Saturday, January 17, 2015

Thread of Love

Today is poet William Stafford’s birthday.  In “The Way It Is,” William Stafford says:

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

Love is the thread.  The joyful love which makes us who we are: beloved and cherished children of God.  The tender and tenacious love in which there is “no condemnation” and from which there is “no separation.”  The healing love which restores us amid brokenness and forgives us after failure.  The transforming love which turns fear to compassion and anger into a passion for justice.  The reconciling love which makes strangers into friends and enemies into companions.

To be sure, things change.  We inflict hurt and get hurt. Tragedies happen. Time passes. Death comes.  But we’re never lost and never alone. We have the thread, and we won’t ever let go.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Sunday School Lessons

I’m thankful for some essential truths I learned as a child in Sunday School at the First Baptist Church of Conley, GA, truths so profound that they still challenge and guide me.  They came in two songs:

            Jesus loves me.  This I know, for the Bible tells me so.

Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.  Jesus loves the little children of the world.

And in the Bible verse  which I heard more than any other, John 3:16 (in the King James Version):

For God so loved the world that he give his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.

God so loved, and so loves, the world—so much more than we can imagine and at a cost so much higher than we can comprehend. Jesus lived and died and lives among us to make that love unmistakably clear and immediately near.

Jesus fed and feeds the hungry, healed and heals the sick, welcomed and welcomes the shunned, embraced and embraces the shamed, forgave and forgives the guilty, inspired and inspires hope in the desperate.

In Jesus, with Jesus and through Jesus, God lavishes tender mercy on all of us: on every human being, young and old, men and women, friend and stranger, companion and enemy “red and yellow, black and white.” They are all, we are all, God’s children, precious in God’s sight.  In Jesus, God says: “I love you.  Let yourself be loved. Love one another as I have loved you.”

I’m still trying to learn what I thought I had already learned, long ago, in Sunday School.  Of course, I didn’t know then how much unlearning I would also need to do.

Most of us feel we aren’t worthy of this love. We know too much about ourselves: our fears, failures, sins and regrets. 

We can’t silence the echoing voices of our early years, voices which tell us we aren’t enough: not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, handsome enough, strong enough, or cool enough. 

We know we don’t measure up to what our cultures says a worthy human being looks like.  The culture says that, before we can be loved, we have to lose weight, get a better job, move to a nicer neighborhood, drive a sportier car, get sober, be straight, land the lead role in the school play, be a starter on the team, fix everything we’ve broken, and guarantee the happiness of everyone who counts on us.
Despite our feelings, the good news is that there is nothing we have to do to be worthy of love. Worthiness isn’t a reward for extraordinary achievement or a bonus for exceptional performance. It’s not a merit badge we earn or a trophy we get at the end of a winning season. 

Worthiness is a gift from God, a sheer gift of identity, a gift we already have.  We are worthy of love because God created and cherishes us, because we bear God’s image, and because we are God’s children. 

Jesus makes it possible for us to enjoy the gift. With Jesus, we experience what he experienced at the moment of his baptism.  God immerses us in grace and overwhelms us with mercy. God raises us to new and radiant life. We see the heavens opened, and we know that there is no separation between us and the divine. The Spirit flutters around us with bright wings of energy and hope, then rests on us with promise and peace. And, God affirms who we are; God says to us what God says to Jesus: “You are my son, my daughter.  I love you.  I take great delight in you.”    

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Way and the Goal

Across nearly 38 years of ministry, I have never seen, both inside and outside the church, more restless seeking than I see just now.  People are on a quest for something, for someone, higher, holier and more beautiful than they have yet encountered.  

They—we—are looking for bedrock truth on which to build a stable life, a life that doesn’t crumble in crisis.

We want reasons to live that are more meaningful than being consumed by consumption; we don’t want our lives to be little more than decades of earning and spending, working and worrying, climbing the ladder or failing to climb it. 

We’re searching for ways to make a difference in our troubled world, to overcome the temptations of apathy and indifference, and to leave things better than we found them. 

Most of all, we’re yearning for acceptance and love—to be known, understood, and welcomed.

The best response I have to all this seeking, questing, searching, and yearning is Jesus.  From my own experience, I know him to be the bright star which rises in a dark night. He is the way and the goal of the journey.  He’s the road to home and home itself. 

God’s glory shines from Jesus’ human face. God’s wonder pulses in the story of his life, death, and resurrection. God’s compassion touches us in his mercy; and God’s forgiveness restores us in his grace.  Jesus reveals love to be the heart of God’s heart, and he calls us to live for nothing less and nothing other than love: love for God, love for neighbor, and love for self.  

Jesus welcomes all of us. He cherishes every one of us.  He knows us, understands us, and loves us.  And, he transforms us into people who can know, understand, love and embrace one another.

Jesus doesn’t need for me to judge people. In fact, he forbids me to do it, because he knows that I don’t know enough about anyone else’s strengths and struggles, limits and possibilities, hurts and hopes to judge what they’ve done or failed to do. 

Besides, I’ve got more than enough to do, tending to my own shortcomings and weaknesses.

Jesus doesn’t ask me to fix or change other people either. As a friend of Anne Lamott’s said to her: “Three things I cannot change are the past, the truth, and you.”  (Help, Thanks, Wow, 31).  I’m not capable of converting, changing, or transforming another person.  That’s the work of the Spirit, not my work, and the Spirit knows how people are wired-up. what’s good and right from them and what God wants for them.  That knowledge is too vast and intricate for me.  It’s way above my security clearance.

I’m free simply to love people as much like Jesus loves them as I can, to tell them what Jesus means to me, and to leave the rest—whatever the “rest” will or won’t be--to him and to them.