Thursday, May 14, 2009

We are friends and lovers...forever.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.John 15:9-17

Love characterises the Father’s relation with Jesus and Jesus’ relation with us, his disciples. ‘God is love’ is that basis for all relationships of the people of God. Now it is interesting that the language of command also appears, but as stated before the command is simple: ‘Love one another, as I have loved you’ which is a direct reference back to Jesus’ words to the disciples when he washed their feet. (John 13:33-34). Keeping God’s commandments is language familiar enough to John, to his readers from their Jewish background, and to us today, but we are not being told to keep the Ten Commandments or even a revised version of them based on Jesus’ ethical teachings. Jesus centres it all on himself and reduces it simply to love for one another.

Then Jesus offers himself as the model of love in verse 13. We are to give our lives for our friends just as Jesus has repeatedly indicated that he is going to give his life for his friends. In our case Jesus is not talking about some sort of sacrificial giving, but simply a love that is willing to risk everything, to go so far as to face danger, endure suffering and suffer death to express itself.

The love of Jesus is further revealed in that we are no longer servants, but friends. It is interesting that the Church has continually emphasised the imagery of servitude and used the language of serving and servitude in defining the Christian life. Maybe a little correction is in order and deserves some more thought. God does not want slaves...God wants companions. God did not create us to serve him...but to live in relationship with him. Knowing this should make us rethink how we see our relationship with him. We are Jesus’ friends.

But note that we have not chosen him. Jesus has chosen us. Paul reminds us that it was while we were still enemies of God that Jesus came for us. There is no room here or anywhere in Scripture for the idea that somehow, through our own good living, our own personal piety, our own strength of faith, we have drawn ourselves into an intimate relationship of faith and love with God. God has come for us. God has chosen us. God has loved us first and therefore we are now able to love him and one another in the power and strength of his love for us. This is made clear by the difficulty we face in giving our lives slowly, day by day, in love for the world.

Philip Yancy reflects on the love of God in his book What’s so amazing about Grace. He writes:

"I am the one Jesus loves."...the slogan came from the author and speaker Brennan Manning. At a seminar, Manning referred to Jesus' closest friend on earth, the disciple named John, identified in the Gospels as "the one Jesus loved." Manning said, "If John were to be asked, 'What is your primary identity in life?' he would not reply, 'I am a disciple, an apostle, an evangelist, an author of one of the four Gospels,' but rather, 'I am the one Jesus loves.'"

So think for a moment...What would it mean if you saw your primary identity in life as "the one Jesus loves"? How differently would you view yourself at the end of a day?

There is theory in the field of sociology called “the looking-glass self”. That is you become what the most important person in your life (wife, father, boss, etc.) thinks you are. How would your life change if you truly believed the Bible's astounding words about God's love for you? How would it change if you looked in the mirror and saw what God sees?

Philip Yancey goes on to say:

Brennan Manning tells the story of an Irish priest who, on a walking tour of a rural parish, sees an old peasant kneeling by the side of the road, praying. Impressed, the priest says to the man, "You must be very close to God." The peasant looks up from his prayers, thinks a moment, and then smiles, "Yes, he's very fond of me." [pp. 68-69]

If Jesus was all about perfection and holiness in the religious game -- he should have chosen the Pharisees. They were the extremely pious people in the first century. They were the ones who prayed at least three times a day. They knew their Bibles. They worked hard at obeying every one of God's laws. They fasted once or twice a week to show their religious devotion to God. They gave 10% of their income.

Who did Jesus choose? Jesus chose us -- known sinners, known to be somewhat less than perfect, known to have all kinds of problems in our lives. So you see it is not about holiness or perfection or piety or even faith. It is about love. Knowing that we are loved by God. Living in the love of God. Loving one another. And it is worth noting what happens when this love is fulfilled. Jesus speaks of joy. He affirms human joy as the fruit of divine love. Again we need a reminder about this. The goal is not a purity which is spotless and stark, morbid and serious, but joyful and joy-filled as it fulfils itself in love.

It is being filled with joy! Having life abundantly! Having fun! And loving richly!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Hearts big enough for the miracles!

Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.
"Where did this man get these things?" they asked. "What's this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.
Jesus said to them, "Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor."
He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith. (Mark 6:1-6)

An interesting and disturbing picture emerges from this story recorded in the gospel according to Mark. Jesus returns to his home town. As he teaches in the synagogue and the word gets around about the miracles that he has performed what grows in the heart of those who hear and see him is indignation. They take offense. How dare Jesus think that he could say and do such things there. So hardened are the hearts of the people that Jesus is unable to reveal the fullness of God’s work and will there. Mark tells us that only “a few sick people” were healed. The work of God and faith are tightly linked here. Sadly we see how human small-mindedness and hard-heartedness can cut off the God of grace and stop him from working not only in the individual’s life, but also in the life of the community. All of Nazareth missed out, not just a few selected people.

What was it that offended them so? From the text it appears that the people of Nazareth thought they knew Jesus too well. He was ordinary, one of them. He had a mother and some brothers and sisters who stilled lived in the town. “If he really is God’s son...if he really is the messiah...then he just can’t be so much like us!” is the way the people were thinking. Ironically the opposite is true.
For Jesus to be the messiah, the chosen one sent by God to deliver us, he has to be ordinary. He has to be one of us. Jesus must live under the law, face the temptation of sin, and experience the darkness of death in order for you and me to be freed from the power and our fear of sin, guilt, death and the devil. It is when we try to make Jesus ‘superhuman’ that we find ourselves struggling to believe and cutting ourselves off from the gracious God who is seeking to pour his blessing, his power, his grace, his love into our lives.

In an article entitled Miracle Worker, based on the above text, Jim Callahan writes:

“Yes, his mama was Mary, and he had sisters and brothers with names and faces and backaches. The Gospels proclaim that God was his father, and he proclaimed that God is your father and mother too, and mine everyone’s. When we begin to really believe that, when we seek God in the ordinary, daily wash of things and find God in nothing more complicated than each other and in God’s beautiful, dangerous, gorgeous creation, "mighty works" begin to happen. Works of mercy and compassion. Works of healing and commiseration. Works of forgiveness and understanding and of great laughter. Frederick Buechner was right, I believe, in asserting that miracles do not evoke faith so much as faith evokes miracles.” (The Christian Century, June 21-28, 2000, p. 679)

Underlying all this is that miracles, the mighty works of God, are as much dependent on us as they are on God’s action. What if the paralysed man had not gotten up and picked up his bed? What if the friends had not brought the sick man to Jesus? What if the woman with the haemorrhage had not pushed through the crowd to touch Jesus? What would have happened if Lazarus instead of coming out of the tomb and simply called out to Jesus, “But I’m dead!?”? At some point in every miracle the individual must participate or respond in some way.

So often we pray for miracles, look for miracles, hope for miracles to help us deal with life and its difficulties and hardships. We do this because the belief in God’s action gives us hope and assurance that we can prevail...that we can overcome...any and everything that comes our way. But the truth is more difficult in that sooner or later the rubber has to hit the road. Sooner or later we need to step out in faith believing in the promises of God and act in faith believing that God is answering prayer. Like the people of Nazareth we need to see that God comes in ordinary ways and works in ordinary things and through ordinary people. Pray for a job, but it helps to register on and read the employment ads. Pray for relief from financial hardships, but you might want to get some financial advice or talk to your bank and begin tightening up on the budget. Pray for the church to grow, but start participating in the life of the church yourself and invite others to come and be gracious to all you meet each day so that the light of Christ can shine through you so people can see.

I believe in miracles. I believe in praying for miracles to take place. But I also believe that what is needed are hearts big enough for the miracles to take place. Hearts large with grace, generosity, kindness, compassion, mercy and love.

How big is your heart?