Sunday, January 1, 2017
“Unconditional love is an illogical notion, but such a great and powerful one.” ― A.J. Jacobs
There are ten commandments in the Old Testament. There is only one in the New Testament, and it calls each of us to radical obedience to Christ by acting and living radical love. It is John 13:34 “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” This is a not a suggestion, a guideline, or a general direction. It is just what Christ called it—“a new commandment”—a commandment to radical love because it asks us to love each other as Christ loved us, and He loved us with radical love. Radical love is not just touching a leper—it is embracing him. Radical love heals hurts even when it hurts the healer. Henri Nouwen always believed that the only true Christian was a “wounded healer” and I believe he was right. He believed that radical love asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Radical love challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Radical love requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Radical love means full immersion in the condition of being human, and this is not something you can do from the relative comfort of a padded pew in a building that protects you from the real and natural world. Sanctuary means a place of safety, but you cannot practice radical love from a place of safety. You need to leave, or better yet, take your sanctuary to the streets where the broken and hurting need food, clothes, love, and medical care. Can you do it? Can you take your radical love out of your comfort zone to practice it in the metaphorical jungles of the urban world? Can you use your radical love, as you were commanded to do, to challenge the comfortable status quo of your own church budget? Christ offered Himself as a living sacrifice, humbled, tortured, in pain, and nailed to a cross so that you might truly know His love and enter His Kingdom as an invited guest. That’s what I call radical love. It’s not what’s known as “tough love”—it’s the kind of love that is that illogical notion we call unconditional. It’s not about what happens to those we love—it’s about what happens to those of us who love and love radically as we were commanded to do. How can radical love ever turn away those seeking shelter, those who are hungry, those who only have thin cotton shirts and pants to turn away the snow and the cold? I am not saying and would never say that Christians don’t need to worship together because they do. They need to sing praises to God, to find a home in a church, but I am saying that that should be for recharging the batteries of lights that show the way to Christ in the darkness of a world that neglect and not caring have created. Of course, we need to huddle just like an American football team needs to huddle, but the game is not played in the huddle—that’s where it’s planned and where those playing are encouraged to face the enemy, take the pain, and make the game plan happen. (For those from countries where American football is a stranger, watch some short six or seven minutes highlights from games on YouTube—that little bit will explain much and allow me to continue to use analogies from the football I played and watched all my life.) When what was planned in the huddle doesn’t work, the players don’t leave the field, they huddle again and work on a new plan, as we should. Radical love will fail many, many times because it faces the biggest obstacles that exist: apathy, indifference, inconvenience, others wanting it to fail, and surprisingly, other Christians that call themselves followers of Christ but that Christ will not welcome (see Matthew 25: 43-45) It’s not atheists that are the biggest enemies of radical love, it’s folks who call themselves Christians and work against all that Christ stood, lived, preached, and died to bring peace to this Earth. They’re in every church and on every committee. They’re the “yes, but” folks who will kill every good act with a reasoned argument about finances or resources or tradition or—well, you’ve heard all their arguments. I was once in a staff meeting where concern was raised by a staff member over homeless people taking more than one free Bible from a table with a big sign that said, “Free Bibles—take what you need.” There was a man at that church who gave money every year to buy Bibles to be given to the homeless, and he bought a lot of Bibles. He told me if every home had a Bible, how much more important it was to get Bibles into the hands of those who had no homes. I am ashamed to say there was more than one person in that staff meeting that wanted to put a guard at that table to make sure that no one took more than one Bible, but I am pleased and happy to say that those few were quickly drowned out by the others around that table whose hearts were in tune with Christ’s message and the true intent of getting Bibles out into the streets, but it shows that even in a church staff meeting, the person felt comfortable in complaining about the homeless. There is such need for radical love in this world that I can’t help but wonder what Christ would think about a church spending over $ 90,000,000 for a building. Do you remember what Christ said about the Temple in Jerusalem—Mark 14:58—“We heard him say, 'I will destroy this Temple made with human hands, and in three days I will build another, made without human hands.” I don’t think Christ and the radical love He commands us to practice was into grand buildings. The scriptures themselves shout that the church is people, loving people, caring people, people who need each other so they can be better about helping others. This isn’t represented by some obscure passage. This is “red letter” stuff that’s repeated over and over. Of course, no one has to live out radical love like He commanded, but to ignore what the Son of God and Son of Man repeatedly made important by word and action—that’s to put at risk your immortal soul in my humble opinion. Maybe church going and scripture quoting make you a Christian, but I’m not going to risk my immortal soul on such shaky ground. Wasn’t there a parable about a man who built his house on sand? How’d that turn out? Radical love is hard, but it’s been done over and over again for thousands of years and more importantly, it’s been done by people you know, people to whom you may be related, maybe even by you on occasion, and maybe radical love as commanded by Christ is the way you live, who you are, and how you are known by others. God has blessed and continues to bless all who risk comfort and position to love and love radically. I’m not making this up—you have seen it, maybe felt it. You know it’s true, and if it’s true, then we ignore it at our own peril. And if we ignore it and others ignore it because they look to us for guidance, then there will be many weeping and gnashing of teeth in the forever, and it will be our fault. Maybe you don’t believe in forever. Maybe you only believe in the now. Maybe you’re right. But I do believe in forever, I do believe not only in Judgement Day but in Judgement Moments. Remember Christ on the cross telling the other thief that he would be with Christ that day in Paradise? More of those “red letter” words that for me just underline over and over again the commandment to radical love. How I wish I could tell you that I live radical love every moment of every day, but I don’t. My human frailties cause me great pain when what I want for myself comes in conflict with radical love for one another as Christ loved me. I need forgiveness daily. I need encouragement daily. I need the “sat nav” that those “red letters” give me to get me back on course. God forgives. The “red letters” guide. The commandment of Christ pulls my heart in the right direction. May you forgive me when my aches and pains and self-wishes pull me in the wrong direction. I know what Christ wants and I try to do it for Him. It’s like the prayer that Elie Wiesel told me he prayed every night, “So God, how’d I do today? Did I make you proud? Or did I make you ashamed?” I know that some nights “proud” wins for me, and I know that some nights it’s “ashamed.” Oh how I hate my frailness and weakness, but how overjoyed I am that God is there to listen, to forgive, and to redirect my feet every morning. Today is the first day of a new year, maybe it’s a good time to give the Etch-A-Sketch that is your Christian calling a good shake and start with a clean screen. Today, my resolution is to respond to Christ’s commandment with a resounding “Yes!” and work to make it happen—no matter what. I am not ashamed of Christ or what He has called me to do. I am ashamed that I have not made it so every moment of every day, but that’s my goal, my resolution. What’s yours?