Friday, 10 October 2014

The Scent of Love or Sour Faced Saints

I don’t know how many times I heard my mother say to me growing up “Stop frowning”. I guess I have a face that naturally rests in a frown or maybe it’s my thinking face, who knows!! Whichever it is, I can only hope my frown doesn’t get misread as ‘sour-faced’, for when I read Teresa of Avilias words “From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, spare us O Lord” I sheepishly say Amen. Spare us Lord from the ones who call themselves Christians yet delight in misery. Those who seem by compulsion to judge others. Those who develop a morbid enjoyment of ailments. Those who proudly pronounce how busy they are. Those who take it upon themselves to look down their noses at those who smoke, drink, fornicate or wear last year’s styles. Save us O Lord from the Christian who wants to remain aloof from the world, who seem to dislike or even hate those Jesus died for.  Save us O Lord from those sour-faced saints who find salvation in their disciplines, who love their rule based regimes more than the person in front of them in the supermarket cue.

In his book the Signature of Jesus, Brennan Manning writes “A life of love lived unpretentiously for others flowing out of a life lived for God, is the imitation of Christ and the only authentic discipleship. A life of service through unglamorous, unpublicised works of mercy is a life marked by the signature of Jesus.”

We are called to be Christ Jesus’ witnesses, to have his signature at the bottom of each page in our lives. If you only had one word to describe Jesus, it would have to be love don’t you think? And as followers of Christ, our call is to live like Jesus Christ. This is the major difference between followers of Christ and those who don’t yet know him personally. Our deep soul calling is not to succeed or gain wealth, it is a call to Love. Not that kindness will not be seen oozing from those who do not yet follow Christ, for some of these God has blessed with charity and grace of character even before they are called to love.

Love isn’t just being nice. It’s not being kind to strangers now and then. It’s not just being generous and smiling all the time, nor is it volunteering sometimes when a need arises. Love is unselfishly putting others before yourself. “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.”  1Corinthians 13: 4- 6. I’ve taken the liberty of highlighting a phrase in that passage that reminds us of the challenge to love others selflessly. The Apostle John says the same thing another way “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." John 13:35.

This is hard and it’s not something you just happen to fall into. Love is a verb. It’s something you choose to do, which will mean sometimes being at places you don’t want to be, with people you don’t want to be with, doing things you don’t want to do which at times may be known as church.  Sometimes love, the verb, is sweaty, smelly, dirty, weepy, boring, tiring, and uncomfortable, but it’s never ever impossible! 

Brennan Manning continues to expound the signature of Jesus on our lives by introducing the possibilities of love in our daily lives of faith. “In our words and deeds we give shape and form to our faith every day. We make people a little better or leave them a little worse. We either affirm or deprive, enlarge or diminish the lives of others.” I actually found this idea quite liberating. When I wake up each morning, I am not called to love the whole world or even the country I am living in. I am called to love those I come in contact with.  Loving the one in front of you is powerful. Firstly it’s the very foundation of a faith community. Secondly it’s a powerful witness to those around us. 

Please forgive the following giant quote, but it’s a goodie! Again it’s from Brennan Manning’s book The Signature of Jesus which I have just finished reading. “In the Scent of Love, Keith Miller writes that the early Church grew ‘not because of the spiritual gifts of Christians -such as speaking in tongues - and not because Christianity was such a palatable doctrine but because they had discovered the secret of community’. Generally they did not have to lift a finger to evangelize. Someone would be walking down a back alley in Corinth or Ephesus and would see a group of people sitting together talking about the strangest things- something about a man and a tree and an execution and an empty tomb. What they were talking about made no sense to the onlooker. But there was something about the way they spoke to one another, about the way they looked at one another, about the way they cried together, the way they laughed together, the way they touch one another that was strangely appealing. It gave off the scent of love. The onlooker would start to drift farther down the alley, only to be pulled back to this little group like a bee to a flower. He would listen some more, still not understanding and start to drift away again but he would be pulled back, thinking, I don’t have the slightest idea what these people are talking about, but whatever it is, I want part of it.”

When called to be Christ’s witnesses, we are called to speak of the One who loves more than life and consequently to love more than we are capable of in our own strength. Let’s start a revolution together! Rather than Christians being thought of as those who wear sandwich boards shouting about damnation or those with cruel eyes and sour-faces peering down noses at the unworthy ones, let’s be known for our love. The revolution starts with us as we love each other in such a way that people conclude “I don’t have the slightest idea what these people are talking about, but whatever it is, I want part of it.

No sour faces now looking like you have just chewed on a lemon by mistake, but faces reflecting love, the love of God in Christ. This gift he has given us, reflected in gratitude and love to others, gives off “the scent of love”.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The Red Letters

I recently purchased a tiny Bible for carrying around easily.  To my delight it was a red letter edition.  Red letter editions are brilliant and I’ll tell you why. It’s because they make the words of Jesus stand out, in red. I guess that’s pretty obvious really, since that is the main purpose of the red letter edition!
During a recent sermon, when I was unable to understand what the preacher was saying as he was speaking a language I am only just starting to learn, I was reading through John.  The red letters jumped out at me.  Jesus’ first quoted words in John are “What do you want?” John 1:38.  Good start eh?  The second words were “Come, and you will see.” John 1:39.  This is simple, yet I think it’s profound. 

The book of John is all about love.  John even calls himself ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ John 13:23.  I think John was onto something and that’s why this first quote of Jesus is very revealing. He was the one whom Jesus loved.  It took him until chapter 13 to call himself that, as John recounted the Last Supper, straight after Jesus had washed the disciples’ feet.  But it’s only After chapter 19 that he increasingly uses this term.  So why did it dawn on him that he was beloved by Jesus then?  He had been following this man for years, why at this time?  What happened in chapter 19 to convince him of Jesus’ love for him?  Should I tell you, or shall I see if you are curious enough to look it up for yourself?

“What do you want?”  I wonder if John, inspired by the Spirit of God was revealing to us our deep need, through his own personal experience. It was at Calvary that it dawned on John, he was ‘the one Jesus loved’.  Don’t we all want to be loved? Isn’t that why we try so intensely to make ourselves appealing to others?  Isn’t that why we tone down our opinions, add to our interests, bend our beliefs, dramatize our story so we fit in?

Henri Nouwen said, “Only when we claim the love of the crucified Christ with heartfelt conviction, the love that transcends all judgements, can we overcome all fear of judgement.  When we have become completely free from the need to judge others, we will also become completely free from the fear of being judged.”

It took John seeing the Son of God, washing feet, then hanging on a cross for him to claim the love of the crucified Christ.  What will it take for you?  In the words of Brennan Manning “Define yourself radically as one totally loved by God.  Right now. As is. Not to be left like this, certainly, but just as certainly never to be loved, valued, cherished any more or less than you are in this very moment because God’s love does not depend on you.”  John didn’t do anything to realise Jesus’ love, Jesus did. 

This leads to the next red letter quote “Come, and you will see.”  What will it take for us to come? What will it take for us to see?  I’m not sure I have an answer, I’m merely posing the question.  They say in Alcoholics Anonymous that the biggest hurdle is admitting you have a problem.  I think the biggest hurdle in our faith is admitting we don’t appreciate and claim the love of Christ for ourselves.  We do know about it, or know of it, but I’m not convinced we really claim it. 

I think we all need to hear the words of Henri Nouwen, “All I want to say to you is, ‘You are the Beloved,’ and all I hope is that you can hear these words as spoken to you with all the tenderness and force that love can hold. My only desire is to make these words reverberate in every corner of your being – ‘You are Beloved’.”  You may need to re-read that.

The penny dropped for John. What will it take for us?  If only we could talk of ourselves as ‘(insert name), the One Jesus Loved’. 

Do you want to know, understand and feel the deep love of Jesus? Do you want the love that satisfies the longing within us to gain the approval of others, a love that voids acceptance by the world’s standards?

Jesus invites you to ‘come and you will see.’  Come into the presence of the Saviour, take time to rest in his presence.  Imagine, if that helps, Jesus sitting next to you. Zephaniah 3:17 says “He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”  To me this speaks of an intimate moment of being drawn into the lap of God, and having him comfort you with a lullaby, as you rest in his great arms.  Put yourself in a posture of receiving God’s love; curl up in his lap, clear a seat beside you, do whatever draws you into a place of savouring his love, knowing you are His beloved.