Sunday, May 17, 2009

Where to Go from Here?

The Sixth Sunday of Easter
(May 16-17)

Today's Word:
Acts 10:25-48 (Peter and Cornelius: "God shows no every nation, whoever fears God and acts in righteousness is acceptable to him")
Psalm 98:1-4 (The Lord has revealed to the nations his saving power)
1 John 4:7-10 (Let us love one another, as love is of God)
John 15:9-17 ("As the Father loves me, so I also love you")

Philippians 3:1-11 (Paul of Tarsus: "All the things I once thought were so important are now gone from my life")

Okay, I blew it. I stumbled. I ran out of concepts. I ran out of my past. I was uncertain about what to say about the future, as I am not one given to speculation.

The Catholic lectionary has sputtered a bit; dwelling on John 15 for four days straight. Yes, it's an important one. From it are drawn a couple of great contemporary songs - Michael W. Smith's Friends (Are Friends Forever) and Israel Houghton's I Am A Friend of God. In The Great Adventure, Steven Curtis Chapman writes: The love of God will take us far beyond our wildest dreams. And it does; it really does.

Having said this, though, reality slapped me in the face last week as I recommitted myself to the ideals of the vows I took upon ordination. Of late, I have come to understand the nature of my son's autism; how it is possible he was stricken by it and how all three of us have struggled to understand and overcome it. I asked: If (my son) has trouble dealing with the barrage of stimuli before him, how can he relate to God, whom he cannot see?

Perhaps my son is teaching me here. He's been rather resilient through all of this. His joys continually outweigh his suffering. He may experience God in such a way that exudes his resilience.

I also see in my son an aspect to the depth of God's love. He is a warm and outgoing person, and would hug anyone and everyone if given the opportunity. To attempt to explain to him that not everyone is comfortable anticipates the words of Jesus hitting me through my son's sparkling eyes, saying: And just what is wrong with wanting to share my joy so openly and freely?

The first accomplishment of the early church was to break out of being a subset of Judaism. It took courage for Peter to admit being human and yet yield to a higher authority through guidance by the Holy Spirit. Paul of Tarsus was an orthodox Jew before his conversion, yet by the time he wrote to the church he helped establish in Caesarea Philippi he had come to this realization:

"Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I've dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn't want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God's righteousness." (Philippians 3:8-9, The Message by Eugene H. Peterson)

Breaking away from keeping a list of rules. That seems to be the way things are running for me. Bearing witness to Christ, rather than being open and free, had somehow become locked in a set of well-meaning rules. At the time of Christ, the "Law" of which he spoke had no less than 613 specific edicts. All of them in some way were derivatives of the Ten Commandments. Jesus comes along and says that the whole of the Law and the exhortations of the prophets before him boiled down to two commandments: Love God above all things, and love your neighbor as yourself. In John 15 and in his first epistle, this is boiled down to three words: Love one another.

Love is what matters, it is what lasts. Paul of Tarsus wrote that it is the greatest of the three things that last, coupled with faith and hope. It is only in these three virtues, with the emphasis on love, that answers are found; solutions are implemented; obstacles are overcome. How that love is expressed? That is where we're left to our own ingenuity and decisions. At this point the manner of expression is as individual as the fingerprints on our hands.

"My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn't know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can't know him if you don't love. This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to clear away the damage done to our relationship with God." (1 John 4:7-10, The Message)

Love conquered all. Love conquers all. And Love will conquer all that we do to divide and separate us.

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