“I give you a new commandment that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another,” says Jesus. It is not easy to live fully into this commandment. Yet, as Br. Luke Ditewig of the Society of St. John Evangelist, notes, “life is being restored, through love, as Jesus loves, no matter what.”
Laurie Brock states in her 50 Days post, “embodying this love will almost always cause us to run aground on the qualities the social culture values. Like Peter, Paul, and the early followers of Jesus, if we're loving right, we will find ourselves at odds with those who preach affluence at all cost, caring for the poor and needy only if they deserve it, and rhetoric that dehumanizes those people.”
Throughout these early weeks of Pentecost we have been considering the radical call of the Holy Spirit to a different kind of discipleship and to growth. We may have to change the way we live. We may find ourselves pushed to speak up for the disenfranchised. We may even find our comfortable and well-ordered lives turned upside down. It happened to the first disciples.
How do we start to live so that the world knows we are a follower of Jesus? In Acts 4:13, we read, “When [the Jewish leaders] saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”
Remember Peter and John had been arrested for teaching and healing in Jesus’ name. They are questioned by “Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family…‘By what power or by what name did you do this?’” (Acts 4:6-7)
The same Peter who was cowering in the upper room not so many days previously and who had denied Jesus in the courtyard of Caiaphas a couple months earlier, finds his voice. His response had nothing cowardly or quavering about it. “Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’ There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:8-12)
Surely something has happened to turn Peter from the fear-filled, turn-tail who denied Jesus to someone who will tell that same man that he ‘rejected the cornerstone’. That same Someone is at work transforming our fear-filled lives so that we, too, can stand up to authorities and say ‘that is wrong’ and ‘there is no other name under heaven’.
Peter’s courageous response causes the leaders to decide they cannot punish Peter and John. Instead, “to keep it from spreading further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” (Acts 4:17) Rather than obeying, “Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.’ After threatening them again, they let them go, finding no way to punish them because of the people, for all of them praised God for what had happened. For the man on whom this sign of healing had been performed was more than forty years old.” (Acts 4:19-22)
Jesus promises that when “they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Matthew 10:17-20)
Does that mean that we all should be participating in protests and trying to find a ‘cause’? Perhaps, perhaps not. If that is your call and where your heart says, ‘I must speak out about this injustice’, then yes, go and take a stand!. However, there is also need for small candles of love. A little light in the darkness can be just as important. Josh Wilson, in his new contemporary Christian song Dream Small points to all the little things we do that are part of the Kingdom.
He sings of “a momma singing songs about the Lord…a daddy spending family time the world said he cannot afford… It's visiting the widow down the street or dancing on a Friday with your friend with special needs. These simple moments change the world.” The chorus summarizes, “So dream small/Don't bother like you've gotta do it all/Just let Jesus use you where you are/One day at a time/Live well/Loving God and others as yourself/Find little ways where only you can help/With His great love/A tiny rock can make a giant fall/So dream small.”
We may be called before ‘councils and governors’, or we may just have to ‘dance with your friend with special needs’. Both are ways to stand up to the society that marginalizes and separates. God’s love calls to unity and to one Body and to love.
Through the ‘new commandment’ to love God, love neighbor, love self; we discover as Br Luke says, “life is being restored, through love.”
Where can you ‘Dream Small’ to make a difference?
In what ways and places are you called to, as Laurie Brock says, “embody this love [that] will almost always cause us to run aground on the qualities the social culture values”?
Next time, we’ll look at what kind of courage it takes to live into God’s call to love.