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Delighting in People
November 15, 1992

ISAIAH 65:17-255

Sounded like a politician speaking, didnít it? Like a party platform. I read our Scripture lesson for today before the elections, and I thought I was reading campaign promises! Listen to the vision:

No more shall the sound of weeping be heard,

or the cry of distress.

No more shall there be an infant that lives but a few days,

or an old person who does not live out a lifetime...

They shall build houses and inhabit them;

they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

What in particular struck me as I read this magnificent passage was a new insight I had not noticed before. The New Revised Standard Version uses the word "delight" in Isaiah 65:18-19, and notice what God delights in. "I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people."God delights in people. God enjoys his creation with joy and delight.

I picture Godís delight like mine when my granddaughter Alison, age one, sees me, recognizes me, smiles and squeals. No amount of money can purchase the delight a granddaughter gives a grandfather! When she smiles, laughs, and plays, a warm, contagious delight bubbles up within me which I cannot contain. I chuckle and smile. My face lights up. I scoop her up and tell her, "Iím so glad youíre my granddaughter!"

Dare we ascribe similar human emotion to the Spirit/Energy we call the Creative Power, God? Dare we suggest that God smiles and chuckles in delight? Of course! If God does not emote, how then are we able to emote? Surely we as creations are not capable of feelings and emotions which the Creator does not or cannot experience. Surely God is not less than we!

I believe God suffers with and on behalf of people. God hurts with our pain. God, who came to the earth incarnate in a human being, experiences the depth of emotion through Jesus: loneliness, weeping, betrayal, failure, forsaken. God knows what it is like to be homeless. God knows what you feel when you lose a job, fail to make a sale, lose a business, watch a loved one suffer, go through a divorce (does one ever go "through" a divorce?). God knows what it is like to die.

Likewise, God knows joy, laughter, and delight. Jesus didnít only suffer. Jesus laughed and enjoyed his friends. Isnít it a great image to picture the Spirit we call God smiling, chuckling, radiating. People delighting God makes the Creator radiant? What an image! What is there about you that delights God? What is there about you that makes God chuckle, smile, laugh? What is there about you that causes God to rejoice and exclaim, "Iím so glad I made you!"

God delights in people. God creates people as a delight. Thatís why God made us all different. Can you see God, in sheer delight, deciding, "Iím going to make this one fat, this one short, this one tall, this one white, this one black, this one yellow. Iím going to make different cultures, different ways of doing things, different languages. Iím going to have a ball!"

God delights in people. The more we become like God, the more the Holy Spirit is able to work within us bringing us closer to God, the more we are able to also delight in people. Not judge, criticize, manipulate, use, or try to make other people just like us; but delight in people, enjoy them as they are, with no hidden agenda on our part.

Why is it we tend to want to be with people just like us? We tend to live in neighborhoods of similar types, same economic bracket, same color, same educational background, same food, go to the same stores, the same clubs, same types of churches. Our circle gets smaller and smaller. How utterly boring! No wonder people drink too much. They are bored to death. They all live alike, look alike, eat alike, smell alike!

There is a danger living in Channing House. There is a danger living in the Sequoias, Forum or Webster House. There is a danger living in Palo Alto. Why? There is the danger of being deluded into thinking the real world out there is like our world, and that anyone out there who is different than we is strange, odd, and an aberration!Out of a basic insecurity which I call sin, we try to be with our own "kind", and hold all others off through prejudice, making up lies and distortions about "them".

One reason our church is a great church is because we have lots of different people in our congregation. We even have Pacific Islanders who have a different language and different culture. Some of you are taking advantage of this opportunity. Currently there is a class called "Thanksgiving People" composed of half Tongan and half North Americans. They are relaxing with one another, learning from one another, enjoying one another, delighting in the differences.

Next year our program goal is "Grow as Christian Disciples," and the theme is "Year of Community." One way to grow as a Christian, one way to stretch, is to intentionally relate to and make friends with someone who is different from you. There is nothing like knowing someone personally to break down the stereotypes we all have about "them".

The Council of Bishops was discussing the United Methodist position on homosexuality. One by one several bishops rose to speak in support of an anti-gay phrase in the Social Principles. Then Bishop Melvin Wheatley spoke, "I cannot approach any statement on homosexuality as a position on an academic, though highly emotionalized, subject to be identified as an "It." I approach any statement on homosexuality as basically an intentional stance toward intimately personal relations involving "Thous."

Then he proceeded not to talk about homosexuality as a subject, but through real people. He told them about his doctor who 23 years before literally saved his life, and then became a close friend. The doctor is gay. He told them about a superb organist friend who is gay. He told them about a preacherís kid who has personal charm, intellectual perception, and spiritual endowment. She is a lesbian. Then he told them about his own son, John, who is gay and who "from the earliest months of his life has convinced us that we were providentially guided in giving him the name associated with the beloved disciple."

Thereís nothing like knowing someone personally to break down stereotypes. The estimate is that 10% of the population is homosexual. One family in four has a gay or lesbian. Can you really believe that God labels 10% of his people an "abomination"? Delight in people. God does. Delight in people as they are. Donít remold them into being a clone of you. Donít judge or criticize. Relax, go easy on others. Grow as a Christian disciple by reaching out to someone "different." Widen your circle by:

First, acknowledge your fear and hostility. Donít pretend you are not apprehensive. Henri Nouwen, in his book Reaching Out, wrote, "People who are unfamiliar, speak another language, have another color, wear a different type of clothes and live a life style different from ours, make us afraid and even hostile." Admit your fear. Donít hide it. Confess it. Get it out into the open. Let God forgive you and cleanse you. Get rid of the fear.

Secondly, admit we donít know everything about everything; in fact, we know little about anything! Admit that our way of doing, thinking, eating, living is not the only way, nor necessarily even the best way! Admit we donít know all there is to know about the Bible, God, or life. Admit ignorance, spiritual bankruptcy, and express a willingness to learn, an openness to others who are different.

Thirdly, practice hospitality. Be hospitable. Henri Nouwen suggests the ancient biblical practice of hospitality as a way of reaching out. I suggest hospitality as a way of delighting in people. Invite those who are different, not necessarily into your home, but into your life, your heart, into your circle of relationships. Be hospitable. Create a free space. Have you ever received hospitality? I remember how graciously I was received in Japan as a missionary teacher. I remember how graciously Ellie and I were received in Australia when we went on an exchange. We were warmly welcomed. No trips were laid on us, no expectations. We were the guests, free to be and do as we liked.

The German word for hospitality means "friendship for the guest". The Dutch word for hospitality means "freedom for the guest". Put the two together and you get biblical hospitality, friendship and freedom. Create a free space in your life into which you invite people, and let them freely sing their own songs, tell their own stories, dance their own dances, and live their own lives.

Enjoy people. Relax. Donít judge or lay trips on them. Delight in your children. Delight in your grandchildren. Delight in those who are different. Delight in people. God loves people. God delights in people. Canít you?

ã 1992 Douglas I. Norris