Every once in a while, God taps me on the shoulder while I’m writing a blog post and says, “Not that. This.” It doesn’t happen often, but I’m encouraged when it does.
I started writing about my frustration with the church that claims Jesus. There is much I could say. But much of that is negative.
Instead, it’s this:
Jesus loves us and calls us to the truth. The truth hurts. The truth confronts us, and would free us, of our own hypocrisy. The truth will set you free, but first it will kick your butt.
Jesus loves us and calls us to love. When we seek to love others, we quickly discover the limits of how much we want to love. We learn how selfish we are. The truth hurts. Then we start to grasp our need for grace. Then we pray and decide if we want to love or stay selfish.
Jesus loves us and calls us to love others as we love ourselves. We quickly learn that we do not love ourselves the way that Jesus loves us. Often we love ourselves in a comfort-above-all, self-destructive, sometimes self-attacking way (a strange version of love, by anyone’s definition). We learn to love ourselves by speaking the truth to ourselves, by speaking as kindly to ourselves as we speak to others, by refusing to numb the pain and instead walking into the scary, painful places that can only be transformed when we face them. We are transformed into loving beings through learning to be both kinder and more truthful with ourselves. As we see how much we prefer comfort/denial over our own growth, we’re constantly confronted with how much we need grace. Then we begin to love others by offering the grace we’ve received for ourselves.
Jesus loves us and calls us to love these among us whom our culture values least. He loves them just as he loves us, but our world has deemed them unlovable, unworthy, expendable. These are our neighbors. Most often, they look and act differently than we do. Frequently, they have less than we do. Jesus loves us and challenges us to redefine our understanding of “neighbor.”
Jesus loves us and calls us to love our enemies. To love our enemies. None of us naturally loves our enemies. We come up with fanciful explanations and circuitous reasoning why that command doesn’t mean what it sounds like it does, or why killing or wounding our enemies is really some form of love. But Jesus is patient with us. He knows we are made of dust and God’s breath. He knows how bad we are at this. He also knows how we need to love our enemies, both for our enemies’ sake and for our own. So Jesus models loving his enemies and says, “Do as I have done.”
Jesus loves us and calls us to be shalom-bringers. Shalom means people in right relationship with God, with one another, and with ourselves. Sometimes we translate this as “reconciler,” “peacemaker,” or “justice seeker.” Shalom encompasses all these things. Jesus calls us to learn about injustice–to look deeper than the superficial, more comfortable explanations given by the powerful and comfortable. Jesus calls us to open our eyes to see, to open our ears to hear the cry of those suffering (as God does). Then Jesus calls us to break through our justifications and rationalizations, to own the part we have in causing–or allowing and benefitting from–injustice. We become shalom-bringers as we confront injustice in ourselves and in our culture. We become shalom-bringers as we grow to desire God’s true justice over either vengeance or superficial absence of tension. We become shalom-bringers as we learn to pursue justice with grace.
Jesus loves us and calls us to forgive. Forgive ourselves. Forgiving ourselves turns out to be wildly difficult for many of us. Refusing to forgive ourselves turns out to be a form of attempting to pay penance. But we are forgiven. Forgive others. Forgive not because we can explain it away or “they didn’t mean to” or they make it up to us, but forgive as God has forgiven us. Forgive while acknowledging the sin and hurt they’ve (or we’ve) committed. Forgive with grace that doesn’t demand a pound of flesh, grace that opens the possibility of redemption. Forgive even our enemies. Neither “It’s all good,” nor “I forgive you and you have no consequences for your actions,” but “I forgive you while fully acknowledging what you did, and I offer that to you whether or not you choose to receive it.”
Jesus loves us and calls us to repent. I don’t believe Jesus starts with “Here are all the things wrong with you.” much less, “You are an unlovable wretch and though I can’t bear the sight of you, somehow because I am God I will overcome my revulsion and forgive your sins, anyway.” I believe Jesus begins with “I love you and I like you and you’re beautiful and because these are true, I want you to stop damaging yourself and become fully alive.” Jesus loves us and is patient with us, more patient than we are with ourselves. Yet also, Jesus loves us and desires our good even when we would prefer our more comfortable or numbing self-destruction. Jesus is patient with us and confronts us with the truth; Jesus confronts us with the truth and then is patient with us. Kindness leads us to repentance.
Jesus loves us and calls us into community. He leads us not to isolate ourselves from relationships, but to find people with whom we can become fully alive. Jesus leads us to find other imperfect, loving, shalom-seeking, grace-needing and grace-offering people. Then Jesus commands us–not requests, commands us–to love others as he loves us. Truth-telling, forgiving, encouraging, helping one another to value and love (in action!) the least among us. That’s the love we offer others and that is the love we receive from others. We will love others imperfectly and will sometimes hurt those in our community; they will love us imperfectly and sometimes hurt us. Then Jesus calls us to forgive and reconcile…and the dance goes on.
Jesus loves us and calls us to share our resources, to give freely. He gives what he has–love, healing, water to wine, bread and fish–and he tells stories about giving. In none of these does Jesus ever mention whether the recipient deserves to receive. In fact, Jesus tells a parable about giving more than the recipients deserve–and how much that pisses off the “more deserving.” (Matthew 20:1-16) He tells perhaps his best-known parable, the Prodigal Son, when religous critics complain that he keeps company with people undeserving of his love (read: sinners, those valued least). Jesus calls us to share because he loves us and knows we will damage ourselves and others when we hoard; we help ourselves and others to become fully alive when we give.
Finally, Jesus loves us and calls us to share that we are loved. People need to know that their Creator loves and dotes on them. We need to know that we are made in God’s image and that cannot be stripped from us. People need to know that God offers us grace in every moment and with every breath. We need to know that this gorgeous, breath-taking world is our home to care for and God’s expression of love for us and all creation. People need to know there is forgiveness, that we are all made in God’s image and therefore we are all more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. We need to know that love conquers death.
Today, tomorrow, every day, I believe this and make my choices–how to love, how to be a dad and husband, how to be a friend, how to write, how to vote, even how to play ultimate–not merely guided by these but rooted in them. “I am the vine and you are the branches, abide in me” rooted. Then I rely on Jesus’s grace when I screw up.
I know I haven’t offered anything novel here. I’m profoundly discouraged at the state and behavior of the church. Instead of responding directly to critiques I’m receiving that appear rooted in correcting what some perceive as my liberal politics with (what I perceive as) their conservative politics, I think God nudged me to describe my calling and our calling. You may think “This doesn’t describe what the church actually does at all.” I get that. It’s still how we follow Jesus.
I can’t fix the church. I can’t fix myself. I trust Jesus to love me and lead me to change. That’s what I know and what I can share.
Jesus loves us and is faithful.