Connecting With Others in the Unconditional Love of the Triune God– Love Stirs Everyone: a Reflection on Acts 10:34-43, John 20:1-1 and Psalm 118:1-2, 14, 17, 21-24

“Remember that life is precious and ephemeral, and love like there’s no tomorrow,” unequivocally states the founder of Utne Reader, Eric Utne. After Jesus’ crucifixion, Mary went home and wondered if the promise Jesus made about the tomb being empty on the third day would happen. Like Mary, who did go to the tomb on the third day, many come to church on Easter Sunday really not knowing what they’re looking for. We “…come weighed down with grief and disappointment, hungry for hope…We are all like Mary, somewhere between grief and joy, somewhere between despair and faith.”[1]Whatever forms of despair, discouragement and doubt you bring to church this day, a new way of living is available to you, because of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. There is hope, because God is connecting to us and us to God.  And, we are connecting to one another. It is God’s unconditional love that stirs us to a new way of living. What drives your interest in Easter? My friends, I ask that question too.

Three individuals are at the pearly gates of heaven. St. Peter tells them that they can enter the gates if they can answer one question. St. Peter asks the first, “What is Easter?” He replies, “Oh, that’s easy! It’s the holiday in November when everyone gets together, eats turkey, and is thankful…” “Wrong!” replies St. Peter, and proceeds to ask the second the same question, “What is Easter?” The second replies, “Easter is the holiday in December when we put up a nice tree, exchange presents, and celebrate the birth of Jesus.” St. Peter looks at the second, shakes his head in dismay, tells her she’s wrong, and then peers over his glasses at the third and asks, “What is Easter?” The third smiles confidently and looks St. Peter in the eyes, “I know what Easter is.” “Oh?” says St. Peter. “Easter is the Christian holiday that coincides with the Jewish celebration of Passover. Jesus and his disciples were eating at the last supper and Jesus was later betrayed and turned over to the Romans by one of his disciples. The Romans took him to be crucified and he was stabbed in the side, made to wear a crown of thorns, and was hung on a cross with nails through his hands. He was buried in a nearby cave which was sealed off by a large boulder.” St. Peter smiles broadly with delight. Then he continues, “Every year the boulder is moved aside so that Jesus can come out…and, if he sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter.”[2]

It is clear in the reading from The Acts of the Apostles that Jesus being raised from the dead changed everything. Everything we thought to be true needed to be rethought. All suspicions about who’s in and who’s out were shattered. Strangers, foreigners, profane, unclean were included.[3]The story told in John 20 demonstrates Mary’s hope that all would be included, because that is what Jesus taught and lived. While it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. The tomb was empty. Jesus was not there. James C. Goodloe writes, “This is the good news of Easter that God has raised Jesus Christ from the dead. This is the very content of the gospel…the major affirmation of the Christian faith…the great hope of all humanity that God has raised Jesus Christ from the dead…This is the courage, by which alone we live that God has raised Jesus Christ from the dead.”[4]And the psalmist confidently asserts that it is God’s love that endures forever. It is God’s unconditional love for humanity and creation that defeated death that early Easter morning.

Death, the end of all life as we know it, the destroyer of all dreams, the breaker of all hopes, the crushing burden of all life, and the loss of all love was defeated. Its power has been broken. The empty tomb by itself is not sufficient for faith, but it is necessary to the faith. Without the resurrection there is no hope. Whether it is love, peace, self-confidence, health or meaning, we’re all looking for something this Easter.

Our pain in the brokenness of death, despair, discouragement and doubt is fertile ground for hope. God’s unconditional love for humanity is real. God is good and his goodness is the basis for our thanksgiving. God freely gives mercy and steadfast love to those who rely on God for help and grace. Joseph A. Donnella II writes, “Our hoped-for future with God is made possible by what happens to Jesus in life, death, and resurrection.”[5]It is true, my friends, God does offer hope, restoration and salvation to all people.

Jesus is alive. Jesus is building a new intergenerational community in which we belong with God and others in significant relationships and communities to experience unconditional love. Randy Frazee writes, “In all places of effective community, the various strata of generations spend structured and spontaneous time together. Intergenerational life isn’t a luxury to be tried just to see if we like it, to see if it’s “cool.” No, it is essential for members of true community to grow and mature.”[6]Because of Jesus’ resurrection, we are given hope.

Easter is a celebration of hope. In Jesus Christ there is new life. Psalm 118:14, 17 and 24 read,  “The Lord is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation…I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord…This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” O Jesus didn’t come out of the tomb, see his shadow and declare six more weeks of winter. No, he came out of the tomb and declared that because he lives, so can we. Death loses. Life wins. You are loved, so love like there’s no tomorrow.

[1]Amy Plantiga Pauw in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018), 191.

[2]http://www.humormatters.com/holidays/easter

[3]Some ideas adapted from A. Katherine Grieb in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 2, 185.

[4]From James C. Goodloe’s sermon “Why Seek the Living Among the Dead?”

[5]Joseph A. Donnella II in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 2, 182.

[6]See Randy Frazee, The Connecting Church 2.0(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2013), 138.

Connecting With Others in the Unconditional Love of the Triune God– “Living in Thankfulness for God’s Love”: a Reflection on Luke 19:28-40 and Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29

On Palm Sunday, Christians around the world begin to celebrate the passion narrative: the significance of Jerusalem, the Upper Room, Gethsemane, the crucifixion and resurrection for the salvation of humanity. It is through the experience of this week that we can truly live in thankfulness for the unconditional love of God. Henri Nouwen writes, “You have to celebrate your chosenness constantly. This means saying ‘thank you’ to God for having chosen you, and ‘thank you’ to all who remind you of your chosenness. Gratitude is the most fruitful way of deepening your consciousness that you are not an ‘accident,’ but a divine choice.”[1]It is hard for us to get our minds around God’s unconditional love for humanity. And for that we must be thankful.

Luke 19:28-40 demands our attention. On the way into Jerusalem, Jesus reframed the title, “Lord.” He identifies the title rather than it him.[2]The crowds expected Jesus to fulfill their hopes through the use of power. Using power for the people’s benefit was the role of the King in the Jewish people’s history. And now, after hundreds of years of not being a kingdom, the Jews anticipated returning to their promised place of kingdom and power. But that was not and is not the message of kingdom defined by Jesus. Jesus had surrendered his power to the Father in order for the people to see power through obedience to the One who knew them the best and loved them the most.

Psalm 118 is the last in the series of Egyptian Hallel psalms. These psalms retell the narrative of the Exodus. Psalm 118 is a call to praise and worship. The story of salvation told in this psalm first encounters themes of sorrow, betrayal and death, before victory over death, the fulfillment of the story of salvation which the empty tomb declares. As we ponder this psalm, our cry for salvation is muted. Without any doubt, however, Psalm 118 makes the case of God’s unconditional love for humanity. Eric Wall writes, “Along the way will be the washing of feet and the covenant of love. In the clamor of the palm and psalm, we might strain to see this one who comes in God’s name; our cry for salvation might also be plaintive, weak, or whispered.”[3]

Can Christians promote the mission of the Triune God’s unconditional love the way Jesus lived it? Loving God and loving others is not easy, particularly when we realize that turning to Jesus to fix things and then turning away from Jesus when he doesn’t do for us what we want is counterproductive to the mission. Jesus’ march to Jerusalem, the Upper Room, the Garden of Gethsemane and the cross was not easy. It was the unconditional love of the Father for him and his for us that kept him faithful.Randy Frazee writes, “Christianity has a long history of overcoming obstacles and swimming against the current…They [Christians] have the power within them through Jesus Christ to make it happen.”[4]

What does being embraced by the unconditional love of God feel like? It is comforting and encouraging…strengthening and empowering. No obstacle is too hard to overcome. No fear has ultimate power over you. The decision to love is yours to make. In the midst of our journey through Holy Saturday, as we anticipate the tomb being empty on Sunday, let us feel our own sorrow, betrayal and death, yet hear the words of Psalm 118:1, “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever.”

[1]Henri J. Nouwen in “Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World.Christianity Today, Vol. 40, no. 13.

[2]Adapted from Hans Frei, The Identity of Jesus Christ: The Hermeneutical Bases of Dogmatic Theology (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975), 136.

[3]Eric Wall in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018), 110.

[4]See Randy Frazee, The Connecting Church 2.0 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2013), 131.

Connecting With Others in the Unconditional Love of the Triune God–Coming Home to Love: a Reflection on Philippians 3:4b-14, John 12:1-8 and Psalm 126

Can followers of Jesus relearn to be evangelists, that is sharers of good news in word and deed? Jonathan Edwards, the great 18thcentury Reformed theologian in a sermon titled “They Sing a New Song” remarks, “…there yet remains…to be accomplished, bringing the whole world to Christian faith and settling the world in that state of light, peace and holiness…”[1]

In Philippians 3, we learn that every human yearns for the love of home, that place of truly belonging. We yearn for the love of home, because we often experience exploitation and powerlessness. In John 12 we see Mary coming home to love in her extravagance. continues. She could only give her best to Jesus. Psalm 126 was used by the Jewish people when they journeyed to Jerusalem for the high holy day observances. The first three verses look to the past and the last three point to the future. A previous condition is remembered, but the aspirational future is claimed. God loves the people and the people want to return to that “home” experience of love. The psalmist reminds us that the journey of relationship with God is all about returning home. Home is being embraced by the Triune God of unconditional love.

Coming home to the love of God leads us to continue living a life that remains faithful, loving and beneficial to all concerned. Because Christians claim the hope and confidence that God will vindicate all that is wrong and troublesome, we believe God will save us in and through unconditional love. The past and future of being saved means knowing God in Christ and being found in God in Christ. Salvation is ours, because God acted through Israel and through Christ Jesus, “and continues to act even outside the boundaries of our understanding, in order to bring a new creation into being, despite our attempts to contain it.”[2]This way we can know the power of Jesus’ resurrection in our daily lives.

We are living in a time of great uncertainty. In Germany, anti-Semitism is back with vengeance. A domestic violence bill advances in the House of Representatives with stricter gun controls. Samantha Josephson, a 21-year-old college student in South Carolina, was stabbed to death when she got into a car, she thought was her Uber. But it was not. The driver of that car was a predator.[3]Oh, the church has a voice in helping the predator and victim, abuser and abused, hater and hated to come home to love. “In our journey with God, we, with all the complexity of our history, are now being readied by Lent for Easter, which is the ultimate proof that God can be relied upon to do a glorious new thing.”[4]Randy Frazee is right when he challenges Christians to be best neighbors. In fact, putting ourselves in “the place of our neighbors” attempting to walk where they’re walking, will find favor with them because of the kindness and character of our lives.[5]Orienting yourself to the needs of your neighbor models coming home to love.

The message of the Bible is salvation. Belief in Jesus Christ saves us from ourselves and false saviors. Our assurance of salvation is not based on merit, only grace. Let’s participate with other Presbyterian Church (USA) congregations[6]in building congregational vitality, dismantling structural racism and eliminating systemic poverty. Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated while celebrating Mass in 1980. He once proclaimed,  “Even when they call us mad, when they call us subversives and communists and all the epithets they put on us, we know we only preach the subversive witness of the Beatitudes, which has turned everything upside down…”[7]Coming home to the unconditional love of the Triune God is the fullness of our salvation.

[1]Jonathan Edwards in his sermon “They Sing a New Song.” Found in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, volume 22, edited by Harry S. Stout and Nathan O. Hatch, with Kyle P. Farley (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), 231.

[2]Richard F. Ward in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 2, 103.

[3]Incidents gleaned from The New York Times, Friday, April 5, 2019.

[4]Leigh Campbell-Taylor in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018), 99.

[5]See Randy Frazee, The Connecting Church 2.0(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2013), 107-121.

[6]See Matthew 25 in the PC(USA): A bold vision and invitationat http://www.pcusa.org

[7]Cited on the Facebook page of Unfundamentalist as taken from the website of Center For Prophetic Imagination http://www.cpimn.org

Connecting With Others in the Unconditional Love of the Triune God– Being Okay, Happy or in Love: a Reflection on 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 and Psalm 32

We are loved by theTriune God of unconditional love. We are more than “okay”or “happy.”We are “in love.”The first reading from 2 Corinthians 5 tells us that God makesus brand new people, from the inside out.That, my friends, is the significance of trusting Jesus as your Savior and Lord. God makesus brand new people, from the inside out.Paul is living proof of that. Before Paul’s conversion, let us not forget that Paul “carries concrete memories of participating in state-sanctioned murder, of crashing into people’s homes and dragging mothers and fathers off to prison.”[1]

Thegospel, the good news of liberation and freedom in Jesus,confronts our misunderstanding of Scripture, Christand grace. If we experiencedthe gospelthatthe Bible illumines,Christ exposesandgracecaptures, we wouldknow in mind, soul, and spirit personal liberation and freedomin Jesus. Why?  The unconditional love of the Triune Godis real.Robert Farrar Capon writes,

You’re worried about permissiveness–about the way the preaching of grace seems to say it’s okay to do all kinds of terrible things as long as you just walk in afterward and take the free gift of God’s forgiveness…While you and I may be worried about seeming to give permission, Jesus apparently wasn’t. He wasn’t afraid of giving the prodigal son a kiss instead of a lecture, a party instead of probation; and he proved that by bringing in the elder brother at the end of the story and having him raise pretty much the same objections you do. He’s angry about the party. He complains that his father is lowering standards and ignoring virtue–that music, dancing, and a fattened calf are, in effect, just so many permissions to break the law. And to that, Jesus has the father say only one thing: “Cut that out! We’re not playing good boys and bad boys any more. Your brother was dead and he’s alive again. The name of the game from now on is resurrection, not bookkeeping.”[2]

Resurrection, not bookkeeping.That is the context of experiencing the unconditional love of God.

Lent is the time we get in-touch with ourbookkeepingselves, the part of us that settles

for “being okay”and “being happy.”Because were so concerned about keeping score, we focus on keeping othersin the tomb. Resurrection is coming my friends. That’s the good news of Easter. Resurrection is the ticket to “being in love.”The gospel confronts our self-centeredness. Settling for being okay and/or happy is rooted in human selfishness. Think about it. Our existence is not our own.

In 2 Corinthians 5, we are taught that God reconciled the world to God’s self, not God’s self to theworld. This is Luke’s messageas well. Reconciliation is God’s work. Keeping score is out. Unconditional love is in. And Psalm 32 continues the theme. Being happy is a deep contentment of knowing that one’ssins are forgiven, being reconciled. Salvation is a continualinvitation to be defined by God’s grace.We are loved, not because of our goodness or our badness, but because we are created in the image ofGod. Randy Frazee is rightwhen he challenges Christians to find a common place for community with one another. Community that finds a common place around which to gather is one that is spontaneous, available, values frequency of gathering, shares meals and a shared geography.[3]  This shared community is rooted in the unconditional love of the Triune God.

God desires each of us to be fully embraced by and experience the unconditional love of the God. Let the gospel confront your absence of hope; your brokenness; your merit-based thinking; your disbelief; and your self-centeredness so that you begin to experience and live into your reconciliation with God. You are unconditionally loved by the Triune God.

[1]William Greenway in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018), 85.

[2]Robert Farrar Capon, Between Noon and Three,Christianity Today, Vol. 30, No. 7.

[3]See Randy Frazee, The Connecting Church 2.0(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2013), 89-105.

Connecting With Others in the Unconditional Love of the Triune God–America Loves Big: a Reflection on 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, Luke 13:1-9 and Psalm 63:1-8

“The cost of food in the kingdom is hunger for the bread of heaven, instead of the white bread of the world. Do you want it? Are you hungry? Or are you satisfied with yourself and your television and your computer and your job and your family?”[1]John Piper’s on to something. We’re far too easily pleased. Yet, Americans like life big. We want bigger and better things. We want to live a life bigger than life. We have an insatiable thirst for big, bigger, biggest. However, to live big, we need a mission for life that is bigger than our humanness.

Do you want the benefits of what the kingdom of God promises? My parents taught me to know that my life counted and that I was on earth to make a difference. They had me baptized into the covenant community of faith when I was an infant. They prayed for me. The Sunday school teachers and youth leaders at Millbrook Presbyterian Church in Fresno, California discipled me. I responded to God’s love for me in Jesus Christ in the 8thgrade Communicants Class. Bible studies, prayer meetings, worship, evangelism, mission projects, and social justice agendas characterized the culture of my church.

Every American knows that we’re entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That is our national mission statement. Live happily ever after. Janet and I celebrated our 40thwedding anniversary in January What if the conversation went like this? Janet, “Tomorrow is our 40thwedding anniversary.”  Janet said, “Thirty-eight years of happy marriage.” “But we’ve been married forty years,” I said. “Thirty-eight out of forty isn’t bad,” Janet replied.[2]Being happy is not a compelling bigger than life mission. Happiness is fleeting.

Vaclav Havel, the former president of the Czech Republic, poses the question, “What indeed could change the tendencies of today’s civilizations?”[3]He writes, “It is my deep conviction that the only option is a change in the sphere of the spirit, in the sphere of human conscience, in the actual attitude of man toward the world. It is not enough to invent new machines, new regulations, or new institutions. We must understand differently and more perfectly the true purpose of our existence on this earth.”[4]We need a change in the human spirit and that is a work of God’s Spirit.

1 Corinthians 10 challenges us that we are designed to live connected to one another. We’re not wired to be lone rangers. We need each other. As Christians, our differences are overcome by our unity in Jesus. In Luke 13, we learn that growth is the sign that life is being lived bigger than life. The fig tree was a mature tree given the owner’s expectation that it should bear fruit. But for three years the tree regularly disappointed the owner. The vineyard worker is ordered to cut the tree down, but asks for one more year to nurture it. Psalm 63 reminds us that the human soul yearns for God. The Hebrew word translated “soul” in the NRSV originally meant “throat” or “neck.” J. Clinton McCann writes, “Apparently because everything necessary for the sustenance of life—water, food, air—gasses through the throat or neck, the word came to mean something like “vitality, life,” even “appetite.”[5]Thus, the “soul” is the entry point for all that we need to live a life bigger than life. Mark Buchanan relates the following about what is necessary to sustain a life that is bigger than life:

Imagine that you just found out you have a rare and terminal illness. You sit down with your doctor. “Is there no hope?” you ask. “Well,” he says, “there is one thing. Without this one thing, it’s over. But with this one thing, you will be completely healed. But let me be utterly clear: It’s impossible for you to live without this one thing. “What would you say? “Listen, Doc, you’re boring me. My favorite sitcom is starting in five minutes, and I wouldn’t miss it for anything. I don’t have time for these silly cat-and-mouse games. See ya.” Or, “Well that’s interesting. But, Doctor, that’s your opinion. You are completely entitled to it, and I’m sure it makes you feel better for having expressed it. But I resent your attempt to impose it upon me. I really don’t need this kind of psychological blackmail, this medical fascism. Good-bye and good riddance.” Or, “What? What is it? Tell me now! I have to know, and I won’t leave until I do!” Of course, the only sane response is the last one. If we are saved by faith, and if we live by faith, and if it is impossible to please God without faith, the only sane response is: What is it? What is this faith? You have to tell me! I have to know, and I’m not leaving until I do![6]

As the psalmist states, God’s “steadfast love is better than life.”[7]Do you believe that? Now experiencing more and more of God’s steadfast love is big. “Having a common purpose is precisely what made the first century church in Jerusalem so dynamic…the believers were all on the same page: they had a common purpose…all the believers were one in heart and mind.”[8]

What is big, bigger and biggest for your life, for you to live the way God intends it to be? Seeking more of God’s own self to define and motivate you. Randy Frazee is right. Having more of God’s own self defining and motivating us is our common purpose. Psalm 63:1 reads, “O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” Participate in God’s mission of redeeming all of creation. Now that’s big.

[1]John Piper from the sermon “The Present Power of a Future Possession,” preached at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota (4-27-97). This citation was found on http://www.preachingtoday.com.

[2]Adapted from a story told by Tony Campolo about a conversation he and Peggy had about their wedding anniversary.

[3]Civilization, April/May 1998, 52.

[4]Ibid.

[5]J. Clinton McCann Jr. in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018), 66.

[6]Mark Buchanan, Things Unseen (Multnomah Press, 2002), 140-141.

[7]Psalm 63:3a

[8]Randy Frazee, The Connecting Church 2.0(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2013), 55.

 

Learning From and With The Triune God of Unconditional Love–Being Clear About Our Love Identity: a Reflection on 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2, Exodus 34:29-35 and Luke 9:28-36

Brandon Cook was visiting his ailing grandmother in a New Hampshire hospital. Nearby was a Panera café. The following letter explains what happened and was posted by the family on the Panera Facebook page:

My grandmother is passing soon with cancer. I visited her the other day and she was telling me about how she really wanted soup, but not hospital soup because she said it tasted awful; she went on about how she would really like some clam chowder from Panera. Unfortunately, Panera only sells clam chowder on Friday. I called the manager, Sue, and told them the situation. I wasn’t looking for anything special just a bowl of clam chowder. Without hesitation she said absolutely she would make her some clam chowder. When I went to pick it up, they wound up giving me a box of cookies as well. It’s not that big of a deal to most, but to my grandma it meant a lot. I really want to thank Sue and the rest of the staff from Panera in Nashua, NH just for making my grandmother happy. Thank you so much!

Within days that short post received more than 800,000 likes. More importantly, more than 35,000 people took the time to write a brief Facebook message commending the bakery. The authors of the 2014 book A World Gone Socialtell the story and write about the effects:

The next quarter, Panera’s same-store sales increased 28 per cent. The quarter after, same-store sales were up 34 per cent. Sure, there’s no way of proving that this was all a direct result of the Facebook post, but the rapidly spreading goodwill generated by one person performing one moment of kindness, amplified nearly a million times over, certainly had a significant effect.[1]

People are captivated by something or someone bigger than themselves when kindness is paid forward. Michael Horton in his book A Better Way writes, “Today people want to see God. Not content with hearing God’s Word, they want to see God’s glory.”[2]Today is Transfiguration of the Lord Sunday. The glory of God was shown to Peter, James and John that day twenty centuries ago. Likethen, but today even more so, people want to see God.

Moses went to Mount Sinai twice. The first account is in Exodus 24 and the second Exodus 34. The first journey confirmed God’s covenant with the people and the second is a personal conversation with God and Moses needs to veil his face from the face/glory of God. In 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2, Paul utilizes the Old Testament story about Moses’ appearance after being with God to talk about the Christian life. Moses’ appearance had been shaped by his experience with God. The Hebrews focused on Moses, not the Tablets of Commandments. Just as the Hebrews looked at Moses and knew he had been talking with God, so people should be able to see in the face of Christians evidence that we have been with Jesus.  In Luke 9, Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him and led them up a high mountain. As Elijah and Moses were talking with Jesus, Peter exclaimed, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” But a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him.”[3]Peter, James and John were in God’s presence.[4]

The veil between God and God’s people has been shattered. The cross and empty tomb did that. We can get close to God and God to us. Yet, the church over the centuries has clouded our vision or sight of God. Many of our doctrines have become veils which systematize the faith and hide the love of God. Christians must not hide behind the veils of doctrine and practice. In a country where the disparity between rich and poor is growing and children die of the effects of poverty, a veiled faith will not work. We must do more than discuss hunger, deliberate on immigration, debate the ethical demands of homelessness and pay lip service to end discriminating against categories of people based on race, age, sexual orientation, gender and immigration status.

The lesson of the Transfiguration is this: if we have experienced salvation in and through Jesus Christ, then we are to live with veils removed, engaging the needs of society, and partnering with others to make systemic change. The Transfiguration teaches us that when captivated by and with the very presence of God we are not to veil that experience and hide it from others. To the contrary, we are to go into the Saddleback Valley with the good news that in Jesus Christ life can be different both now and forever. As Gradye Parsons reminds us in Our Connectional Church, we must place an emphasis on thinking. When the clergy and church members are thinkers, they’ve created a culture to ask questions, seek relevance and become life-long learners. Parsons writes, “Being able to ask questions about the faith without judgement creates a community—a community that is not afraid to learn together through exploration. A community that is courageously applying faith to context. Where is God calling us to love our neighbors.”[5]Faith in Jesus Christ actually joins us with his power, person and purpose.

Look at the Table. See the body and blood of Jesus given and poured out for you. Look at the Table and see unconditional love not held back, but freely shared. Like Brandon Cook and that Panera manager, we are to live with boldness characterized by love for God and others.

[1]From http://www.preachingtoday.com. Ted Coine and Mark Babbitt, A World Gone Social(American Management Association, 2014); submitted by Jerry De Luca, Montreal West, Quebec, Canada.

[2]Michael Horton, A Better Way(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2002), 36.

[3]Luke 9:33 and 35.

[4]I am grateful for the thinking and writing of James H. Evans Jr., David A. DeSilva and Diane G. Chen in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 1(Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018), 300-301, 307-309 and 312-314.

[5]Gradye Parsons, Our Connectional Church(Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018), 68.

Learning From and With The Triune God of Unconditional Love–Loving on Fumes: a Reflection on 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50 Genesis 45:3-11 and Luke 6:27-38

It is true that we drink from our own wells. Yes, what you fill your life with becomes nourishment. So, if I read the Bible, pray, engage in life-long learning, attend worship, participate in a small group, give from my life’s wallet and serve others, I am filling my life with things that pertain to God. Thus, when I need a drink of God to sustain me, which I always do, the well is full. Think of the things with which you fill your life? What’s in your well? And that’s where grace comes in.

Hassan John, a Christian pastor from Jos, Nigeria, is regarded as an “infidel” by Muslim extremist Boko Haram insurgents and has a price on his head of 150,000 Naira (about 800 American dollars). He goes to his church each day not knowing whether someone will murder him in order to claim the price on his head. As an Anglican pastor and as a part-time journalist for CNN, the 52-year-old Hassan has often been surrounded by violence and bloodshed in northeast Nigeria. He’s seen friends shot dead or injured in front of his eyes. As a reporter, he has often rushed to the scene immediately after bombings. He has narrowly escaped death himself. Hassan said, “You see it again and again and again. You get to places where a bomb [planted by Muslim extremists] has just exploded. There are bodies all over the place. You visit people in the hospital. You go back and meet families, you cry with them, you console them, you do the best you can with them all the time.” But this violence and hatred has not stopped him from reaching out to his Muslim neighbors who need Christ. After he helped a small Muslim girl who could not go to school after her father had been killed in the violence, he started to reach out to other orphan children. Soon he was helping 12 Muslim women, then 120. Young Muslim men in the area are starting to ask if they can find help as well. Hassan’s evangelistic outreach involves eating meals with Muslims. Hassan explained, “Now in Nigeria that is a big thing. You don’t eat with your enemy because you are afraid that you will be poisoned. Now [in an attempt to share the gospel,] Christians build friendships with Muslims; it is just so marvelous.”[1]

Hassan John’s well is full of God’s grace. Grace always transforms us. But there is a cost when our lives are low on God’s grace. If our faith is in survival mode, that is, our well is low on “God,” we become discouraged, depleted and almost hostile toward God and others. As Gradye Parsons reminds us in Our Connectional Church, we mustn’t focus on what we lack, but on God’s abundance and place our lives and our churches in the place to drink from God’s deep well of faithfulness.[2]So, loving on fumes is a life that avoids change because its hard and holds on to fear because of the unknown. But God’s well requires us to risk and claim hope. Then, grace matters. The well of grace sustains us when we stumble and fall in the risk/hope process.

The decisions we make, within the 24 hours we get each day, matter. Just like filling up the car with gas matters. Cars don’t work well on fumes. Nor do humans. In 1 Corinthians 15 we learn that what we put in our bodies is either perishable or imperishable. That is, it will sustain us in loving God and others, or it will be short-lived. Our bodies are the temple of God. What we do with them for the number of days we have on the planet matters. Our lives, preresurrection and postresurrection, are freed from the fumes of sinful sources that supply our wells when we take seriously that faith in Jesus Christ actually joins us with his power, person and purpose.[3]Genesis 45, in its focus on Joseph and his family, indicates that the greatest act of grace is the gift of forgiveness. God forgives us. We accept it. And we are to do the same, practice forgiveness. Forgiveness fills our tanks with good “God stuff” for the journey. Not to receive or give forgiveness is like putting an intravenous line of 91 proof Bourbon in your body to quench a thirst. And Luke reminds us that life is not easy. Living with the mantra of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” will defeat us in the end. Seeking retribution is an example of loving God and others on fumes. Retribution is not life giving. It is life consuming.

Hassan John did not live his life on fumes when he was loving his Muslim neighbors and orphaned children. Loving on fumes has no love to give away. Robert Darden writes, “The more love we give away, the more love will come back to us, in greater measure, until it cannot be contained.”[4]Loving on fumes is not sustainable. God’s grace, however, will fill you with love overflowing. Playing life nice and being motivated by fear is replaced with trusting God in risk and banking hope on God’s faithfulness. Fumes are replaced with grace filled faith. What’s in your well?

[1]Matt Woodley, editor, PreachingToday.com; sources: Clement Ejiofor, “Boko Haram Placed a Bounty on Christian Pastor from Jos,” Naij.com (12-3-15); personal interview with Hassan John in Nigeria.

[2]Gradye Parsons, Our Connectional Church(Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018), 55-64.

[3]I am grateful for James C. Miller’s thinking and writing in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 1 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018), 262-263.

[4]Robert F. Darden in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 1, 269.