Scripture: Romans 9:1-5
One of the many incredible places I got to see when I visited the Holy Land in 2016 was Megiddo. Megiddo is a hill at the edge of the Jezreel valley, the flattest and most fertile area in all of Israel. Megiddo is also overlooking the outlet of a mountain pass, the only reliable way into the valley from the coast. There is a natural water source at the base of the hill, and over the centuries people found a way to hide it and dug hidden channels to get the water into a cistern within the city walls. For all of these reasons, Megiddo was a strategically important town. It was so important that whenever an aggressive power came into the region, the first thing they had to do was deal with the town. Which is what they did, and inevitably the town would fall and be destroyed. However, this new conquering power would then do an amazing thing. They would rebuild the town, claiming it as their own. You see they could not just abandon it, the location was too strategically important. Then when a new aggressive power came through the region the first thing they had to do was deal with the town built at Megiddo. Once it was destroyed, the new power had a great idea. . Let’s rebuild it! Megiddo is an archeological treasure trove because of this cycle. All told, in its history Megiddo was leveled and rebuilt 25 times! Finally in the fourth century BCE, people finally learned maybe this is not such a good idea and the site was forever abandoned as a settlement. For generations though, the site would be destroyed and then rebuilt. I imagine each time it was done with the thought that this time it will be different. Insanity, it has been said, is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. We have probably all heard that before, and oddly that quote is regularly mis-attributed to Albert Einstein today. I am not sure why Einstein gets the credit for it. I suppose it is because it sounds so smart, but the quote sticks with us because we understand it on an intuitive level. For instance many of us probably relate to this clip:
Many of us have been in situations where we feel we like are Charlie Brown having our own mis-dealings with a Lucy and a metaphoric football. The definition of insanity quote resonates with us because there is a lot of wisdom in not doing the same thing over and over again. Almost always, this is great life advice. But this scripture points us to an exception. Every now and then, there is something that is worth doing over and over again in hopeful expectation that there is a different result. By human standards it does seem doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result is insane. However, with God all thing are possible, and that means that sometimes doing the same will yield a different result. It means that this time the Holy Spirit will move, grace will break through, and life is changed forever.
This morning’s scripture is about Paul’s brush with insanity. It is about how we kept doing the same thing over and over desperately praying for different results. He wrote about how he had a great sorrow in anguish in his heart for his people the Jews. Before his conversion, Paul was a Jew among Jews. He was a Pharisee of the highest order, and his birth lineage was impeccable. He lived and breathed understanding that the Jews were God’s chosen people, but then on a road to Damascus he encountered the Living Christ. His eyes were opened truly for the first time, and he experienced the grace and forgiveness that only comes from the cross of Jesus. Paul had found and encountered the Messiah. After a period of time, he eventually sought off to share this good news with others. He of course started by traveling to synagogues to share this good news with the Jews spread across the Roman Empire. This did not go so well for him. The book of Acts records time and time again that when Paul met resistance and even violence in a city, the Jewish population were his primary accusers and persecutors. Paul’s message of radical forgiveness, grace, and salvation did find an audience. Some of them were of Jewish heritage, but most were Gentiles (non-Jews). This led Paul to eventually understand himself as the apostle to the Gentiles. Despite that though, Paul never quit preaching to the Jews. Even after beatings and arrests he kept doing the same thing expecting a different result. He did this for a couple of reasons. First he cared deeply about his people. In this morning’s scripture he goes as far as saying that he would willingly give up his own salvation if it meant that the people of Israel could truly experience grace. The second reason that Paul never gave up on preaching to Jews is because he believed in grace, and there is an insanity to grace.
If doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is truly the definition of insanity, then God might be insane. The story of insane grace is found throughout the Bible. The patience that God shows the Israelites in the Bible is crazy. After being freed from Egypt, while God is giving Moses the commandments, the Israelites rebel and build an idol. God forgives them. This establishes a pattern that goes on for centuries. The people rebel against God, they turn to idolatry. They anger God and they break God’s heart. In the prophets we find warnings, that if the people persist in this then there will be consequences, but if they turn their hearts back to God he will forgive everything and continue to honor the covenant to be their God.
We probably find the same thing true in our lives. In the folk -rock song Thankful by Cademon’s Call, lead songwriter Derek Webb sings “I ran across and old boxof letters while bagging up some clothes for Goodwill. You know I had to laugh, that the same old struggles that plagued me then are plaguing me still.” I do not want to be presumptuous but I imagine many of us can relate to those lyrics. How often do we confess our sins before God, we acknowledge our wrongdoing, earnestly repent to live differently? Yet, weeks, days, or at our worst hours later we are back doing the same thing, confessing and repenting the same sin. Yet, each time-every time- God forgives us.
It is crazy, it is not rational, it is insane! That is entirely the point. There is an insanity to grace, and thank God there is! In dealing with our sin and wrongdoing, the rational and logical thing to do would be to justly deal with us, to punish us for iniquities and transgressions. Yet God, out of God’s divine love offers us forgiveness instead of punishment. God grants mercy instead of justice. Again and again, God forgives. It is insane, but what is really crazy is that it works!
I cannot speak for you, but grace has changed my life. I am not the same person I was before knowing Jesus. Something deeply fundamental about me has changed and it will continue to change. I might have some of the same old struggles, but not all of them because there are some victories in my life that the blood of Jesus has won. I am so thankful for God’s crazy love, because not only has that love saved us, it transforms us, and it continues to mold us to be more Christ like.
I am also eternally thankful for the people who continued to share that love with me. When my heart was turned from God, I imagine that those youth group leaders, Sunday school teachers, and Christian friends thought it was insane to keep trying to share scriptural truth with me. After all they kept doing the same thing expecting different results. It was insane, but the crazy thing is that it worked. The Holy Spirit worked through their persistence, grace broke through, and my hardened heart was softened as I turned back to my creator. I know that I am not the only one. Over the years I have heard so many testimonies that have a similar thread. The person was not living a God-honoring life. The circumstances are always different, but the result is the same their life choices were leading them on a trajectory away from God. Yet, there are people or sometimes just a person-in a lot of these stories it always tends to be a grandmother- who will not give up on them. This person was faithful in constantly praying for the person giving the testimony. However, they did more than just pray, they shared their faith from a place of deep love. They did the same thing over and over again praying for a different result. Because these stories are always faith testimonies, it means the different result did come. It may have taken years, but God’s grace eventually broke through, and a heart truly repented and bowed to Christ as Lord and Savior. There is an insanity to grace because it is driven by God’s crazy love and that love is the fuel of miracles.
This morning’s scripture speaks to Paul’s deep concern and even anguish over the response to grace that he had seen so far by the people of Israel. Yet, he never stopped sharing this grace, the gospel of Jesus Christ, with them because Paul believed that even the most incredible of miracles can happen today. Many of you can probably appreciate the way Paul described his feelings in this scripture. Paul wrote, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.” Paul felt this way for his people, but many of you feel this way for the ones that you love. Several of you probably have a friend, a parent, a grandchild, or a child who does not know Jesus, whose heart is turned from God. You no doubt pray for them all the time, and you have probably had several conversations about faith with them. For some of you these conversations may have left you in tears when it was done, and it did not go so well. You may have faced more rejections from some of the people that you care the most about then you care to remember. You may feel insane because you have shared the same words of love again and again hoping beyond hope for a different result this time. If that is you, then with all of your being please hear me: Do not give up. Do not EVER give up. The love of God is just so crazy incredible that sharing it one more time just might work. No matter how much we wish, we cannot make someone choose Jesus, we cannot force someone to say “yes” to God’s forgiveness and reconciliation that was offered by Jesus on the cross. However, we can keep sharing it with them we can keep proclaiming the grace and Lordship of Jesus the Christ. We can and we should do this boldly because God is a God of miracles. God is a God that loves us so much that he sent his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him will not perish but haveeternal life. God’s love is so crazy relentless that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future nor any power, neither height nor depth nor anything else in all of creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God. God’s love is capable of saving every single person who has ever lived, is living, or ever will live, so do not give up and never stop trying to share the good news of Jesus Christ with those who do not know it.
I have observed an amazing thing this past week. On last Monday, a retired pastor who I am facebook friends with died unexpectedly of a heart attack. Because people tagged him or wrote on his wall people’s outpourings became visible on my facebook newsfeed. It was humbling to read the amount of lives that he has touched, and to get a glimpse of how many peoplehe influenced to live a life of faith. Even though you may be in great sorrow and anguish over their rejections, may you not give up. May you continue to share your faith, so that someday you might be the person in a testimony. May you share your faithand may you live such a faithful life that someone can say, “I am a Christian because you did not give up on me.”