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All Things

Know that you are loved. You are important. You are enough. You have infinite potential. Because God’s love never ends…

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.  (1 Corinthians 13:7-8)

The end of this famous passage creates a sort of symmetry within itself. Because love believes in all the best things and hopes in all that can be – then love can bear anything and can endure whatever may come.

In our culture, we take real love for granted. Or perhaps it is that we are so used to all of the poor substitutes that we no longer look for the real thing. It is certainly easier to trust what we can see and touch, what we can have here and now, but… but, then we are not becoming all that we could be.

This goes for individuals and for us as a body of people, because love requires more than one person to truly be love. Even more important, as Mother Teresa said, “Love cannot remain by itself – it has not meaning. Love has to be put into action, and that action is service.” Love is so much more than a fancy or a feeling: it is a way of life.

How do we begin?

We love because God first loved us. Know that you are loved. You are important. You are enough. You have infinite potential. Because God’s love never ends.

Once you know it, really know it, you will find that you must share it. There is an endless supply and it is what the world so desperately needs. So give in. Give in to love. And see what wondrous miracles God will work in our midst.

Love is Sovereign

… it is also scripturally supported to say that sovereignty may look different for God than it does for us humans.

Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. (1 Corinthians 13:5-6)

Now we get to the heart of the matter for the Reformed Tradition. For those of us who are the theological descendants of John Calvin, a very important part of our understanding of who God is includes this: God is sovereign.

For hundreds of years, everyone has concluded that means that God controls every single thing that occurs – which is scripturally supported, by the way. However, that leads to God being responsible for great evil, e.g. the Holocaust, and many of us are understandably uncomfortable with that. Luckily, it is also scripturally supported to say that sovereignty may look different for God than it does for us humans.

Another Reformed theologian named Karl Barth, who lived in the twentieth century, proposed a different view of sovereignty: if God is love, and love cannot force its own will, then we have to be able to say no. If our relationship with God is truly based in love, then by God’s own description through the letters of Paul, we must have at least the freedom to choose those things that are against God’s purposes. This would, of course, break God’s heart, but there can be no true relationship if both parties involved do not enter into it freely.

What does this mean for us?

For one thing, it means that God loves us so much that God seeks us no matter what and equips us with everything we need to choose God. But it also means that we do not have to.

In addition, it means that for all of us humans, who bear the image of God, we are called to live into the same form of life that God has chosen. That means giving up the need to dominate and control the way “sovereignty” usually implies. It means letting go of irritations and resentments. It means no longer supporting those who are causing things that are against God’s purposes. And it means that we are to seek the truth – because love without it is mere fancy.

As we approach Valentine’s Day next week, let’s consider how we might live into our call as God’s image bearers to love better and to finally let go of all those things that love cannot sustain.

 

Love is…

It will be a life-long process. But love is always worth fighting for…

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude… (1 Corinthians 13:4)

When I was in college, one of my non-religious friends tried to tell me that this passage was so famous that it is basically secular now. Umm…?

Lord knows we tend to use it completely out of context, mostly for weddings. But this chapter is an essential passage of scripture and one that does not speak about romantic love at all.

Remember that in Greek, there were many kinds of love. Specifically, there was a drastic difference between “eros” – the love of cupids – and “agape” – the love of friends or siblings (loosely translated). Though our culture has forgotten this, by which I mean even our pop Christian culture, Paul is speaking not to individuals or couples, but to the church.

Yes, love is meant to govern all of our relationships. However, in this case, the love of individuals and couples is meant to be an extension of the full body of Christ, not the other way around.

So picture this: a community that shows patience, kindness, and does not display envy or boasting or arrogant or rude behaviors toward one another. That is quite a picture. And we know that the church does not always embody this the way they should.

Yet that is the standard.

It is also the paradigm by which we are to measure ourselves and our leaders, in every realm of life. It is the model through which we are called to hold one another accountable – all while not living into the negative aspects.

So the real question is this: how well are we living into Paul’s vision? How are those in leadership roles living up to this picture? Where do we need to speak truth to power that has forgotten its love-begotten origins?

It begins with you and me.

It starts when we seek after this kind of living for ourselves. It takes flight when we honor one another by holding each accountable. It encompasses all of who we are when we no longer remain silent in the face of anything that does not fit this paradigm.

So work on patience and kindness. Let go of envy and boasting and arrogance and rudeness. It will be a life-long process. But love is always worth fighting for.

Footsteps

If we truly wish to walk in Jesus’ footsteps, that is the way. It is just that simple. And it is just that hard…

The time is always right to do what is right. (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Occasionally I have been asked how I would summarize the Gospel. My response is this:

There is a legend about the writer of the gospel of John. Unlike most of his contemporaries, he lived to be an old man with a large school of students around him. It is said that anytime he saw one of his pupils he would tell them to “love one another.” “Love one another.” “LOVE one another.” Finally, one of his students became so fed up with this practice that he said, “Love, love, love, love, love, love, love. Why are you always telling us to love?” “Ah,” said the old teacher, “because that is what my Lord commanded me to do. If you do nothing else, it will be enough.”

At the end of the day, the only thing God will ask us is how well we loved. Did we love our families to the best of our ability? Did we love our neighbors as ourselves? Did we seek justice in the world around us – binding up the brokenhearted and building up the powerless? Did we live love as a way of life?

If we truly wish to walk in Jesus’ footsteps, that is the way. It is just that simple. And it is just that hard.

On His 90th Birthday…

The world appears to be devolving…

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. (Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)

On the ninetieth anniversary of his birth, the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. ring truer than ever through our midst. Though our country has largely sanitized what was a remarkably revolutionary message, the truth that spoke so many years ago is still the candor we need in our world right this very moment.

That is what we like to do to our great leaders though, isn’t it? We want the watered-down version of the story that keeps us comfortable. History is written by the victors. And though his words were terrifying to those in power during his own time, the historians were able to take a few soundbites that helped their cause and disposed of the rest.

Except in reality, they didn’t.

We still have the letter from the Birmingham Jail. We still have his speeches and sermons. We still have some of his contemporaries fighting in the halls of justice. Because racism, sexism, bigotry, classism, and all the other forms of hate that humans use as an excuse still poison the world around us. And it’s time we stop hiding behind the comfort of historical ignorance and start facing the hard truths that have not improved.

The world appears to be devolving. Prejudice rages like a roaring sea. Fabricated falsehoods enable the ignorance of the willingly deceived. And we seem to be trudging back down the road of forward movement in equality and justice for all we made during the past century – in the wrong direction.

But there is hope. It may be a tiny ember barely aglow in the depths of our souls, but it is there. Because we have seen the vision of the mountaintop in all its glory. It may take a hundred years more, but we will get there one day. However, only when we begin to take the true lessons of our ancestors seriously.

There is no moderation – there is only right and wrong in much of this situation. And whether we like it or not, not thinking of other’s needs and rights as much as our own will place us on the wrong side of history. More than that, it will place us on the wrong side of God’s story.

So how do we honor Dr. King’s 90th Birthday? Open our eyes and our ears to the injustice in our  midst. Stop pushing it away and hiding from it. And take up the fight that began two-thousand years ago. Take one step. Then another. Eventually, the upward path will become clear and the dream will be a dream no longer.

Dereliction of Duty

There are far too many times in our world when we stand by and do nothing…

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing. (Edmund Burke)

It was only two weeks ago that I sat in a hospital waiting room. Agonizing minutes felt like hours as I killed time until I could hear how surgery had gone. Once he was out, I could tell something was off because I was given the run-around by the desk clerk when I began asking questions, while the nurse and the doctor seeing my husband (not the surgeon) refused to speak directly to me. It turns out that doctor (again, not the wonderful surgeon we love, who had to remove his leg below the knee a few minutes before), but the doctor who was with him in recovery was blocking the administration of pain medication (post-surgery) until my husband agreed to this doctor’s desired course of treatment for another one of his conditions.

This story should fill you with horror and outrage. The doctor held a necessity hostage until he got his own way. In the adult world we call this malpractice. In the toddler world (that I live in thanks to my twin boys) we call this a temper tantrum. In all worlds, it is derelict and unacceptable behavior.

Why? Aside from the obvious behavioral reasons, it is so because, when we move beyond the realm of toddlers, this kind of intentional abuse of power causes people to get hurt. Real people. Like my husband. Like so many others that are the collateral damage of irresponsible, injudicious decisions of those in a position meant to serve others.

Make no mistake, not only should those in the ultimate seats of power be held responsible, but also those in a position to do something who refuse – whether out of cowardice, ineptitude, or disregard, we do not know. The desk clerk who knowingly lied to my face and the nurse who knowingly covered the wrongful actions of that doctor are nearly as liable in my eyes.

And when people get hurt – it becomes not just a human issue, but a baseline faith issue. We must do better. We have to do better. It is our job – for any who would presume to say we follow Christ – to ensure that everyone has access to necessities: food, water, healthcare, education, safety, full lives (all things for which Jesus intentionally fought during his ministry). It is also our job to make sure that those we choose to lead us do the same.

There are far too many times in our world when we stand by and do nothing. As this new year begins and many of us watch authoritative maneuvers go unchecked all around us, let us all join the path of the one who came not to be served but to serve. Speak up. Stand up. Reach out and lend a hand. Do everything in your power, whatever it may be, to make sure that no one else gets hurt.

Adeste Fideles

…then, as the shepherds have done before us, we are invited to return, glorifying and praising God for all that we have seen. 

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant! O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem; come and behold him born the King of angels: O come let us adore him, O come let us adore him, O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.

Purportedly written during the Renaissance period, possibly by a king of Portugal, this essential hymn was written and is often sung in Latin. The version we now know was first published around the turn of the twentieth-century in England. And it has been one of the final carols at King’s College for Lessons and Carols since its beginning.

The music has everyone, especially the sopranos, singing in the rafters – as it retells the wonder of the Christmas story. It invites all to come and see this miracle that God has accomplished. And then, as the shepherds have done before us, we are invited to return, glorifying and praising God for all that we have seen.

As we give thanks on this Christmas morning, may we never forget that God loves us more than we can possibly imagine and that God, Emmanuel, will always be with us.

Yea, Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning; Jesus, to thee be all glory given! Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing! O come let us adore him, O come let us adore him, O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.