Speaking of Life 2038 | Double Booked Michelle Fleming Have you ever made the same promise to two different people? In our fast-moving world we may easily do this unintentionally. Like promising to meet a friend for dinner only to remember you already told another friend you would help her with a project. Or maybe you promised to take your daughter to a movie the same night you scheduled to watch your son’s baseball game. It’s the classic mistake of double-booking. It may have been a simple mistake, but it introduces a complex problem. You will have to choose who to break your promise to. Doing this can become tricky. You don’t want to appear to play favorites and you don’t want to create tension between your two friends or in your family. Hopefully they will understand. But there is the risk of hurt feelings, maybe even some jealousy not to mention damaged trust. However, you slice it, double-booking can be divisive in your relationships. It may be awkward for us to double-book, but it can be very painful to be on the receiving end. Especially if you are the one who must endure the broken promise. Even when you know it was an honest scheduling mistake, it still hurts to know your friend or loved one passed the broken promise to you. An experience like this may make us wonder if God ever “double-books.” The Bible is full of promises the Father makes to his children. Is it possible he has over promised? Will he need to take back his promise to you in order to keep it with someone else? The answer of course is ABSOLUTELY NOT! The promises of the Triune God of love are aimed to bring peace in all our relationships, not to divide them. Psalm 133 gathers up rich imagery from Israel’s history as a description of God’s promises kept. “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.” (Psalm 133:1-3, NIV) Our Father has no problem keeping his promises, even when he “double-books.” In fact, in Jesus we find that he goes far beyond just “double-booking.” He extends his promise of blessing to everyone in his Son Jesus Christ. You can rest assured that the Father’s promise to you will not be taken back by his promise to another. His glory is for all of our good. I’m Michelle Fleming, Speaking of Life.
Genesis 45:1-15 • Psalm 133:1-3 • Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32 • Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28
This week’s theme is God’s faithfulness to reconciliation. In Genesis 45, God is faithful to Joseph by bringing reconciliation and redemption between Joseph and his brothers. Psalm 133 sings of the beauty of brothers living in unity. Paul is adamant of God’s mercy to both Jews and Gentiles in a letter to the Roman church while Jesus is recorded in Matthew’s Gospel extending mercy beyond the house of Israel to a Canaanite woman.
Romans 11:1-2a. 29-32 NRSV
Start with a story of a time you questioned whether God had rejected you, perhaps before you came to an understanding of his grace. Or share a story of someone who believed he or she had been rejected by God.
When you read through the Old Testament—especially through the Psalms and the Prophets, you see many times King David or the Israelites believed God had rejected them. This is a real feeling, and something Paul addressed to the Romans. Let’s read our text for today.
I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. … [skipping to verse 29] … for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all. Romans 11:1-2, 29-32 NRSV)
Notice that in this reading Paul asks a pointed question, “Has God rejected his people?” and then provides an intense answer, “By no means!” Then the lectionary reading omits the next 26 verses, where Paul is sharing details to the readers of this letter, which follow a meandering path where Paul attempts to show us how he got from his question to his answer.
This path recounts the story of Elijah and Baal with some prophet and psalm references thrown in. He includes some discussion about Israel’s failures which somehow opens a door for the inclusion of Gentiles. Then there is a metaphor about an olive tree that supports both natural and grafted branches. This sets up a warning for his Gentile Christian audience that they should not think their inclusion amounts to the Jews’ exclusion. Paul seems intent on making the point that God is not choosing between the Jews and the Gentiles but is working all things together in order to include everyone. Those omitted verses could contain a few sermons of their own. The verses add details Paul uses for the readers of this letter, all of which lead up to Paul answering his initial question: “I ask, then, has God rejected his people?”
The context shows us that Paul has been talking about Israel’s constant rejection of God. In Romans chapter 10—and remember that chapters and verses were added later, so this is a continuation of Paul’s thought—Paul writes about Isaiah’s prophecy that God would be found by those who did not seek him, and he would show himself to those who did not ask for him—a continuation of Paul’s point that Jesus offers salvation to all. Then Paul makes reference to this about God and Israel:
But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” (Romans 10:21 NRSV)
The context implies that Paul is raising this important question because his Gentile converts have somehow reached the conclusion that God has rejected the Jews. (Unfortunately, this idea still lives in many Christians today. After all, because Jews don’t accept Jesus as their Savior, God must reject them. That is a misguided conclusion that Paul is addressing.)
But it’s not just Israel. Most of us ask the question from time to time: Has God rejected me? After all, there’s times I have turned away, walked a different path, been more worldly than righteous, not sought God, etc. Has God rejected me? Have my sins and failures outweighed any good I do—as if God has us on some kind of justice scale?
Going further, we also face the conundrum of finding it easier to answer Paul’s question with a “Yes” when we think the people God rejects doesn’t include us. It can be easy to cast judgment and condemnation on others because of what they believe or don’t believe, what they practice or don’t practice, how they live or don’t live. If we believe God is passing judgment on those who are “less than” us—in terms of spirituality, obedience, etc.—we are hopeful he is not rejecting us. But even in that twisted way of thinking, we are still asking the deeper question, has God rejected me?
That’s really what’s at stake. As soon as we attribute to God a heart of rejecting people because of their failures, sooner or later our own failures will convince us that we too must be rejected. Before Paul goes into his long meandering path for his readers, he immediately answers the question so bluntly and harshly that he implies that asking the question itself is preposterous.
The NRSV I’m using here translates Paul’s terse “NO” with “By no means!” Other translations go with “God forbid” or “May it never be!” All these translations are trying to communicate the intensity of Paul’s “NO.” The word would be hard pressed to find its equal in being so emphatic. I might say it this way: to even ask the question is to admit a misunderstanding of who God is as Father, Son and Spirit. It is to acknowledge a misunderstanding of who Jesus was, is, and is to come. It is to neglect the truth of the gift God gave us at the cross, in the resurrection and in the ascension of Jesus. It is to make an assumption that God forgave only some at the cross, that Jesus is the Savior only to some.
Paul presents his Gentile friends with the closest evidence at hand for his answer—himself.
For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. Romans 11:2 NRSV
You can’t get more Jewish than that! Paul has done the one thing this Gentile church perhaps needs reminding to do. He has made it personal. It’s easy to talk about the “other guy” instead of looking at our own failures and shortcomings. Have you noticed how easy it is to do that? Paul knows why he is not rejected by God. It’s not because he is a Gentile and it’s certainly not because he was a good Jew. Paul knows that it is only by God’s mercy and grace that he is accepted and embraced by the Father. It’s not about him, it’s not about the Jews or the Gentiles. It’s about who God is as revealed in Jesus Christ.
Now we go to the end of the chapter, and the rest of our lectionary reading.
For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all. (Romans 11:29-32 NRSV)
Paul seems to know that he needs to change their focus. They should not judge God’s faithfulness by human unfaithfulness. He doesn’t want them looking at the Jews to judge who’s in and who’s out. But they also shouldn’t look at themselves, either. They are to look at God’s faithfulness to his people throughout their history.
God’s faithfulness is not a faithfulness to favoritism — it’s a faithfulness to himself. God keeps his promises and never goes back on his word. “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” This is the truth of who God is that prompts Paul’s intense reaction to any questioning of God’s faithfulness to his people. It’s God’s character Paul is defending. He’s not defending the Jews nor is he trying to denounce the Gentiles. What’s at stake is belief in the God of mercy who has been revealed in his faithfulness to us in Jesus Christ.
We do not want to miss the opportunity to make this text personal. “Does God reject us?” Have our failures added up to a point of no return? Is our heritage too tainted for God’s presence? Is there anywhere we can look to secure our own inclusion in God’s acceptance? There is only one place to look, and it’s not on our performance or heritage. It is on God’s faithfulness to his own Son, who includes us in his life.
As we look at Jesus, God’s Word to us, we will come to see that the Father would no more break his promise to us as he would reject his own Son. The Father speaks a promise to us in Jesus that he will never take back.
We are disobedient. God knows this and is not in any way surprised by this. Our disobedience continually points to God’s mercy. This is Paul’s main point. God will not—indeed cannot—reject us because of who he is. He is mercy.
We may never understand the “How” of God’s inclusion. Much of how God works his promises into eternal reality remains a mystery to us. God is merciful because God is mercy. This is how we know God did not reject his people; this is how we know he never will. We can say “no” to God; we can reject him and that decision will affect our life. We can live outside of his joy and his love and his mercy, but it is never because he rejects us; it happens only when we reject or disbelieve him.
God is a merciful God. Period. This is news many people need to hear. Many live outside this truth, which leads to doubt, fear, anxiety and misery. When someone tells you they feel God has rejected them for any reason, tell them who he is and help them say, God forbid.
Further, if you ever begin to question God’s faithfulness to his promises and purposes for you, or if you ever begin thinking that maybe God has rejected you, I pray you remember God’s mercy and answer your own question with—GOD FORBID!
Small Group Discussion Questions
Speaking of Life Questions
- Springing from the Speaking of Life video, can you recall a time you “double-booked” on someone? Have you been on the giving or receiving end of a “double-booking”? Share your experience. How did it make you feel?
- What did you think of the concept of God “double-booking” his promises? Why do you think we may limit God’s promises to only a few?
- Did making Paul’s question personal change how you viewed his answer?
- Why do you think Paul was so emphatic with his “God forbid” answer to the question, “has God rejected his people?”
- Can you resonate with looking at others in such a way that makes you feel better about yourself? How does looking at God’s character rather than comparing our character to others increase our security in his acceptance of us?
- Do you ever feel like God has rejected you? How can we encourage one another of God’s mercy during our times of failure?