God Delights in Us

Written by Lauren Lobenhofer, Pastor, Cave Spring United Methodist Church, Roanoke, VA

Trees with light coming through. A Voice in the Wilderness

Zephaniah 3:14-20

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
    shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
    O daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away the judgments against you;
    he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
    you shall fear disaster no more.
On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Do not fear, O Zion;
    do not let your hands grow weak.
The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
    a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
     as on a day of festival.”
I will remove disaster from you,
    so that you will not bear reproach for it.
I will deal with all your oppressors
    at that time.
And I will save the lame
    and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
    and renown in all the earth.
At that time I will bring you home,
    at the time when I gather you;
for I will make you renowned and praised
    among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
    before your eyes, says the Lord.

Zephaniah 3:14-20 (NRSVUE)

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All my life, I have wished that I could live in a musical. I’m a fan of Broadway shows, and a former showchoir kid, so the idea of people in my everyday life breaking into song and dance brings joy to my soul. Wouldn’t it be amazing if, instead of just cheering when something good happened, we could break into a show-stopping musical number? How cathartic would it be if, when we were sad, we sang a heart-wrenching ballad rather than just crying? Music is a powerful outlet; it would be incredible if it infused every day of our lives as it does in the fictional worlds of musical theater.

Sadly, we don’t live in a musical. In the world we inhabit each day people don’t break into song at appointed times or dance along the hallways of our offices. Quite the opposite, in fact. In the United States in 2024 we almost never sing in public.

On the rare occasions when we can be convinced to be part of a musical interlude it is for people we care about. We’ll participate in the awkward ritual of singing “Happy Birthday” for our friends and family. We might belt out “YMCA” or “Don’t Stop Believin’” or “All the Single Ladies” while dancing at a wedding reception. A playful kid can perhaps convince us to join in their silly song, or we might find ourselves crooning over an infant in our arms. In other words, our songs are mostly reserved for moments of deep joy over people we love.

Perhaps that’s why these words from the prophet Zephaniah are so powerful.

Usually when we think of God, the words and images that come to mind are serious and somber. We dredge up the image Michelangelo painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, of a straight-faced, intimidating monarch barely touching creation with one finger. Or we picture a grumpy ruler in the clouds a la Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Or we envision a heavenly judge glowering at humankind’s sin. Or perhaps we picture a powerful force, distant and removed from creation.

All of those are rooted in Scripture, and they’re the dominant images of God in our culture. But they are not the only images of God in the Bible. The glimpses of God in our holy text are more diverse than that.

Even within the book of Zephaniah, one of the Bible’s shortest books, the images we get of God are varied. In the earlier chapters, we see a God who is disappointed in human sin and unfaithfulness, who is angry at our negligence and misbehavior. But these final verses of the book reveal that, despite our sins, God delights in us. God doesn’t just tolerate us, God adores us. The prophet announces that God sings over us with joy. God sings over us. With the love of one who will awkwardly sing happy birthday out of tune, with the love of one who exuberantly dances and sings “Don’t Stop Believin’” at a wedding reception, with the love of a parent singing a lullaby over a sleeping baby, God sings with joy, with delight over us. God rejoices in being with us whenever we choose to give our time, our attention, our love to God.

The God we worship doesn’t just put up with us. The God we worship delights in us. 

We forget that. We often frame our language about God as tolerance, or indifferent presence. Perhaps on occasion we think about God being pleased with our service, our work, or our growth, or glad when we repent and seek to improve. But there is something powerful in remembering that the God who made us is just happy that we exist, that the Savior who came to live with us delights to be with us.

This is an important truth because how we understand who God is shapes our relationship with God. We would speak differently with a monarch or a judge than we would with a beloved family member. We speak differently with people who are smiling at us than we do with those who look bored or angry. In the same way, we will speak to God differently, pray differently, if we remember that God delights in us. We will pray with more openness, more honesty, more vulnerability, when we bear in mind that God looks on us, and sings over us, with joy. 

I pray that we will be assured that God delights in us. I pray that we will rest in that assurance as we become more vulnerable before the Almighty and more fully experience the joy of the Lord. Thanks be to God! Amen.

A Voice in the Wilderness: Lent 2024

Find all entries from A Voice in the Wilderness online here: haymarketchurch.org/lent24