A stubborn, staying love (words for the journey 7.17.16)

by susan on July 18, 2016

refashionedBear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is your acceptable duty in the Lord.Fathers, do not provoke your children, or they may lose heart. Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything, not only while being watched and in order to please them, but wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord.Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters, since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever wrong has been done, and there is no partiality.

Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, for you know that you also have a Master in heaven.

-Colossians 3:14-4:1, NRSV

What makes you shrink back from community?
What restores your hope?

Whether we have experienced
shame,
exclusion,
disappointment,
or even disgust
from being part of communities of faith, this truth remains:
God’s way of making things new is through new community.

But what does this new community look like?

Last time we were together, we explored the vices that can easily disrupt community – the ones that were disrupting Christ-centered community in Paul’s day. These vices were not just habits. They were ways of life reinforced by the empire.

Greed, violence & obsession with sex were embedded in Roman culture. So, when Paul asked these new, in-transition Christ followers to let go of these harmful ways of living, we can imagine their feelings of fear & vulnerability.

Yet, instead of leaving them naked & afraid, he tells them to put on Christ. Putting on Christ meant, more than anything else, being part of a new community. In this new, Christ-centered community, “there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!” (Col. 3:11).

stubborn loveWith all of the challenges that this kind of boundary-breaking community would encounter, a flimsy, feel good love would not suffice. They needed something more.

Christ followers needed to learn a stubborn, staying kind of love – a love that refuses to give up – a love that is desperately needed in our world right now. Here’s why.

This kind of love fuels forgiveness.

Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. (Col. 3:13-14. MSG)

To forgive literally means to deal with someone graciously. Forgiveness is a form of giving. It is giving away power – the kind of power we have when we hold onto a grudge or a complaint or a resentment. Forgiveness is central to Christ-centered community. It’s also essential to any lasting relationship, and yet it is one of the most difficult things we will ever do.

A couple of years ago the New York Times published a series of portraits of reconciliation. Included in each portrait was a perpetrator and a survivor of Rwandan genocide (the mass slaughtering of the Tutsi people by the Hutus majority government).

People from opposing groups (Tutsis and Hutus) agreed to come together for dialogue and a process of reconciliation. Twenty years later, this is what they look like. Mukabutera and Habyarimana’s stories especially caught my attention. Here are their words about the transformative power of forgiveness.

“Many among us had experienced the evils of war many times, and I was asking myself what I was created for. …It took time, but in the end we realized that we are all Rwandans. The genocide was due to bad governance that set neighbors, brothers and sisters against one another. Now you accept and you forgive. The person you have forgiven becomes a good neighbor. One feels peaceful and thinks well of the future.” – Mukabutera

“When I was still in jail, President Kagame stated that the prisoners who would plead guilty and ask pardon would be released…. Mother Mukabutera Caesarea could not have known I was involved in the killings of her children, but I told her what happened. When she granted me pardon, all the things in my heart that had made her look at me like a wicked man faded away.” – Habyarimana

I can only imagine what it took to get to this point – the courage, the tears, the conversation, the humility.

As difficult and painful as it may be,  forgiveness is a central part of God’s way of renewal & it’s a vital part of community.

Where is forgiveness desperately needed today?
What divisions need to be repaired?
In your own life, who has
disappointed,
betrayed,
humiliated,
cheated or
misled you?

The stubborn love expected of Christ-centered community fuels forgiveness. It does something else as well. This stubborn love expected of Christ-centered community also confronts injustice.

Now, this seems like a strange thing to say about one of the passages that has been used to perpetuate all kinds of injustices. This scripture passage has been used to keep wives, slaves & children in their places. It has been used to justify abuse, violence & blind obedience.

The heading (given much later) to this portion of our passage is no help here: “Rules for Christian Households” implies that Paul was delivering a series of set in stone expectation for all future Christ followers. That interpretation falls short. It ignores the context of Paul’s writing.

We have to understand the culture in Paul’s day. It was a power-driven patriarchy. Men, masters & parents had all the power. Women, slaves & children were treated like property. By addressing them, Paul includes & empowers them. They are an equal part of the community. They are given instructions. They are told they have an “inheritance.”

This new community confronts the injustice embedded in empire. It may not be enough change for us (remember, we are reading it 2,000 years later), but something is certainly better than nothing.

A small step,
an acknowledgement,
a word,
a revision,
can mean life or death to those who have been marginalized their whole lives,
those who have given up & those who have repeatedly been told to accept
their place at the bottom of things.

segregated-water-fountainsIn Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans recalls a story told by the Right Reverend Michael Curry, presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. A young woman who became Episcopalian in the 1940s invited the man she had been dating to join her at morning services. She had recently become Episcopalian. Both of them were African-American, but the church they attended was all white, and right in the heart of segregated America. The young man waited in the pews while the congregation went forward to receive communion, anxious because he noticed that everyone in the congregation was drinking from the same chalice. He had never seen black and white people drinking from the same water fountain, much less the same cup. His eyes stayed on his girlfriend as, after receiving the bread, she waited for the cup. Finally, the priest lowered it to her lips and spoke the same words of blessing he had spoken to every other person.

The man decided that any church where blacks and whites drank from the same cup had discovered something powerful, something he wanted to be a part of.

That’s the power & the hope fostered by a community that dares to confront injustice.

We must learn a stubborn, staying kind of love,
a love that refuses to give up,

a love like the one we see & know in Jesus.

revolutionThat’s the kind of love that will change us & change the course of things. It not only fuels forgiveness &  confronts injustice. It’s the kind of love that can launch a revolution – and, oh how we need a revolution.

There are a million reasons to avoid community. It is not a matter of if, but when we will disappoint one another. The temptation to shrink back is always there.

Instead of shrinking back,
what might happen if we leaned
into a stubborn, staying love?

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