Proper 14, Year C, St. James’ Church, Sewanee

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Lk. 12:32).

At the 1924 Paris Olympic Games, the Scottish sportsman Eric Liddell won a Gold Medal in the four hundred-meter run. Liddell was not only an athlete but also a Christian missionary, who went on after winning the run to a ministry and a life in China, one that was cut short by the Japanese occupation and the violence of the Second World War. Liddell was not a distance runner, but he stretched himself in order to compete in the four hundred, a much longer race than he was used to running. There’s a wonderful quote that is caught in the 1981 movie Chariots of Fire (that tells the story of that Olympic run); a quote that apparently is original to Liddell. “God made me fast, and when I run, I feel his pleasure.”

God’s pleasure: what a concept. Liddell was not just making this up, however. It says in Psalm 104 that God made Leviathan, the great whale, “for the sport of it” (Ps. 104:27): that is for the sheer joy of it, for the pleasure of the thing itself. When Eric Liddell ran the race, he knew that God delighted in it, and took pleasure in what was done. Most importantly, of course, he knew that God was the source of the accomplishment. “God made me fast.”

There are several places in Luke’s Gospel where God takes pleasure in the human race, along the same lines. One is our Gospel today, but there are others. God looks upon us favorably, as in the angel song on Christmas eve: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors” (Lk. 2:14). “Favor” in the Christmas Gospel, and “pleasure” in our Gospel today, are the same words in the original tongue. In other words, God delights in the human race; he takes pleasure in us; he shows favor to us.

God says the same thing about Jesus himself, at his baptism. The Holy Spirit descends upon him, and a voice is heard from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Lk. 3:22). Again, “pleased” and “pleasure” are the same words in the original texts. God delights in Jesus, who here is the forerunner of the rest of the human race, the One sent by God to be the first born among many brothers and sisters. Jesus is the expression of God’s will, his favor toward us, and in him God is well pleased.

When our Gospel talks about God’s pleasure, it’s a way of saying that God does what he wills to do. The same form of words is used in one final place in Luke’s Gospel, where Jesus turns to God in prayer. “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent, and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will” or “for so it was well-pleasing in your sight” (Lk. 10:21).

Again, the idea of God’s pleasure in us, the thing that he wills to do for the sheer joy of it, that we find in our Gospel today. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Lk. 12:32). What a promise, given to us! Not just a promise for the future, but a reality that has already been given. Given by the Father’s pleasure to us.

Our Gospel makes it plain that God’s favor is sourced in his will, in his pleasure, and nowhere else, and that his favor is given gratuitously. God’s pleasure in the human race ultimately says more about him and less about us. God’s love doesn’t depend on us, on any moral quality or characteristic that we possess. If we’re looking for validation of what we’re doing or who we are, then we will look in vain. God loves us, sur enough; it’s his good pleasure to give us the kingdom. It’s finally about him, and not about us.

That is good news for us, as we gather here today: the good news that had God is the source of our strength and that we rely on his grace. He did not choose the wise and intelligent but chose us to be his little flock. Our confirmands are showing us the way, as they reaffirm their faith in God and receive the laying on of hands with prayer. This outward and visible sign not only reminds us that we are dependent on God, but it actually gives us the grace we need for the living of the life. God made us fast, and when we run the race of the Christian life we feel his pleasure.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee