I must confess something to you: I’ve always doubted, at least a little, John’s statement that we cannot love a God we do not see if we do not love a sister or brother we can see. It always seemed to me that an opposite principle would be truer, that loving what can be seen is far easier than loving what is not seen, and not loving the seen is also easier. I mean, I see the failings and suffer the injury of these seen brothers and sisters, don’t I? I also see their beauty and goodness at times. So then, how can my love of God be doubted by my lack of love for other people, especially when they can sometimes be seen as not very deserving of that love?
18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear;
for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears
has not reached perfection in love.
19 We love because he first loved us.
20 Those who say, “I love God,”
and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars;
for those who do not love a brother or sister
whom they have seen, cannot love God
whom they have not seen.
21 The commandment we have from him is this:
those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
1 John 4:18-21
Have you ever read some of the old prayers of saints gone by, the prayers that are rich hymns of love for our unseen God? Those prayers have drawn me like a moth to the flame for years, and also left me a bit confounded. How do these prayers come into being? How do I love an unseen God that way, and not just be celebrating the ideas of that God which I’ve been taught?
Let us pray…
“I entreat thee, dearest Saviour,
come and reign over my heart.
Far from me for ever be all other loves but thine,
my Supreme Good.
Burn me with the fire of thy beauty,
O sovereign of my heart;
to thee I sacrifice all, even my inmost being.
Jesus, lord of my heart, mighty and strong, all hail!
O Saviour, reign absolutely over this heart of mine.
Oh! How happy I am to think
that thy reign can have no end.
Thousands of hearts have loved thee tenderly,
thousands of hearts will cherish thee in time to come.
Would that they were all united with mine
to love and cherish thee as thou deservest.
Would that I could make thee sought for and loved
by all the sons of Adam, Lord who art all lovable!
Triumph, my love, my beginning, and my all!
I want thee only, desire thee alone!
My joy, my great joy is that thou art God,
a God that is good, perfect, immeasurable,
infinte, just, wise, powerful.
I love thee for thy own sake, and I rejoice
in thy favours for the sole reason that they are thine!
I throw myself into thy arms, Jesus,
with all the fervour of my soul.
I sing for joy that all of the angels
and saints adore and praise thee.
Oh! That I could love thee in proportion as thou art lovable!
But since this is impossible for any creature,
let me at least love thee as much as I can and ought.
Fill my soul with thy love, my God,
so that I may die in its embrace,
wholly devoured and burnt up in its flame.
How much I repent having loved anything else but thee!
Oh! Would that I might have my life over again,
and drown it in thy love!
Sweet life of my soul, let my heart faint away in thee!
What else can I desire in heaven,
what else can I seek on earth,
I have asked of thee one favour alone,
and it is all that I shall seek, Lord, at thy hand:
to dwell in thy house all the days of my life.
May my last breath be a sigh of love.
May I die of thy love, my God.
May my life, if it did not begin with love,
at least end in it;
and let my last act be an act of love.”
from the Aspirations of Cardinal Bona
I have prayed these aspirations with the good Cardinal many times over the years, always caught and entranced by the deep poetry and power of the words. This morning as I was praying my own small daily aspiration “let me love, let me learn, let me serve” I was reminded of this prayer of love and I turned to love God with my whole self. I turned all my inner strength to focus on loving my God, my unseen God, my hope and center of faith. From that exercise of loving God, straining to love and embrace the unseen, I felt another door open, a door to a treasure room of strength to love the people around me.
I think now that John was actually saying something along these lines… that we can’t have truly given ourselves to the act of loving God, a God we do not see, if a greater love for those who are seen around us has not been manifested in our lives. He’s not essentially contrasting the ability to love what is seen versus what is unseen, but he’s teaching a principle: Turning our hearts to God in a deep stream of affection and love will automatically cause us to have a deeper affection and love for the people around us made in the image of God and so beloved by God. If I’m not loving people, and I find it so difficult to do so, then I need to turn back to applying myself to loving God, for that love is being lost.
In truth, in living the religious life, walking in faith for years, there are many pitfalls that can sneak in and replace my love of God: love of self, feelings of correctness, personal piety, personal giftedness, pride, anger, impatience, fatigue. Love takes effort. Remember how our scriptures tie the love of God and the love of other people together in several ways, from this passage in John’s letter to the famous summary of Law and prophets that Jesus gives in Matthew 22:34-40 that is repeated by Paul in his letters: 1) love the Lord your God and, 2) love your neighbor as your very self.
But somewhere past simply agreeing that those two commands constitute a summary of the Law, past agreeing that these are two important streams of love, there is a reality that John’s seems to hint at for us, that there is an intrinsic connection between those loves. Instead of getting caught up in arguing with John about ways to love those seen and unseen, I need to immerse myself in loving the unseen so that the tidal surge and burning sweep of that love may overflow to the people around me. May I love my God in such a giving of myself, such a visceral application of my strength and being, that when my eyes move to those around me my eyes still see only God. And then I not only am loving the people I see, but my cherished unseen God suddenly has a face as well.
As we enter into February and the Lenten Season, let’s pray for a mutual love to deepen and expand among us, against all odds. Each week we’ll dig into a single biblical author’s thoughts or account of mutual love and we’ll re-affirm our own commitment to the love that should be growing between us.
It’s going to be my personal prayer this month that I will be able to grow in deeper love for the people who are least like me and think least like me. I believe I have more often been taught to try to change those people, or at least to avoid them. If I wasn’t taught to do so, then I have certainly learned through experience that this is usually the easiest course.
Perhaps with some prayerful creativity and reflection I can discover ways to listen to them better; I may even find some ways to more fully offer them the benefit of the doubt. Hopefully, I will imagine some new ways for us to maintain our unique experiences and perspectives, but still coexist in harmony and shared love. It seems that when Paul was speaking to the church in Rome he fully expected them to be a diverse people, but never released from that debt of shared love.
Let’s just go ahead and accept it: we won’t awake tomorrow to find that everyone thinks and believes like we do, even in our own families or congregations. So, what’s next? Without a universal agreement on all doctrine and faith issues, may we still maintain a sense of mutual love and shared harmony? Without our complete similarity of conviction, may we nonetheless value and support one another’s spiritual journeys and affirm the mutual love and things we do share in common? It may go “against the grain” by some human sense, but that may just be the signal that we’re moving into a truly transformative practice. Lord, teach us to pray.
I realized today that with the drama of Snowzilla last Sunday, I forgot to make a Weekly Grace! I mean, wow. I haven’t missed one in a few years. So, I wanted to make sure we finished and finished well this month of intention based around civility.
It’s an election cycle year, and it’s a pretty heated race for all concerned. That’s one reason I wanted to start the year on civility. Another reason is that sometimes it’s so hard to keep my words flowing from love. It’s so easy to let something else step in and drive my speech.
In our focal passage written to the church in Corinth, Paul says that nothing is as important as love. Nothing should be allowed to take it’s place. There’s no miraculous spiritual gift, no self-denial, not even any great knowledge or correctness that surpasses love. This is not a message that religious people like to hear. We are very enamored of our personal gifts and, oh my… our correctness? We often like to stake our very salvation on it or deny another person theirs.
1 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part;10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Paul says that his ability to understand every question and mystery is nothing if he does not have love for others. The capacity to love matters more than the capacity to be right. I won’t belabor this point too long, but come on! I think it’s one of the clearest passages that teach us that we should let our love help us understand more often than letting our understanding teach us to love.
Our civility will grow as we move more fully toward letting love take it’s place of preeminence in our lives. Our words will grow to reflect that we have matured past the idea that our own perceived correctness gives us license to fight, humiliate, defame or condemn. We will listen better, with more desire to understand one another. We’ll ask good questions, meant to free and not to trap. We’ll grow together as we share and understand one another better. This could be a good year, even with a presidential election.
I’ve been so wearied and heart sick from the on-going violence and hate speech across our country and world. Most days I say something like “Well, my sinuses are acting up” when someone questions me, but the truth is that I’m simply soul fatigued by the darkness that is so often heard exploding from stages, pulpits and the barrels of guns. Preparing for this day’s Advent message on Love, I am reminded that there is a remedy for the hate. There is a prophetic voice that answers the bigotry and fear. It is not a fight fire with fire kind of answer or a choice to out-shout, out-hate or out-bigot the worst that we hear on a daily basis. It is love. Love released, love shared and love unfettered among us.
It was a challenge to prepare this sermon, sort of like those occasional nights as children when we woke in the darkness and groped along for what seemed like hours to find the light switch. All we wanted was to get to the bathroom and have some relief, but it seemed so impossible in the darkness to get there. We will get there. We will love. We will keep the prophetic voice of our faith. In humility and my in own soul-weary dance, I offer this message and reminder that we have a purpose higher than the politics and brighter than the darkness. We have love.
The Second Candle of Advent: LOVE
December 6, 2015
Our scriptures are big enough and old enough and engaged enough with humanity that within them there will always be some things that confuse me, things that anger me, and things that frighten me.
But within them I also find again and again the great themes and underlying truths keep me bound to God and to Christ, such as the prophetic themes of love, justice and mercy. The theme of God’s great love that cannot be taken from us is one of the constants of our scriptural narrative and record. The theme of our essential goodness and the struggle to avoid the darkness which will hide it is another great theme which calls us to renewal. I cherish the theme of needful justice for the oppressed and disenfranchised, and then mercy for those who have abandoned justice and need to be restored.
Our scriptures continue to inspire, comfort and convict, even in the midst of the challenges I mentioned before, because they are prophetic. They are prophetic, and the prophetic voice of scripture is love.
What does it mean to say that the prophetic of scripture voice is love? When we use the word prophetic we think of oracles and predicting the future, but we also are talking of the past and the present and a voice which often loudly and coherently binds them all together in a meaningful narrative and message. Such is love. Love is our past, our present and love is our future. Love is the meaning of our effort and struggle, the hope of our need and the joy of our suffering.
So the narrative of love begins in scripture with God’s great love for us and all creation, and God’s understandable discontent when the darkness of our hatred and violence kills and destroys. But God’s love continues, and so much of the Psalms are verses singing about that steadfast and deep love. And even though God’s anger is understandable at our failure to match that steadfastness, God’s love rolls on and on.
And in Isaiah 11, the prophetic voice of love reminds the downcast and the oppressed that hope is not lost. That prophetic voice casts a vision of a coming reality when love reigns in the coexistent harmony of so many seemingly incompatible things: infants and serpents, bears and cows, lions and lambs, the wise and the old being led by children and the unlearned. Can we just stop for a moment and notice the obvious truth here, that love is more often unlearned in our species than learned? The children lead us in love for they have not yet had its light extinguished by our older fears, bigotry and hatred.
The prophetic voice of love rings in the most difficult teachings of Jesus. If we are honest with each other, and I hope we are, the most difficult teachings of Jesus for our lives are not the “stop sinning” kind, but the “start loving” kind. Love enemies. Love and pray for those who persecute. Love one another. Love God. Love neighbor. Love as he Christ has loved. (Matthew 5 & 22, John 13)
These are the teachings that often confound us, but also that shape and create a coming future in which the seemingly incompatible can exist in peace.
We live and make our way in a time of global terrorism, gun violence in our streets, schools and places of work. Domestic violence and sexual abuse scandals are not uncommon in our headlines. Bigotry seems to have become a popular political platform on which to win elections. Neighbor turns against neighbor in fear and ignorance of those Muslims, those Christians, those Republicans, those Democrats, those refugees, those gays, those, those, those…
The prophetic voice of love says not those, but we. Love is patient when patience and civility have become lost virtues; love is kind because kindness is more powerful than fear or hatred. Love isn’t envious of others or lacking in hospitality or generosity. Love doesn’t divide us into factions and parties to put others down and feel better about itself. Love isn’t proud to the point of insufferable arrogance, insult or discourtesy. Love is not rude, violent, or in the habit of making jokes about its neighbors. Love accepts others when they are different in thought, belief and background. Love is not waiting to be angry or carrying old resentments just waiting for a chance to pull them out and inflict the world with more angry hateful speech. Love is not excited by violence or thrilled by vengeance, but committed to making peace. Love carries burdens. Love believes the best of its neighbors. Love kindles hope in darkened lives. Love only grows stronger when resisted. Love cannot fail, end or be extinguished for it is the past, the now and the future. Love casts out and ends the fear that threatens our weary souls. Love is God among us, God in us and God through us. (My personal mashup of some of 1 Corinthians 13 and 1 John 4.)
Our candle called LOVE is burning. This is our reminder and our calling to let love so burn in us. Love is our prophetic vision, our voice and oracle of all things to come, and we must not ever let the darkness hide it or take it from us. We cannot allow fear or ego to dampen it. We must answer it’s call and remain in it’s path.
May love’s Advent never end, but may the arrival continue, lighting the dark corners of our lives and the world around us. May we never lose hold of the goodness with which we are made and continually chosen by God to experience and share enduring love. May we never exchange this great prophetic voice for any other message or meaning. For in this endeavor, in this embrace of love, we join the deepest narrative and truth of scripture. We enter into the millennia old work of God to enact justice, to promote mercy and to the humbly journey together.
How could we choose any other voice of prophecy? How could we allow any fear or worry to obscure this love? How could we claim any truth above this love? How could our identity be known by any other mark?
Jesus said… “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” from John 13:31-35, NRSV
One more blog for today, and then I’m off to get other things done…
We wrapped up a month’s discussion on diversity this past Sunday at Church in Bethesda by talking about the dream of Jesus, a dream of unity and love. It is so much easier in times of our diversity to express anger, distrust and judgement… but that is exactly when Jesus comes in and starts talking about love.
You know it’s real when we’re busting out the chalkboard on a Sunday morning, huh? Yes, I could have projected something on a screen, but the sound of snapping chalk sticks on a board is so much more gratifying!
A Sunday Bulletin excerpt from this past weekend:
What does it look like when Jesus dreams? Did he have a dream for us and for humanity that we can see in his life and ministry? It’s not only seen in John’s gospel, but John’s account of Jesus shows us the dream many times… love. He dreamed, and even commanded, that we would love one another, in our humanity, our diversity, our greatness and our brokenness, and in that love we would be one.
This morning, we gather around a table that is meant to be a reminder of and an exercise of unifying love. This is a table where we put others first, where we discern one another as Christ’s body, where we gather for what our faith tribe has often called a “Love Feast.” If only our love would be always tangible enough to sit with and see on a table and taste with our lips and experience as we experience a filling and satisfying meal. Unifying love is the dream of our Christ. Love is the dream and the prayer of our Lord for us.
Love was the example of Jesus, for all kinds of people from many walks of life. Think of the times in the Gospel of John like when Jesus is found talking to someone of the wrong religion, gender, nationality and ethnicity… John 4. How about the time when Jesus masterfully and nonviolently prevents a stoning and says, “Neither do condemn you”… John 8. And when he washed the feet of his disciples, serving and loving them, that included the man to soon betray him… John 13. One of my favorite verses has long been John 13:1, “It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” Good stuff. Good love.
Love was the command of Jesus, for all kinds of people from many walks of life. Jesus famously instructs us to love our enemies… Matthew 5. Jesus commands his disciples to love as he loved, in service and sincerity… John 13. And who can forget the awesome way Jesus summed up Law and religion: Love God and Love People… Matthew 22. In John 13 he not only commands love but says that it is by our loving one another that we will be recognized as his followers.
Love was the prayer of Jesus, for all kinds of people from many walks of life. Jesus not only prayed for a love-bound unity for the disciples in his day, but for all followers who would come later and walk his path… John 17.
Love was the example of Jesus, the command of Jesus and the prayer of Jesus, so we can confidently say: love was the dream of Jesus. When Jesus dreamed, it was of the love we would create among us. That love brings us together, unites us and alerts everyone around that some Jesus-stuff is happening. Let’s embrace the dream and run with it!
Diversity of thought, experience and background are grounds for more love, not less. Diversity among us is grounds for loving deeper, listening better and building bridges… not loving elsewhere, closing ears and burning bridges. Love. Dream on.
Old Time Religion: Why I’m a Jesus Fan Boy
Let’s be real at the outset… I’m a white guy who grew up in Texas. When the phrase old time religion gets bandied around I automatically hear banjoes in my head and start quoting scripture in the Authorized King James Version. If at any point while reading this post you begin to hear banjoes or an inordinate number of thee’s and thou’s, keep calm and know it does pass.
I do want to talk a little about old time religion, but a bit older than either the banjo or the KJV. It may seem a bit odd, but current media/faith messes like the Kentucky clerk who uses her personal faith to undermine other people’s civil rights are just the kind of things that remind me why I’m such a Jesus fan boy. I love Jesus, so much. I want the kind of religion, the old time religion, that he taught.
Jesus was always serving and calls us to serve. The work of Jesus was not marked by a denial of service to people not like him. He didn’t seem to have a test of deservedness or reciprocity before offering himself to those around him. Looking closely at the gospel accounts we find people, even his closest friends, constantly wondering why he’s talking to someone that he shouldn’t be talking to. But that’s just Jesus. And it’s what Jesus calls us to do, today. I don’t hate that poor county clerk in Kentucky; I blame the pastors and preachers who taught her that her faith sets her apart and above others in a way that permits her to judge them and deny them their legal rights as fellow citizens. I blame the folks who are egging her on and supporting her illegal and unconstitutional actions in such a way that it sounds like liberty and freedom are not Christian ideas. Liberty and freedom are not antithetical to our faith but part of the foundation of our old time religion.
Jesus loved people, all kinds of people, and calls us to the same. Man, Jesus loved people. All people. The Jesus who said “do not judge” also refused to throw a single stone. He walked his talk. He felt no need whatsoever to judge people before giving them grace. He didn’t need to point out and sermonize their faults before reaching out to heal them. The only exception to this was when he spoke to the religious leaders of the day who did not love as they should be loving. Their faults and sins he clearly enumerated. The only hell-fire and brimstone homilies from Jesus were directed at the religious elite. I am such a fan of this Jesus who had no time whatsoever for the religious establishment when it strayed from the work of God. This is something that every pastor and preacher needs to keep in mind, every day and every Sunday when we stand to make a proclamation.
Jesus did not repay violence with violence, and he taught us to also break the cycles of violence. Jesus did not strike back. Jesus did not taunt Satan when he was tempted and did not raise an army against those who sought his life. But we’ve created a Jesus culture that weirdly smashes him up somewhere between a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger and Rambo with the barest hint of Ghandi’esque rhetoric and dress. We have at times made as a much a violent caricature of Jesus as we daily condemn Islamic extremists for doing with the concept of jihad in their own religion. Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek, and then did it himself as he stood before Pilate and defined his kingdom as one that did not fight the battles of this world, did not fight back and did not seek world domination. How have we strayed so far from our old time religion? Christians who fight daily for their religious convictions to override their fellow citizens’ freedoms have gone past the edge of the map, folks. They have moved off the path.
Yes, I know that Jesus cleared the Temple courts. I have had people throw that at me before as an example of a violent Jesus. Really? The Temple event falls in the same basket with the condemnation of the religious leaders. Jesus did not go to the courts of Governor Pilate or King Herod to re-order reality, he did it at the Temple. He went to the heart of religiosity and demanded people stop abusing others in God’s name. Once again Jesus is moving against the religious establishment to reassert some humanity and care of people. He quotes a passage that highlights what he is trying to do; the Temple was to be a place of connecting with God and spiritual blessing, not a place of usury where people are relegated to monetary transactions. He is not recorded to have struck anyone, killed anyone, hurt anyone or whipped anyone… though it does sound a lot like he cracked a whip and most definitely moved some naughty folks around. =)
Yeah, give me that old time religion. But let’s just be sure to go back to the time that Jesus was in control of things. It was a time of humbled clergy, served sinners, loved people, less violence and way more grace. It was a time when a dream of a better world created through love was preeminent to a world where those obsessed with their moral correctness self-martyred on the steps of their local courthouse. Ouch, I might have gotten a little carried away with that one. Maybe not.
Jesus said we’d known as his disciples by our love for one another. Anything else we choose an an identifier or mark of faith and religiosity is a distraction, and everything that distracts us from the path leads us astray by our own willful negligence. Lord, have mercy.
Within my own faith tradition (and maybe yours) God is love, the driving and primary orientation of God toward us is love, the reason for the incarnation of Christ is love and the love of God for us is unending, complete and steadfast, not able to be removed by any other power or circumstance of life. These are some of the assurances from our scriptures about love. Love is the greatest command, the identifier Jesus wanted associated with his followers and the fulfillment (summation, pinnacle, totality, completion) of religious aspiration. Are those just poetic words from our scriptures or actionable realities that people of faith need to weave into life’s fragmentation and pain?
To hear so many of us chattering away on a daily basis, you’d think that “God is love, but…” You might think, from the current divisive posturing and fighting about flags and marriage equality on the internet and around dinner tables, that God’s love for us is on hold, waiting for us to be a little more deserving, a little more compliant, a little more something other than we seem to be.
We are quick to assign hate and happy to alienate. We are quick to be threatened and shameless in our rejection of people in their noncompliance to our assumptions about life. We live the love, but lifestyle so often that we forget rightness isn’t really the point of either faith or of following Christ. The moment we choose a posture of rightness with/from God and others that assumes our deservedness to be sharing that love, it is no longer the love of God that scripture witnesses to us.
I know, we’re talking about love, but and not love butts. Sorry. That was a gratuitous attempt to garner clicks. =) And a way to label a problem we have in our current disagreements around the reading of scripture and history. Rarely has love got a thing to do with the questions we’re posing (or screaming) to one another and the drive to dominate conversations and win arguments. We’re arguing from a love, but position that assumes too much about the “other side.”
Maybe to keep love at the center, we need to move these conversations off the Facebook timelines and away from the dinner table, and chill ourselves out. Maybe we need some quiet time (some really need a paddling & time out, to be honest) to regain our center with the God of love, the love of God, God, Love.
I’d like to offer two suggestions, simple things that can have an impact. We can do these things right now, and start now even if we’ve been running the opposite direction. I have nothing here new and certainly not unique to me or my own life, but these are real, timeless and helpful. They can help us leave behind the love, but lifestyle and reengage with one another in our diversity, imagining new ways forward together.
1. Take a deep breath and celebrate God’s love for you.
Really. This is for everyone, white or black, and every shade of the beautiful human experience. This is for my gay friends, my straight friends and my friends trying to make an authentic life all along that spectrum of orientation. This is for my gender conforming friends and my gender fluid friends. This is for my rednecks, my Democrats, my Republicans and my independents. This is for my Christians, my Buddhists, my Hindus, my Muslims, my Wiccans, my Jews and my atheists. This is for my humans, and any trees or cats that happen to read my blog. This is for all: God loves you. God loves you. God loves you. Anthony de Mello spoke it simply and truly, “You don’t have to change for God to love you.” God’s love does not just pursue you; that love has already overtaken you and is yours right now. Breathe it in. Ignore all the voices that deny this truth. Let your heart be still and calm. Let your soul rest in God’s love.
We each need to begin our day with a reminder that this love is the house in which we awaken, the clothes in which we wrap and present ourselves. It’s the food of our soul throughout the day. We may and often do hear the untruth of not having God’s love during the day, but we can recognize it for the untruth it is, and roll on. Words may still have the power to hurt us and rejection from our fellow humans can still pain us, but we have a reservoir of truth to salve the wounding.
Really, please grab hold of this and make it your own. When someone hates you or mistreats you, that is the lie. Their lack of love or outright hatred is an untruth. It’s not true. Your value and worth are the truth. You are a recipient of God’s love. Their injury to you is not who you are or a true reflection of your value and dignity. When we know the love of God in which we stand we can then recognize the untruth in another person’s words and actions and avoid the danger of our soul feeding on that lie and faltering in health and growth.
Having been able to recognize the untruth in another’s words and actions, we can honestly love them, as they are. Maybe we can move past their hurtful words and see or hear something deeper in them, the pain and hurt that has caused them to be makers of pain and hurt. This is how God loves, without reservation and without any needed reciprocity. Jesus taught this kind of love, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Only by seeing the untruth in others and loving them anyway can we begin to forgive them and avoid letting the untruth take root in our heart and soul.
2. Stop the fighting, all the fighting.
There’s no culture war if we don’t show up on the front lines loaded and ready to get it on! Really, stop viewing everything as a fight and a conflict. Stop buying the rhetoric of political and religious leaders who claim you have to wage a war for your belief and opinion. We’re being herded by powers that deal in human misery when we answer a call to battle our neighbor. Neighbors are for loving. (Jesus said that, too.)
We are not going to wake up tomorrow to a world that agrees with you. You may be in the majority one day and minority the next. Your candidate might win, and yours might lose. Jesus gave us no marching orders to dominate this world… even Paul knew the difference between every knee bowing to Jesus and bowing to us. We are not promised world domination and we are not asked to attempt it.
Every time we speak in competition, every time we speak in conflict, every time we try to win a point, win an argument, out shout or out think or out debate someone, love loses. You know that passage about love from Paul, the one we always read at weddings? Yes, the one from 1 Corinthians 13 that is the “but have not love” and “love is” stuff… it has nothing to do with marriage and weddings. At least, no more to do with weddings and marriage than any and every day of life. That passage is about us sharing the world together, all of us and every day. It does not leave room for power games or cultural wars over tradition and personal opinions. All of the religious posturing about the fragility and offense of our faith is ridiculous and just comes across as a clanging symbol, selfishness and comical self-matyrdom. Claiming your rights over someone else’s on a religious basis is not kind, patient, humble or honoring of others. We fight or we love. What will it be?
Please. Whatever side of whatever issue is most compelling and meme-worthy of the moment, love will outlast it. Love will win. Love will be here. But will we be here? Will there be anything or anyone left on either side of any issue to enjoy the pride and power of dominance? You want to be amazing? You want to make God smile? Love somebody near you like they’ve never been loved before. And if you just can’t love them right now, at least take some quiet time to yourself until you can reboot the heart and catch a breeze of that free-flowing grace that God has woven into our DNA and the very elements of our world.
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one anotherhumbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.Paul, Galatians 5:13-15
It is most definitely a whole new thing when you’re praying for peace in a nearby sister city, thinking of friends, family and colleagues who call it home. It’s important we are praying. And it’s important we are being peacemakers, even in the distant roles we may have as spectators and commentators. With this in mind, I’d like to offer a few reminders…
Our judgements aren’t needed. I see a lot of judgmental statements flying around social media, accusations and generalizations that are more damaging than healing. As a people of faith, I would ask us to hold to the admonition of James that we “take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because our anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (From James 1:19-20) As prayerful and concerned people viewing the hurtful events in Baltimore, our indignation and anger does not further the reconciliation and healing that God desires for the city.
There are peacemakers on the streets, support them! Pray for the peacemakers, talk about the peacemakers, encourage them and share their work. It’s too easy to be angry about looting, and far more difficult and helpful to give support to those in the community trying to be reconcilers. Pray for the family of Freddie Gray as they ask for peace. Pray for local clergy as they march for peace. Sometimes, for us not in the city, this is how are to be fellow peacemakers. If our words and commentary simply incite feelings of division, anger and judgment, then we are working against God’s will in the world. Jesus endorses a reconciling view of life saying, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (From Matthew 5:9)
Pray the ones you feel least like loving. And while we’re talking about Jesus and about prayer, we are clearly taught that our prayers are not just for the ones like us, or the ones who like us, or the ones we happen to like. Who do you feel least like loving in Baltimore, today? It is the police? Is it those looting? Is it a racial distinction or an economic distinction? Is it a political distinction? Those you feel least like loving should be the target of your prayer, concern and love. This is the way Jesus taught us to live… “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (From Matthew 5:43-48)
Finally, maybe a try a new way to pray. I often begin my devotions with some centering around the ancient Jesus Prayer, “Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” I will repeat the prayer, meaning it, hearing it, believing it and wanting it. And when I begin to feel the rhythm of the prayer, I’ll start to make some changes. Once the humility of being “a sinner” is rooted in my prayer, I’ll change it to “your beloved.” I’ll make claim the love that is promised to me by God in Christ. Then, I’ll change “Son of the Living God” to something like “my truest spiritual friend and teacher.” Eventually, after various shifts and changes, I’ll be praying for others instead of myself, claiming for them the love of God and presence of Christ. It may eventually sound something like “Jesus Christ, divine hands and feet bringing peace to the world, bless the streets of Baltimore through people of peace.”
Above all, love and pray. Love and pray.
I was just sitting there yesterday and wishing that we didn’t have to have the LGBTQ label set for talking about our many friends, family and cherished neighbors who identify outside the heterosexual majority or the rigid gender norms of our society. I was thinking, “What if I start putting as S along with the LGBTQ to include those of us who are straight: SLGBTQ? Would it be an understandable way to assert that we are all human and more connected in our similarity than disconnected in our differences? Does it convey our oneness?”
We use labels for some fairly justifiable reasons. Labels help us avoid confusion. Labels help us delineate between people, groups and things at times when it most matters to make useful distinctions. But we also know that labels can harm, bully and de-humanize. We have to handle labels with extreme care. As an overly privileged American white, male, Christian, clergy person, I have to be very careful and aware that my use of labels has the potential to disenfranchise people and to show gross paternalism and condescension.
I’ll still be using the LGBTQ label, and I don’t have plans at this time to try to mainstream the use of SLGBTQ. But I also want to take a moment and remind myself, out loud, that we are all humans with God-endowed dignity, value and beauty. Even as I use the LGBTQ label I reject it as a replacement for the beautiful persons, the women and men I know and love who happen to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer. I suppose I’m also a little selfish in hoping that my own value and gifts shine brighter than the S and the other labels I carry myself.
Can I ask that we all take a moment to wrap a little extra padding around our words and attitudes, a bit more of a protective coating for our neighbors and ourselves? We all have ideas, beliefs, arguments and propositions which we hope to advance in conversation and action… can we make sure that a mutuality of love and concern prefaces all of those and takes precedent over all else? Jesus connected love of neighbor with love of self, a mutuality of dignity and concern, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:34-40) Try not to see an S or an L or a G or a B or a T or a Q in front of you… see a human being, a neighbor, and love them intensely with purity and sincerity.
Day to day I need both to love and to be loved. I can’t know today if you need a reminder to love others or to love yourself. I can’t know if you need more to be reminded that you’re loved or to grow in love for others. I only know that we’re all in the same boat. I love you. Please love me. We all need love and we all need to love. Let’s not allow anything to stand in the way of either movement in our lives. Such is the work of Christ.
A Funny Thing We Do:
We take a passage like First Corinthians 13 and we romanticize it; we reserve it for weddings and greeting cards instead of struggling with it in everyday life.
Let’s start with that famous of texts: (in three versions)
1 Corinthians 13:4-8, TNIV
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8, NLT
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged. It is never glad about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Love will last forever…
1 Corinthians 13:4-8, KJV
(the Greek in verse 5 is in the feminine form, heautēs)
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth…
What has been happening in Corinth? What has Paul been speaking about up to this point? There are many corrective themes which he will touch on, expressive of the daily love he ultimately prescribes in Chapter 13… here’s a quick look:
Chapters 1-4, correcting division and pride
Chapter 5, beware of sexual impurity and its influence
Chapter 6, lawsuits against each other and prostitution
Chapter 7, mutual care in marriage and care of self and others in all instances of life
Chapter 8, having concern for other people’s weakness
Chapter 10, again having a concern for other people’s religious journey
Chapter 11, neglecting one another and showing favoritism in worship and at table
Chapter 12, personal gifting is for mutual benefit and service…
So what is the corrective for a life guided primarily by dividing self-interests and pride, a life that is willing to abuse and use people for gain, through litigation or sex, without a care for their well being or even their basic needs of food and healthy supportive relationships? The corrective is LOVE.
Love is changing the way we listen and speak, how we see one another, how we value one another and forgive; we fundamentally change the way we regard people. We know this word, right?
regard… v. consider or think of (someone or something)
in a specified way.
Let’s be real and be daily, and bring these corrective verses on love into our lives with all people, not just our romances. Let’s regard other people the way we should, the way God desires us to see them.
Love is patient, love is kind.
Love calls me to wait for you, when you’re slow and don’t think as fast or as well as I think you should, or as well as I think I do. Impatience will give way to kindness, a cultivated response that is tailored to your needs and not expressive of any frustration or judgment of my own.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
Love calls me to stop talking about myself all the time, defending myself and fighting my fights to make sure everyone knows how right and good I am. Love demands that I admit that I’m no better or more valuable then you. Instead I am called to listen to you, to value you and to speak about your worth and goodness.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love demands that I control my speech, bending my efforts and intentions to purifying my words, purging my thoughts and speech of anger, ridicule and demeaning slurs. I have to give up my grudges and give you a fresh start when I see you stumble, and not just once, but again and again.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
Love asks me to be happy when you are blessed, when you are right, when you win, when you succeed. And I am to be hurt when you’re hurt, concerned when you’re concerned. I’m not seeking for you to suffer or experience evil, but working actively for your good.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
This is maybe the most inspiring part of love! I may in fact see anger, violence and hatred as powerful weapons wielded in life, but love defeats them all. Love is what protects. Love is the foundation in which I can truly trust. Love is what will keep me going, not getting more stuff or better stuff, or bringing you down. Love is what will outlast all things and be the legacy of this world to which I did or did not join myself.
I know we can do this. I know God wants us to do this. Let’s not stand in the way of love for one more day for one more person. This is my Valentine’s prayer for 2015!
I found this old graphic I made for a sermon series a while back, just a couple of years or so… it seemed to fit.