Friday, May 12, 2006

The Ethic of Love

A couple of things...

Sheryl has an ultrasound today to see how Connor is doing. Please be praying that everything goes well.

Episode 10 of the Post Restorationist Radio podcast is now available and it's on Evangelism. Adam and I stress the idea of relationship as the key in a post Christian context and how convincing doesn't really work for most people anymore.

I've also started a new podcast called Teaching the Kingdom. I'm preparing for a class this summer where I'm going to be talking about the Kingdom. I'm planning on recording them, much like I'm recording Lee Camp's class on the Atonement. I gave the talk at Otter Creek's Evening Prayers service this last Sunday, the text of which I'm posting here today. However, if you want to actually HEAR it, I've posted it at the Teaching the Kingdom site.

Anyway, for some context, the Scriptures that I based the talk on Wednesday night are Leviticus 19: 2, 9-18; Revelation 19: 1, 4-9; and John 13:31-35.

Do some of you remember the old devo song, "Love, Love, Love/ The Gospel in one word is Love/ Love your neighbor as yourself/ Love, love, love." And then we would go on and sing about how the one word was peace, and then other words, which always made me wonder: If the Gospel in one word was love, why the others too?

I say that as kind of a joke, but the Scriptures tonight really drove home the power of that one word: Love. And what I see as I look at these passages is that story of God's love and how we should love each other, from the past, to the present, and as Revelation shows us, past the future. And we see in here that when Jesus preached about love for each other was not new to him. Its basis lay in the Hebrew Covenant, in the Torah, in the Law. When Jesus talks about fulfilling the Law and the Prophets, this is what he means.

We serve and follow a God that loved us enough to offer Jesus for us. We serve and follow a God who passionately pursues us, who when He sees us returning to Him, cares nothing for His own propriety, but like the father in the story of the lost son, runs to us. If that is the love and grace and mercy and compassion that God shows us, how can we not reflect that same love back to Him and out to others?

We see in these Scriptures the love that we are called to live out. How we should treat those around us. How we should interact with our brothers and sisters. How we will show our love for God. And it is this love that should be the dominant force in our lives. It is this love that compels us to follow God, to follow the crucified and risen Christ. It is the story that we see in Scripture. We are called to be a loving people.

But as I think about that, I think about how easy it becomes to marginalize that call to love. For instance, we look at the Leviticus passage, and we see direct application to a situation today. When it says to leave the last bunch of grapes and those that fall on the ground to the poor and foreigners living among us, does that not speak a prophetic word to how we should treat the foreigner in this country?

And when Jesus calls us to love each other, doesn't that speak directly to how we interact with each other as brothers and sisters in Christ? Especially when we disagree? What if we disagree about worship styles? What if we disagree about church organization?

You see, it's very easy to follow Jesus when the personal cost is nonexistent or when it doesn't call me to alter my thinking or worse, my actions in certain areas. When I can come to church on Sundays (or Wednesdays, if I'm really holy), get my God points taken care of for the week, it's an easy thing to call myself a Christian. I mean, why not? I can still do pretty much what I want.

But it's in the hard stuff that we really have to decide if following Jesus is worth the cost that it can take from us. What do I do when Jesus' call to love interferes with what I want to do or what makes me comfortable? What does it mean when it calls me to love the convict at the maximum security prison? The homosexual? The legalist?

The call of God is a call to ethic of love. It is a call for us as the followers of Christ to die to ourselves. And the truth is that it is an impossible call. We cannot do it by ourselves. When Christ calls for us to love our neighbors as ourselves, it is something that we have to work hard at doing. It's something that we have to say, "I am going to love my neighbor." And guess what, even in making that decision, we are still going to fail. We're going to fall short of God's call in Leviticus to be holy. And so we must die to ourselves. We must daily, perhaps more often than that, put to death the old person, the sinful person. Our commitment to follow Christ is the commitment to not live according to what we want at the expense of those around us. It is a call to love those around us, to seek what is best for them.

And here is the promise of resurrection. Here is the promise of the Easter season that we celebrate at this time of year. When we die to ourselves, we are raised up in Christ. Water baptism might be a singular event for most of us, but the baptism of life into Christ is a constant ongoing process. We have to die to ourselves, knowing the promise that we will be raised up in Christ, given the power of the Holy Spirit to do the will of Christ, that is to be known for our love! That is what life to its fullest is! We are not called to be saved and then sit on our hands and wait for Heaven, mourning the fact that we didn't die immediately after our baptism, hoping to get other people to join our Heaven-waiting club. That is not the life that Jesus called us to. He called us to be out and about in the towns and cities and countrysides sharing the good news of the Kingdom, that God's reign has come and we are invited to participate in it. That is what we have been called to. How sad is it that people can associate Christianity with hatred. How sad is it that Christians are more known for what we stand against than who we stand for.

We have a calling to love, to share the love of God. May God give us the strength to die to ourselves in order to live that love out to a world that desperately needs it. May we exemplify that love to a church that desperately needs to be reminded of it. And tonight, may we seek to show that love to each other, people who desperately seek it.

1 comment:

judy thomas said...

Amen, Phil. Thank you. I am sorry I didn't hear you in person.

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