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Posted by on May 5, 2024

Who Gets to Go First?

Who Gets to Go First?

A group of children get together to play. After some discussion, they decide on a game. It may be a group game or it may be a one-on-one game. If a group game, captains of teams are selected and the group is divided into teams. With a one-on-one game, it’s somewhat easier, as long as the two players have already been selected. If not, then the group must decide which two will play.

Finally, the preliminaries are completed and then the most critical question is asked. Who gets to go first? Is it the player with the red markers or the black markers in checkers? Which team is “up” first in baseball? Who serves first in volleyball? What about chess? Or Chutes and Ladders? Or Candyland? Even games for very young children require addressing this question. Who gets to go first? How is the decision made in a fair way? Sometimes it seems like the team or player who goes first will have the advantage in the entire game. That’s not necessarily the case, but it can feel that way.

In God’s relations with humans, we often think that we are the ones who make the decision about whether God will be part of our lives or not. It’s my decision whether I will pray, or go to church, or have my child baptized, or, or, or.   So many possible times that I must make a decision regarding my relationship with what one of my professors, Dr. David Mandelbaum, called “The Transnatural.”

The Transnatural refers to experiences, forces, unexplainable realities that are experienced by peoples around the world. They are often called gods or spirits or demons or other titles, depending on whether they are perceived as positive or negative in their relationship with human life and community. They are beyond our everyday, ordinary understanding of the natural world. Commonly, the term supernatural is assigned to them. However, Professor Mandelbaum suggested that transnatural as a descriptive term takes away the value-laden pre-conceptions with which we look at such experiences when we call them supernatural.

As groups, we also tend to think that our understandings and rules for membership in our community are exclusively ours to determine. But that is not necessarily the case.

Blessedly, whether we are loved and welcomed into God’s family is not determined by our worthiness, our ethnic or racial background, our wealth, our education, our family connections … God is the one who decides, who takes the initiative, who welcomes all.

St. John reports that Jesus told his disciples, “As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.” How does one remain in his love? By keeping his commandments. He doesn’t say by keeping the Law dating from the time of Moses. He says, “my commandment.” And what is that commandment? “Love one another as I love you.” (Jn 15:9-17)

This love is not one of master and servants or slaves. This love includes self-sacrifice on the part of Jesus, the first lover. He calls his followers friends, – trusted friends, friends with whom he shares his deepest thoughts and even fears. He also shares all he brings from his Father.

Who chose whom in the relationship? “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you…” And because we have been chosen and sent to bear fruit, we may ask the Father for what is needed and we will receive it.

Will it always be what we expect? No, most certainly not. But not because Jesus lies or because the Father doesn’t keep promises. Not everything we think we need or want will be good for us or others in the long run. And God is in it for the long run with us.

Who gets the first move? God does and did. That first move sets things in motion and God is still a player, a companion in the game, with arguably a better view of the final outcome.

St Peter discovered this reality relatively early after the Resurrection. He was traveling and stopped to rest and have lunch. While he waited, he had a vision and in this vision, a large cloth filled with animals was lowered from the sky. A voice ordered him to eat them. But they included ritually unclean animals. He couldn’t eat them. He would become unclean himself. The cloth with the animals went up and down from the heavens three times. Each time the voice from heaven told him, “What God has purified you are not to call unclean.”

As the visions ended, messengers arrived from Caesarea with a request from Cornelius, a centurion in the Roman cohort there. Cornelius had been told in a vision to send a messenger to Peter and ask him to come visit. Cornelius was known to be a good man, God-fearing and respected by the Jewish community. Peter agreed to visit him.

The next day, they went to the home of Cornelius, who welcomed them warmly. He explained that he too had received a vision, instructing him to invite Peter and listen to his words. At that Peter began to tell him about Jesus and all that had happened. While he was speaking, the Holy Spirit swept through the room, descending on Cornelius and his family, who began to speak in tongues and glorify God. Usually, the Holy Spirit’s presence was seen after new believers had been baptized and hands laid upon them invoking the Spirit. When this happened outside the usual order and without any human intervention, Peter realized that non-Jews could also become believers. God had called them too and loved them equally. Cornelius and his family were baptized then and there and entered the community of believers. (Acts 10:25-26, 34-35, 44-48)

Once again, God made the first move.

Many years later, reflecting on all he had seen and experienced, John wrote a letter to some of the communities who were struggling with disagreements about the teachings of the apostles and Christian beliefs. John, in this letter, stressed repeatedly that love originates in God. In fact, “God is love.” So we must love each other. Only in love can we know God and only through love does life come to each of us. We can love because we are loved. We have life because we are loved. God loved us first. God got the first turn in the game and dance we all share. The dance and game of life and love itself. (1Jn 4:7-10)

This week, let’s remember how much we are loved and how Love does not exclude anyone. Some folks may be harder to love than others, but love doesn’t mean ‘like’ or ‘do just as others do.’ Love means to care and wish the best for all. Love means to smile and be patient while waiting in line or for someone else to finish before we get our own turn. Love means opening to the beauty of the day, even as the rain pours down and winds blow. Beauty and love surround us and are the very air we breathe and the atmosphere through which we move. God has the first move. Now we get our turn. It’s a wonderful adventure.

Readings for the Sixth Sunday of Easter – Cycle B