• Steven Marsh

Learning From and With The Triune God of Unconditional Love–Being Clear About Our Love Identit

Brandon Cook was visiting his ailing grandmother in a New Hampshire hospital. Nearby was a Panera café. The following letter explains what happened and was posted by the family on the Panera Facebook page:

My grandmother is passing soon with cancer. I visited her the other day and she was telling me about how she really wanted soup, but not hospital soup because she said it tasted awful; she went on about how she would really like some clam chowder from Panera. Unfortunately, Panera only sells clam chowder on Friday. I called the manager, Sue, and told them the situation. I wasn’t looking for anything special just a bowl of clam chowder. Without hesitation she said absolutely she would make her some clam chowder. When I went to pick it up, they wound up giving me a box of cookies as well. It’s not that big of a deal to most, but to my grandma it meant a lot. I really want to thank Sue and the rest of the staff from Panera in Nashua, NH just for making my grandmother happy. Thank you so much!

Within days that short post received more than 800,000 likes. More importantly, more than 35,000 people took the time to write a brief Facebook message commending the bakery. The authors of the 2014 book A World Gone Socialtell the story and write about the effects:

The next quarter, Panera’s same-store sales increased 28 per cent. The quarter after, same-store sales were up 34 per cent. Sure, there’s no way of proving that this was all a direct result of the Facebook post, but the rapidly spreading goodwill generated by one person performing one moment of kindness, amplified nearly a million times over, certainly had a significant effect.[1]

People are captivated by something or someone bigger than themselves when kindness is paid forward. Michael Horton in his book A Better Way writes, “Today people want to see God. Not content with hearing God’s Word, they want to see God’s glory.”[2]Today is Transfiguration of the Lord Sunday. The glory of God was shown to Peter, James and John that day twenty centuries ago. Likethen, but today even more so, people want to see God.

Moses went to Mount Sinai twice. The first account is in Exodus 24 and the second Exodus 34. The first journey confirmed God’s covenant with the people and the second is a personal conversation with God and Moses needs to veil his face from the face/glory of God. In 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2, Paul utilizes the Old Testament story about Moses’ appearance after being with God to talk about the Christian life. Moses’ appearance had been shaped by his experience with God. The Hebrews focused on Moses, not the Tablets of Commandments. Just as the Hebrews looked at Moses and knew he had been talking with God, so people should be able to see in the face of Christians evidence that we have been with Jesus.  In Luke 9, Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him and led them up a high mountain. As Elijah and Moses were talking with Jesus, Peter exclaimed, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” But a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him.”[3]Peter, James and John were in God’s presence.[4]

The veil between God and God’s people has been shattered. The cross and empty tomb did that. We can get close to God and God to us. Yet, the church over the centuries has clouded our vision or sight of God. Many of our doctrines have become veils which systematize the faith and hide the love of God. Christians must not hide behind the veils of doctrine and practice. In a country where the disparity between rich and poor is growing and children die of the effects of poverty, a veiled faith will not work. We must do more than discuss hunger, deliberate on immigration, debate the ethical demands of homelessness and pay lip service to end discriminating against categories of people based on race, age, sexual orientation, gender and immigration status.

The lesson of the Transfiguration is this: if we have experienced salvation in and through Jesus Christ, then we are to live with veils removed, engaging the needs of society, and partnering with others to make systemic change. The Transfiguration teaches us that when captivated by and with the very presence of God we are not to veil that experience and hide it from others. To the contrary, we are to go into the Saddleback Valley with the good news that in Jesus Christ life can be different both now and forever. As Gradye Parsons reminds us in Our Connectional Church, we must place an emphasis on thinking. When the clergy and church members are thinkers, they’ve created a culture to ask questions, seek relevance and become life-long learners. Parsons writes, “Being able to ask questions about the faith without judgement creates a community—a community that is not afraid to learn together through exploration. A community that is courageously applying faith to context. Where is God calling us to love our neighbors.”[5]Faith in Jesus Christ actually joins us with his power, person and purpose.

Look at the Table. See the body and blood of Jesus given and poured out for you. Look at the Table and see unconditional love not held back, but freely shared. Like Brandon Cook and that Panera manager, we are to live with boldness characterized by love for God and others.

[1]From http://www.preachingtoday.com. Ted Coine and Mark Babbitt, A World Gone Social(American Management Association, 2014); submitted by Jerry De Luca, Montreal West, Quebec, Canada.

[2]Michael Horton, A Better Way(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2002), 36.

[3]Luke 9:33 and 35.

[4]I am grateful for the thinking and writing of James H. Evans Jr., David A. DeSilva and Diane G. Chen in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 1(Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018), 300-301, 307-309 and 312-314.

[5]Gradye Parsons, Our Connectional Church(Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018), 68.

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