• Steven Marsh

The Unconditional Love of the Triune God Beckons Us To Serve–It’s Not Easy to Love: a Reflecti

We usually do not think about Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol during Ordinary Time. When Marley’s ghost appears to Ebenezer Scrooge, Marley often refers to “the truncated heart.” Both Marley and Scrooge have sat in their counting house alone, with their concern only focused within those walls. When Marley’s eyes are opened to suffering and the needs of others, he becomes painfully aware that the choices he made in his life made him incapable of helping. The outcome? Marley is the person he made himself to be. And, he has awareness that he could have been more.[1]William Alexander writes, “If you were doomed to live the same life over and over again for eternity, would you choose the life you are living now?[2]Loving the afflicted and our own affliction is difficult. But despising the afflicted and our own affliction is worse, isn’t it?

Phyllis Tickle spent her life engaged in social analysis on the church and its relationship to, in and with society. Tickle concluded that the cultural and religious changes we face today are rapid, pervasive and significant. A new story needs to be written. Which life will we as Christians live? Past or future church? She argues that the church has not faced changes like this since the Reformation.[3]A most significant observation is there are those who love God but are suspect of the institutional church. These individuals are not opposed to the essential teachings of the Gospel but find the Church irrelevant. This is the challenge facing mainline denominationslike the Presbyterian Church (USA).

The texts in Isaiah 5:1-7, Luke 12:49-56 and Hebrews 11:29-12:2 validate words and actions of love as essential for a life that is worth living.The writer of Isaiah raises the matter of lament. Then and now, there’s much to lament about being in relationship with God, others and what’s going on in society and culture. The grapevine seems to be bearing less fruit. Like the people of Judah, we need to look to future outcomes, not seek to repeat past successes. The Gospel reading in Luke indicates that duty-based relationships are the focus of Jesus’ impassioned warning. Oh, when we honor duty in our relationships order is maintained. But often there is no joy or fulfillment. If duty can be cast aside and freedom for loving authentically embraced, new fruit in relationships with God, family and others comes forth. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that loving relationships give meaning to life. But perseverance is part and parcel with loving God and others. Hebrews 12:2 reads, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith…” Christians have a responsibility to embrace the risk of vulnerability and authenticity.[4]

God’s unconditional love beckons you to allow God to serve you and you in turn to serve others. To identify with suffering, yours and of others, we must come to terms with God’s love for us and others. And that’s hard. But we have conversion to assist us. Conversion is the process we begin and continue which is most fulfilling. Christopher Wright in Christian Mission in the Modern World,writes, “John Stott states ‘what we know from Scripture,’ namely: that there is no possibility of self-salvation; that Jesus Christ is the only Savior; ‘and that salvation is by God’s grace alone, on the ground of Christ’s cross alone, by faith alone.’”[5]Be embraced by and embrace God’s unconditional love. It’s hard to do, but well worth it.

Serving in God’s mission is an amazing journey, a compelling story. As Christians we know how the journey and story ends. The new heaven and earth will come to be. That promise is fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of God’s Son Jesus Christ who is our Savior. Jesus’ sacrifice secured our victory and gives us the assurance that all will be well no matter how difficult the journey may be. Jesus will live his life through you.

Loving God and others is hard, but it becomes easier when we acknowledge human suffering and human need, as well as our own. If Marley could have lived his life over, he would have. As long as we have breath, we can make mid-journey, mid-chapter corrections. It’s all about being best neighbors. Join me.

[1]I am grateful for Robert A. Ratcliff and his insight on Marley and Ebenezer Scrooge as found 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),236.

[2]William Alexander, The $64Tomato(Algonquin Books, 2007), 245.

[3]This theme is fully developed in Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2008).

[4]In this paragraph, I am indebted to Elizabeth C. Larocca-Pitts, Robert A. Ratcliff, Elizabeth F. Caldwell, Sally Smith Holt, Paul K. Hooker and Jill Duffield 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),234-235, 236-237, 247-249, 249-250, 242-244 and 244-246.

[5]John Stott and Christopher J. H. Wright, Christian Mission in the Modern World (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 177.

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