The Unconditional Love of the Triune God Beckons Us To Serve–Anxiety, Love and Reconciliation:
Rumi, a 13th-century Persian poet, jurist, scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic said, “Listen with ears of tolerance. See through eyes of compassion. Speak with the language of love.” On this Second Sunday after Pentecost, it is important for us to come to terms with three words and their interdependent significance for daily living. First, anxiety that feeling of uneasiness which often immobilizes us. Second, love that feeling which settles us into a place of contentment. And third, reconciliation that feeling which mends brokenness with God, self and others. Craig Larson, editor of preachingtoday.com, relates the following:
One of the more popular TV ads during the 2010 Super Bowl was sponsored by Audi and takes a poke at the imaginary “green police” out of control. Standing at the checkout counter of a store, the clerk tells a customer: “Okay, so it’s $37.08. Paper or plastic?” The customer replies, “Plastic.” Into the scene walks a uniformed officer who says, “That’s the magic word. Green police. You picked the wrong day to mess with the ecosystem, plastic boy.” The officer then hauls the customer away with his hands in cuffs behind his back. In quick succession we see different scenes of the green police arresting other people guilty of minor environmental infractions. Green police line the side of a suburban street sifting through garbage cans at the curb. An officer finds a battery in the garbage. An officer in charge yells, “Let’s go. Take the house.” A man stands at his kitchen sink at night with an orange rind in hand. Suddenly a searchlight blazes through the window upon him and a green policeman orders over a loudspeaker: “Put the rind down, sir! That’s a compost infraction.” The man puts the rind down and runs away into the darkness. A green policeman stands on the brightly lit porch of a comfortable looking suburban home. When the homeowner walks onto the porch, the officer asks, “Did you install these bulbs?” When the homeowner says yeah, he is hauled away to a waiting squad car, and a TV reporter speaks into the camera, “Tragedy strikes tonight where a man has just been arrested for possession of an incandescent light bulb.” A green policeman busts two teenagers for drinking from plastic bottles. As green policeman surround a man and woman in a hot tub, one of the officers announces, “The water setting is at 105,” and the couple is arrested. The commercial ends with a green policeman busting two real police officers in a squad car. The green policeman asks the real cop, “Are those Styrofoam cups you’re drinking from?” The cop says yeah, and the green policeman responds, “Please step out of the car and put ‘em on the hood.” In this ad, the problem with the green police is that they are pursuing a good thing—a healthy environment—in an extreme way. They are well meaning, but overzealous.
So it is with legalists. While some are motivated by a Pharisaical spirit, others are pursuing a very good thing—purity and holiness—but they are doing it to an extreme. They police the actions of others in behaviors that the Bible says nothing specifically about. While the Bible does call the leaders of the church to exercise church discipline with regard to certain actions that are clearly named in Scripture, legalists want to raise the bar and also enforce their extra-biblical standards on others.
Our texts in 1 Kings 19:1-4, 8-15a, Luke 8:26-39 and Galatians 3:23-29 speak to the significance of anxiety, love and reconciliation in the human experience, particularly in the area of legalistic understandings and experiences of being a Christian. Here’s the bottom line before we look at our texts and make three points for our take away as disciples of Jesus. The unconditional love of God meets us in our anxiety, that feeling of uneasiness, and draws us to Jesus giving us the contentment to trust God for reconciliation in whatever circumstance and with whomever we’re encountering brokenness. Transformation is possible in and through banking our hope on the unconditional love of God. God serves us and we in-turn serve others with this incredibly good news.Legalism imprisons us. Grace frees us. Christopher J.H. Wright writes,
[John] Stott expressed the conviction, which he sustained throughout his life, that Christian mission in obedience to the Great Commission could not be confined, in definition or in practice, to the verbal proclamation of the gospel (evangelism) alone, but that mission legitimately and biblically includes the practical involvement of Christians in society in the wide variety of good works that constitute social responsibility, service and action.
1 Kings 19:1-4, 8-15a reminds us that anxiety, love and reconciliation are used by God to upset the power structure of legalism, which is anti-God, and restores God’s primacy in our lives. As in Elijah’s case, God does not dismiss the pain of anxiety and brokenness, but tenderly touches us and moves us forward in love and reconciliation. Luke 8:26-39 calls us to embrace anxiety in one hand and God’s unconditional love in the other in order for authentic reconciliation with self, God and others to occur. The Christ event of crucifixion and resurrection ultimately frees us from the oppression of anxiety. As in the case of the man filled with demons, Jesus freed him from “legion” and set him on a new track absent of fear, distress and anxiety. And in Galatians 3:23-29, Paul instructs us that the Holy Spirit, not the Law, is the ultimate source of individual and communal power that enables Christian living. Anxiety disables us in our Christian living. It disrupts our identity in Jesus. Anxiety divides and marginalizes us from self, God and one another.
As I mentioned last week, the Triune God is an active agent in human and world affairs. God’s unconditional love beckons each one of us to allow God to serve us and we in turn to serve others, so the cycle of anxiety, love and reconciliation can be completed to make us more fully alive, the way God intends us to be. Serving others moves us from imagining transformation to experiencing it.
Listening with ears of tolerance. Seeing through eyes of compassion. And speaking with the language of love moves us along in the journey of transformation. The unconditional love of the Triune God, in and through the power of the Holy Spirit, for you and others, is the bridge to cross the cavern from anxiety to reconciliation.
My thinking in this regard has been impacted by Stephen Boyd in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 3(Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019), 104-106.
Christopher J. H. Wright in John Stott and Christopher J. H. Wright, Christian Mission in the Modern World (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 41.
Some ideas have been influenced by Gregory L. Cuellar, C. Melissa Snarr, Brad R. Braxton, Renata Furst, O. Wesley Allen Jr. and Stephen Boyd in Joel B. Green, Thomas G. Long, Luke A. Powery and Cynthia L. Rigby, editors, Connections, Year C, Volume 3, 88-92 and 97-106.