June 17, 2018

Pentecost: Society

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. 

June 10, 2018

Pentecost: Love is Work

Last time we noted that God is asking us to step out of the security of our safe ‘boats’, built of our expectations and plans. The Spirit that blew through the upper room at Pentecost still blows through our lives and asks us to respond by letting go.

At the beginning of this series we encountered Laurie Brock’s words about Loving the Violent Wind [of the Spirit]. She warns, “The love of Jesus rocks the ships of our own schemes, running them aground and forcing us to enter new communities, to open ourselves and souls to new insights, and to act boldly to serve all in the name of Jesus. Walking, preaching, living, this love is work.”

I don’t know about you, but I really don’t like the idea that ‘Jesus rocks the ships of our schemes, running them aground’. I prefer to think that I have everything neatly figured out. I’m perfectly happy with the status quo (mostly). As noted last week, we can get trapped in our own expectations and plans. We may be willing to call on God when things really get out of control, but not before.

The country-Western song Jesus Take the Wheel epitomizes our attitude toward letting God take over. Carrie Underwood sings, “Before she knew it she was spinning on a thin black sheet of glass/She saw both their lives flash before her eyes/She didn't even have time to cry/She was so scared/She threw her hands up in the air/Jesus take the wheel/Take it from my hands/Cause I can't do this on my own/I'm letting go/So give me one more chance/Save me from this road I'm on/Jesus take the wheel.” Only when we are really stuck do we call out and say, ‘Jesus take the wheel’. 

When we realize we aren’t in control, we hear Jesus say, ‘I give you a new commandment that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another’ (John 13:34) This new commandment turns our plans and worlds upside down. We can no longer view anyone as ‘other’ or mark them ‘different’ for we are called to Love one another, as I have loved you.
The quote from Desmond Tutu, below, puts this kind of love in perspective, "God loves you! And God's love is so great, God loves your enemies too."
Br. Luke Ditewig of the Society of St. John Evangelist, notes we are called to have Agape Love for one another. “This is tough love, not a feeling of the heart but a resolve of the will. It’s the love God has for all of us, love no matter what. It’s the love Jesus had for his disciples and what Jesus speaks of [in John 13:34].”

Brother Luke agrees with Laurie Brock. “Love though it’s really hard work. Following Jesus is not easy.” Then he notes, “Yet Jesus always acts first. We give out of presence not absence. Having been blessed abundantly, we bless everyone. Having been loved abundantly, we love everyone.”

How can we possibly love everyone? Br. Luke asks readers to remember “how it all began, how Jesus invited you into relationship. Remember people who have been Jesus in the flesh for you…Remember how Jesus has loved you no matter what…Jesus doesn’t suggest or invite. He commands. Love one another. Love though you don’t like.”

Did you notice that last sentence? “Love though you don’t like.” We aren’t asked to LIKE everyone, or to tolerate differences. We are to LOVE one another! And that is indeed hard soul work. 

Love happens when we allow the Spirit to ‘take the wheel’. As Brock says God calls us to “new communities, to open ourselves and souls to new insights, and to act boldly.” I wonder what new insights we are closing our eyes to by not being open to God’s charge to LOVE. There are probably communities of new friends that we don’t know yet. And infinite ways to serve one another that we haven’t yet thought of. That is when, as Brock suggests, ‘love [can be] work’.

Br. Luke closes by stating, “The way is we love others no matter what.
The truth is Jesus loves us no matter what.
The life is being restored, through love, as Jesus loves, no matter what.”

Can you ‘let Jesus take the wheel’ and be open to new things in your life?

Will you allow the Spirit to act, and offer Agape love to others, no matter what?

How can we make loving, as we are commanded to do, a work of joy?

Next time, we’ll consider how loving in this way puts us at odds with society.