• Steven Marsh

The Unconditional Love of the Triune God Beckons Us to Serve–Let Mutual Love Continue: a Refle

Anna had never felt so alone. Her husband, Herman, needed minor surgery to repair a hernia, but the fact that he also suffered from Alzheimer’s made it anything but minor. The doctor had just visited Herman’s room and informed her that after surgery they would have to put her husband in arm and leg restraints. They were concerned he would wake up disoriented and pull out his IV, or harm himself in some other way. They didn’t have enough staff to keep someone at his bedside throughout recovery. Anna tried to envision the restraints that would hold her husband immobile. The image tormented her. What could she do? A few moments later, Anna turned when she heard a knock at the door of her husband’s hospital room. Mike and Carol were 30 years younger, but over the last few years they had become good friends through their involvement in the same home fellowship group. Carol noticed the stress in Anna’s eyes and was finally able to draw out the cause for her concern. Mike and Carol had no idea what could be done either, but they were on their way to meet with the group and promised Anna they would share her concern and pray about it. Almost an hour later the phone rang, and Anna grabbed for it before it awakened her husband. “Oh good, you’re still there.” It was Carol. “After we prayed for you tonight, someone asked why they couldn’t just have the nurses keep an eye on Herman. When I explained that the hospital didn’t have the staff to do that, she asked if group members could do it. Everyone thought that was a great idea, and people started volunteering to take time slots. Anna, would Herman have to be restrained if we had someone in the room with him every moment during recovery?” “I can’t ask you people to do that,” Anna said, overwhelmed by the offer. “You haven’t asked we’re offering. Can you find out?” Anna put down the phone and walked out to the nurses’ station. When she returned, she told Carol that as long as someone who was awake and alert was with Herman, he wouldn’t need to be restrained. Before she could add, “But I don’t want you to go to all that trouble,” she heard Carol relay the information to the group. The cheers in the background were all she needed to hear. That night more than a dozen people volunteered for around-the-clock shifts at Herman’s bedside while he recovered. When family members heard what Herman and Anna’s friends were doing, they volunteered for shifts as well. For the next three days someone was at Herman’s side. As a side benefit, Anna had constant companionship through her long hours at the hospital. A few weeks later Anna tried to thank the group for their incredible demonstration of kindness. Every time she began to speak, she was freshly overcome with gratitude. Though everyone in the room appreciated how deeply it had touched her, no one felt like it had been a great sacrifice. They simply had wanted to help a friend through a tough spot. That group had discovered the simple power of “one anothering.”[1]

“One anothering” is about mutual love. The texts in Jeremiah 2:4-13, Luke 14:1, 7-14 and Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 validate basic Christian discipleship and its emphasis on mutual love. Life has its challenges and the true test of whether or not Christianity works is when our love for others is mutual in the tough times, we hold on to God’s love for us and we reciprocate that love through it all. In the reading from Jeremiah, God says to the people, “What wrong did your ancestors find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthless things, and became worthless themselves?”[2]No matter the good things that God had done for the people like bringing them out of slavery in Egypt, leading them in the wilderness and giving them a bounteous land, the people consistently let go of the “worth” of being in relationship with God and pursued “worthless things.” Being in relationship with “worthless” values, morals and lifestyle priorities makes us “worthless.” The Gospel reading in Luke indicates that often the criteria we use to decide whom we will invite to the party or how much time we will give to our Christian growth or…is rooted in ideas and priorities that are worthless. Jesus invites us to see who and what we include and exclude. Inclusion and exclusion, as Christians, impact the social order. And we are to make an impact for the common good. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that loving relationships give meaning to life. We are to love the stranger and not to neglect hospitality. We are commanded to let mutual love continue. It is in and through relationships, with Jesus, one another and the stranger, that we find real hope to deal with real life.[3]

God’s unconditional love beckons you to allow God to serve you and you in turn to serve others. Experiencing the incredible blessing of mutual love with God and others allows us to boldly practice grace and maturity in Christ. John Stott reminds us in Christian Mission in the Modern Worldthat mutual love is the foundation to relationship with God and others. Mutual love with God and others is confidence in the Holy Spirit working in each one of to make us more like Jesus. Stott writes, “I wonder if anything is more needed for the Christian mission in the modern age than this healthy fusion of humility and humanity in our reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit.”[4]Mutual love that continues is a love that encourages us to be ourselves and exercise our gifts for the benefit of one another and others.

Jesus saved me with his electing choice before the foundation of the earth was laid; Jesus knew me before I was birthed from my parents; Jesus wooed me to himself when I surrendered to him in communicant’s class as a 13 year-old; Jesus called me to the gospel ministry, gave me Janet, our three children and their spouses and six-grandchildren; he has guided me and walked with me through every valley, on every mountain top and through everything in-between; Jesus has given me a best friend, several good friends and five covenant brothers who love me even when it is hard to; and Jesus exposed me to my arrogance, self-righteousness, pharisaical tendencies and obsession with image management. Mutual love between me, God, Janet and others is what kept me going and still does. I am grateful.

Get serious about Jesus’ love for you and the “worth” of mutual love continuing in your relationships; with God and others. Therein lies the dynamism of the Christian faith and your experience with God, one another and others. The journey of mutual love is one where relationships matter most. Be best neighbors. Be about loving God and loving others.

[1]This illustration can be found on preachingtoday.com. It is quoted in Authentic Relationships by Wayne Jacobson and Clay Jacobson (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Publishing Group, 2003); submitted by Marshall Shelley, Wheaton, Illinois.

[2]Jeremiah 2:5

[3]In this paragraph, I have benefited from the thinking and writing of 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),270-272, 281-283, 283-285, 276-278 and278-280.

[4]John Stott and Christopher J. H. Wright, Christian Mission in the Modern World (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2015), 200.

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