…go therefore and inspire with love…
June 11, 2017
Scripture:2 Corinthians 13:11-13, Matthew 28:16-20
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Finally brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.
Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Once in a great while we may pause to consider just how blessed we have been, to reflect on all of the good things in our life. And if we are totally honest with ourselves we may also take a moment on occasion to ponder some of the poor choices we have made, or the times we may have squandered those same blessings…considering how things might have been if only we had done things just a little bit differently.
And we can do this because we were created in such a wondrous way…fashioned in the image of our creative and loving God and each given what could arguably be seen as a questionable gift…the gift of free will. You see, God had to decide to create something outside of Godself, something that was ‘not God’ in order to create humanity. And God chose to do that…to create humanity free and separate from Godself and free to choose whether or not to follow after God. But we were also created in the relational image of God, this God of ours who is defined and known within relationship…Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And so in spite of the fact that we have free will, God created us to have the opportunity, should we so choose, to enjoy fullness of loving relationship both with each other, and with God, perhaps returning some small measure of the love by which we were brought into being.
But ‘free will’ was also a dangerous gamble in some respects for God as there was no guarantee that humanity would in fact choose to be in a relationship with God and might freely choose instead to walk in ways or into places quite far from the divine center.
Be that as it may however, we do each have the ability to choose just how we will spend our days, to choose if we will draw near to God and to ways of goodness, love, and justice…or if we will instead take this incredible gift of our life and focus solely inwardly on our own human needs and our own very human wants. And so…there may be times when we take a moment just to focus in on all that our life is, and on how we have multiplied our blessings or perhaps instead may have wasted them by simply burying them within the deep recesses of our inner selves and inner desires.
Which reminds me of a cute little story or joke I once heard…Dear God, so far today, I’ve done all right. I haven’t gossiped, and I haven’t lost my temper. I haven’t been grumpy, nasty or selfish, and I’m really glad of that! But in a few minutes, I’m going to get out of bed, and from then on, I’m probably going to need a lot of help. Thank you and Amen!
In all seriousness we do have a brand new opportunity at the start of each day to try and do a better job of taking the many blessings we have been given and to extend them into even greater blessings for others. As we ‘put our feet on the floor’ each day we each have choices as to how we’ll handle that new opportunity…how we will wisely use, treasure, and cherish it…or perhaps how we may instead allow some distraction or other to waylay us and move us in other directions. But the choice is ours…we are not puppets on a set of strings for God to move and to control, but rather freely created individuals able to choose God…or not.
But if in fact we do choose to surrender our will unto God for a moment on a particular day then we may be reminded of Jesus’ call to his disciples at the end of today’s gospel passage from Matthew. Perhaps as we are taking a first sip from our second cup of coffee or when we get ready to greet the day and are bent over tying the laces of our shoes or boots we may hear it again…“Go therefore, and inspire all others to become like you are…create an urgency within them to know who it is you follow, why it is that you are able to approach each day with that certain resolve and energy and who it is that you draw your inspiration from. Go, and live your life in such a way that the full goodness of God’s name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is revealed within you.”
Now it is important to remember that doing anything ‘in the name’ as the Great Commission calls for, is to do it in such a way as to fully imitate and fully reveal all that the name implies or contains. So to ‘live into the name of the Father’ is to live such that you reveal the fullness of God’s mercy and unconditional grace in all you do and say. To ‘live fully into the name of the Son’ is to accurately reflect the steadfast brotherliness, the stand-by-your-side-every-moment aspect of Jesus’ love and compassionate care of your deepest hopes…as well as your deepest hurts. And to ‘live fully into the name of the Spirit of God’s love’ is to allow the wind of joy and lightness, the all-penetrating goodness and gentle stubbornness that persists even unto the very root of someone else’s need to dwell within you, even as it blows through you lifting and guiding you this way, and now that. This call, to inspire others to live fully into the name and so into the likeness of our God is not only deeply sobering but perhaps close to overwhelming as well. But that is how the call begins.
But that is surely not enough for us to go on. I mean it is all well and good to say we need to live in such a way as to share the goodness by which we know we have our being…but how exactly is one supposed to do that? How does one share even a bit of all that in what are sometimes just momentary or chance encounters with others? And so we may look heaven-ward and throw up our arms wondering aloud…‘Okay God, you can have this day…but how am I ever to do all you believe that I can?’ And God just smiles and says softly, ‘I have already told you.’
Well, that is surely not much to go on. I mean as students of the faith ourselves we have heard and read many of the things that Jesus said and did during his three year sprint through the Holy Land two thousand years ago. But those are not things we usually think of as being within our own toolbox. We are probably not comfortable thinking we may be asked to give sight to the blind, or to help the deaf to hear. It is somewhat daunting to think that ‘I’ve already told you’ could possibly mean some one or other of the miraculous things Jesus did up to and even including raising people from the dead! And so for a time, those words meant to comfort us do nothing of the sort.
Perhaps we could bake lots of bread, but multiplying loaves or making coins appear mysteriously in the mouths of fish we just caught still seems pretty far out of reach…we could stand up against the existing religious or political order as Jesus did throughout his ministry, but that seems a strange way to inspire people to live into the ways of the God we follow. In short, hearing God say that ‘he has already told us’ may not at first clear up the matter a whole lot.
And looking heaven-ward once more, still just as confused as before, we may again wonder out loud, ‘but how Lord? How are we supposed to make disciples, to inspire others to begin to follow after your ways and to use their own free will to choose to give of themselves in ways they may not be comfortable with?
And again the Lord smiles as he asks, ‘Do you remember when I told you that there was one thing, one command that was greater than all the others? One command through which all others would be fulfilled? Do you remember when I told my followers to love one another just as I have loved you? And suddenly we are even less comfortable, for we know that commandment and we know we have wrestled with its meaning before. We know that to love others is all well and good for those we already know, those whom we are comfortable with, those who seem worth giving ourselves or our treasure over unto. Which of course sounds horrible and we know it, for Jesus never seems to have had the same issues we have ourselves. But for that commandment to be the key one that instructs us to inspire others seems almost as challenging as some of the other things Jesus did during his time on earth.
What exactly does it mean to say we are called to love others ‘as’ Jesus loved us? Well that in itself is perhaps an even more difficult or maybe better, a more delicate question. For to answer that requires that we be in touch with what God has done for each one of us as individuals. If we know what God has done for us, if we realize the broad extent of our own gifts, our own blessings, of all that God has done specifically for us over the course of our lives…all of the love, all of the guidance, and all of the forgiveness by which we were able to keep on going…then we will know what ‘as I have loved you’ really means. To love ‘as’ Jesus loved us asks us to honestly and humbly reflect on how much we have been loved, even in those times when we were not necessarily very ‘lovable’ or perhaps even unworthy entirely, and to love others around us in the same unconditional way. ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ may sound simple enough on the surface, but it asks for far more if we truly strive to follow it.
And so, since this can be difficult to grasp or perhaps to admit, we might be tempted instead to go part of the way…to love some of the time…and to love some of those who cross our path. But a quick check in with the Lord will remind us that this is not the call he has asked of us. For it is not enough to be a part time reflection of love and grace if we truly want to make a difference in the lives of those around us or within our community. For we only need to listen to the rest of the great commandment passage to hear that the whole of our being must be invested if we are to truly follow in the footsteps laid out before us. For Jesus said “I give you a new commandment…that you love one another as I have loved you…for in this way everyone shall know that you are my disciples’.
How Oh Lord are we to inspire others to seek after you in truth as well as in true surrender? By knowing who we are…by acknowledging how much we each have been loved by God…and by being willing to love others…every other…who God places in our pathway…with the same depth of love, the same willingness to extend our own blessings, and the same degree of forgiveness.
But wait…that’s not all, we are called not only to witness and to live into the likeness of our Lord as individuals, but also as a community of faith. Remember, our Lord is a God always, forever, and only in relationship…three persons in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all three in one, all three in relationship, three distinct but united and interrelated parts of our one true God. So by this example we too are called to live out our lives in actual, visible, and loving community. We will have loved in vain if the fellowship we claim to be a part of does not reflect that same love to others as well.
Jesus said in John Chapter 12, “If I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people unto myself”. It is therefore God’s responsibility to bring people to a place of realizing their need for fellowship and friendship within a holy context…and it is God’s part to deepen the hunger within an individual soul that ‘draws them’, that prompts them to seek out a relationship with the divine. It is our part…to lift up the Lord…to lift up the Lord through the living out of love both as individuals and as a community of faith.
And our passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians gives us some guidance as to how best to witness as a community united in faith and purpose. Paul reminds us to, “Put things in order, (to be sure that our lives, our faith, our temperament, and our priorities are all in proper and balanced relationship)…
…(to) agree with one another (to do our best to live in ways that are deferential to one another, always leaving room for the other viewpoint, to show respect and grace in all our relationships within the fellowship)…
…(to) live in peace (to at all times and all places seek the peace of loving and grace-filled relationships, to seek after the Lord’s divine ‘rest for your soul’ at the center of his will)…
(and to) greet one another with a holy kiss. (Well, at least that is something we seem to have learned to some extent, but remember, Jesus does not say we are allowed to be selective in this, for surely some of those he welcomed into his circle of relationships were by our standards less than stellar…perhaps even a bit sketchy)…
Put things in order, agree and be at peace with one another, and let your greeting of love be genuine and true…for in doing all these things as a part of the course of our life together we will be actively witnessing the true life-giving nature of our God of love.
‘If you love them as you have been loved both individually and as a collective, then they will know you are mine’, says the Lord, ‘And you will thus have revealed the path to holiness and grace for them to follow. After that it is up to them to choose to walk on that path and to draw near to grace or not. Your only call is to reveal my love to them, from there on the journey is mine to complete. But I have a feeling’, continues our Lord, ‘that my love as I have shown it to you is powerful in its ability to draw others into the circle of faith. My love lived out in fullness within your life will inspire the seeking hearts of ‘all nations’ to turn to me’.
And he continues on, ‘Remember that I told you, ‘I will be with you always, even unto the end of time, I will never leave you or abandon you’. Therefore do not fear, and do not hesitate to love others, all others in the same way as I have loved you…now get up, get out of bed, get dressed, and let’s get started with this new day!’