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  • Writer's pictureSteven Marsh

Learning From and With The Triune God of Unconditional Love–Say No To False Options for Love:

God’s promises continue to be fulfilled. And God invites us to participate in the fulfillment of them. God promises that his plans for us are for our good not harm. Yes, even in the tough times, trust God. We are in this thing called the Christian life, together. We are connected. Gradye Parsons writes, “That connectional life reflects a commitment to communal decision-making, ordered ministry, and the mutuality of congregations.”[1]Listen to Henri Nouwen connect the dots regarding our necessary connection to one another:

Living with … handicapped people, I realize how success-oriented I am. Living with men and women who cannot compete in the worlds of business, industry, sports, or academics but for whom dressing, walking, speaking, eating, drinking, and playing are the main “accomplishments,” is extremely frustrating for me. I may have come to the theoretical insight that being is more important than doing, but when asked to just be with people who can do very little I realize how far I am from the realization of that insight. … Some of us might be productive and others not, but we are all called to bear fruit: fruitfulness is a true quality of love.[2]

A life that bears fruit is one where God lives the life of Jesus in and through that person.

The scribe Ezra in the book of Nehemiah points us to the importance of the Law. The Law, the Ten Commandments, restrains evil, convicts of sin, and aids our understanding of God’s will. It is God’s will for our lives to bear fruit, not weeds. Paul writes, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”[3]It is in this space that Paul urges us to see that our lives are to bear fruit, not weeds. To do the Ten Commandments requires us to trust that God loves us unconditionally. To know that all who profess faith in Jesus Christ, regardless of their differences, are included in the family of God requires us to trust that God loves us unconditionally. Conditional love is a false option. Conditional love pits us one against the other.  One of you is not more important than the other. No neighbor in your neighborhood is better than you or the others. No church across our country is speaking and doing the gospel better than Geneva. We are all in this together. We are one body connected to one another in order to advance the Kingdom of God. Finding our identity in God’s unconditional love is what unifies us.

Jesus states in Luke 4:18, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” Knowing and embracing Jesus’ mission is important. One particular day, Jesus went to the synagogue. There, he stood up and read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. It was the custom to read the scripture in the synagogue. It was the custom of the people to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath and to hear the Word of God read. It was the custom of the people to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath and be with one another in the presence of God. But Jesus challenged custom with one short sentence, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.”  God became personal. Jesus brought good news to the poor, proclaimed release to the captives, restored sight to the blind, let the oppressed go free and proclaimed the year of the Lord’s favor. What is good for one is good for all. Our unity is in Jesus.

What does Geneva Presbyterian Church believe about unity? We are resolved to be united in our diversity and faithful to God and one another. We are theologically centered in Jesus Christ, rooted in the gospel, set in the Reformed tradition, committed to loving God and others as a church in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and not being known by boundaries of who’s in and who’s out.Remembering, telling and living the way of Jesus is important to us. The Confession of 1967states this about the importance of unity and Jesus’ mission,

The life, death, resurrection, and promised coming of Jesus Christ have set the pattern for the church’s mission. His life as man involves the church in the common life of humanity. His service to humanitycommits the church to work for every form of human well-being. The church is called to bring all peopleto receive and uphold one another as persons in all relationships of life: in employment, housing, education, leisure, marriage, family, church, and the exercise of political rights…[4]

Compassion and justice are at the core of the Gospel.

In Jesus’ day, like now, conversations swirled around social and economic injustice, racism, immigration and the plight of refugees. Then, like now, Jesus is very clear about who he is and what he has come to accomplish. Jesus’ mission is not content-less. It is not a “feel-good” spirituality. Jesus’ mission is focused and specific. It brings good news to the poor and the marginalized, the hurting and the suffering, the hopeless and despondent and all people who are seeking a better way to live. The character of Jesus’ mission is to bring good news to all people. Let go and let God live the way of Jesus in you. That, my friends, is saying “No” to false options for love. That’s how you experience God’s unconditional love.[5]

[1]Gradye Parsons, Our Connectional Church(Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2018), 19.

[2]Henri J.M. Nouwen in Lifesigns. Christianity Today, Vol. 35, no. 12.

[3]1 Corinthians 12:12-13.

[4]Book of Confessions, The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Part 1(Louisville, Kentucky: The Office of the General Assembly, 2014), sections 9.32, 43-45 on pages 292-294.

[5]Some ideas in this paragraph are adapted from Blair R. Monie 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), 206-207.

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