it’s found safe and sound. 

It’s the same as “surely goodness and mercy shall [pursue] me all the days of my life.” 

We are loved overwhelmingly, completely, passionately, by our God. So much so that God provides for us luxuriantly. 

Preparing a table for us in the presence of our enemies. 

The table with the oil and wine that overflow, where we are provided for not only with what we need but luxuriantly so, is set in the dark valley. The table that’s prepared by our gracious host, the Great Shepherd, is there in the darkest valley, where we know the disorientation that comes from darknesses that settle in our lives. The loss of love in a human relationship, the depression and challenges of mental illness, the loss of income or wealth, the loss of health through a terrible diagnosis; any kind of loss at all that suddenly pulls us into the darkness. 

We find ourselves there, in that darkest valley, wondering what’s next? What will we do? We’ve all known that kind of desperation. We don’t like to admit to it, but we have and we will again. The darkness comes for us all. And we wander around in it, trying to find our way forward. We hear David say, “I fear no evil for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” And we think that sounds nice but we aren’t experiencing that in our present darkness. The darkness is like that. It’s hard to make declarations of faith when we can’t see our way forward. 

It’s hard in the darkness to find our footing. And if you’re in the darkness today, or if you’re looking just a bit ahead to the future and see darkness on the horizon, it’s easy to hear that God provides for us luxuriantly and think that God might provide for others that way, but not for me. Because we’re not currently knowing that luxury, much less basic provision for our basic human needs! 

And yet, somewhere in that darkness is a table. On that table are oil, to anoint your head, and a cup overflowing with wine. In the presence of your enemies, the enemies of tragedy, heartbreak, cancer, depression, body dysmorphia, hateful people, loss of any kind, in the presence of those enemies in the dark valley is a table where God is providing luxuriantly for you. 

Because God’s goodness and mercy are pursuing you. That same contemporary song puts it well:

There’s no shadow You won’t light up

Mountain You won’t climb up

Coming after me

There’s no wall You won’t kick down

Lie You won’t tear down

Coming after me

God is pursuing us, recklessly pursuing us, to make sure that we’re safe, that we’re provided for, even luxuriantly, to give us everything we need, even to the point of overflowing. 

There’s a lavishness, a burning passion, on the part of God for us and our lives. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done, it doesn’t matter how much of the present darkness is our fault and the fault of sin in our lives, that reckless love of God is coming to us to provide for us, and provide for us luxuriantly. 

I wonder, when has God provided luxuriantly for you?

Up on that rock, on that crisp, gray, day, facing the Berry College reservoir, I found the table that God was preparing for me in the presence of my enemies: enemies of resignation and despondency. My head was anointed with oil, my cup overflowed, and I have since dwelled secure in the house of my God. 

How about for you? 

When has God provided luxuriantly for you? 

No matter the dark valleys we go through, there’s a table prepared for us by the God who recklessly pursues us with goodness and unconditional love, another way of translating the word “mercy” there in Psalm 23. 

To find the table in your present darkness, look back in your life. Where has God provided luxuriantly for you? Somewhere in your past, there’s a memory, a time, a place, where you knew it. God makes himself known to us because God pursues us, even when we don’t yet know God, even when we haven’t committed our lives to Christ, God is recklessly pursuing us. 

And one of the best ways to know God, to know the luxuriant provision of God, is in the breaking of the bread and the giving of the wine. Another great way to know God is in being anointed with oil, which the early church used as a sign of God’s healing in our lives. So this morning, we have the opportunity for both. After you have received of communion, kneel at the rail and signal to me if you’d like me to anoint you with oil, Dodge County olive oil in fact, and pray over you. I don’t need to know anything about what you’re going through or where you need healing, just that you’d like to be anointed with oil. And maybe, just maybe, what you need is to know the luxuriant provision of God, the unconditional love of God, either for the first time or for the first time in a long time. 

God is good to meet us wherever we are, and one of the best ways to meet God afresh and anew is here in communion and with the anointing of oil. God prepares a table before us, in the presence of our enemies, in the darkness, providing not only what we need but providing abundantly, luxuriantly. God’s love is overwhelming, never-ending, reckless, chasing us down until we’re found, leaving the 99, pursuing us with goodness and unconditional love. 

Such that with absolute certainty we can say we shall dwell in the house of the LORD our whole lives long.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Amen.

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