• Steven Marsh

Worshipping The Triune God of Unconditional Love–Longing for Love: a Reflection on 1 Thessalon

You and I are loved. And we are to love. We are wired this way by God.

We were also created to worship the Triune God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So, longing for love is intricately bound to worship. That’s right, you and I are encountered by the creator, redeemer and sustainer of life every day, particularly in our worship. In that sense, worshipping God is disturbing. At least it is to me. My preferences get in the way of God. That is, I like liturgy and the common experience we have as a congregation. I don’t care for the individualistic tendencies of worship…me and God getting lost in some mantra like trance. Worship embraces all aspects of our lives: home, family, work, imagination, leisure, birth and death. It brings us face to face with God, the One who loves us the most and knows us the best. Sandra Maria Van Opstal writes, “One of the greatest challenges of our generation is that people make choices based almost exclusively on preferences…They may not understand that worship in community is more about us than about me…Like many of our faith practices (preaching, Scripture study, prayer and leadership), both biblical principles and cultural preferences are at play.”[1]

I long for love…love from God and others. I long to love…God and others. Let me tell you the story of how Brennan Manning met Jesus.

In 1955, Brennan had a dream. He was a sophomore at the University of Missouri. Brennan’s major was journalism. The New Yorker magazine was planning to employ him following his graduation. Then came the dream.

In the dream, Brennan was driving a Cadillac up a steep hill. At the crest of the hill was a fourteen-room ranch-style house with a panoramic view of the valley below. He saw his name on the mailbox. Parked in the driveway were a Lincoln and a Porsche. Barbara was inside the house baking bread and the voices of their four children were in the background. On the wall in the entryway to the house was the Nobel Prize for literature that he was awarded. Brennan awakened from the dream in a cold sweat, shouting, “O God, there’s got to be more!” He began a search for God.

Brennan broke off his engagement to Barbara. He announced to his family that he was entering the Franciscan seminary in Loretto, Pennsylvania. Not once in Brennan’s life had he ever uttered the name of Jesus. The seminary was anything but what he thought. The routine was predictable, and the tasks were demeaning, particularly dusting the parlor. One day while dusting, Brennan was staring at an eight-day Swiss clock atop the mantel, covered with a large glass bowl. Father Augustine walked in and asked Brennan what he was doing to which he replied, “I was wondering how much beer that glass bowl would hold.” Brennan knew he needed to leave the seminary. Would Barbara take him back?

Before he could leave, however, Brennan needed to meet with Father Augustine. Prior to that meeting, Brennan visited the fourteen “Stations of the Cross.” At the first station the prayer began with the phrase, “Jesus is condemned to death.” At the twelfth station, the prayer began with the words, “Jesus died on the cross.” He began to pray. After three hours in prayer, and very suddenly, Brennan heard Jesus call his name. For the first time in his life, Brennan felt unconditionally loved. From the depths of his being, Brennan realized that Jesus Christ died on the cross for him. His mind and heart were being called to a personal engagement with God. Brennan realized that there is only Jesus. He is everything.[2]

It is true. There is only Jesus! Jesus is everything. It is in Jesus that our longing for love is met. Paul, in 1 Thessalonians, admonishes us to live gratefully and expectantly. Gratitude and expectancy help us focus on what matters most: loving God and loving others. Luke mandates us to take seriously the birth of Jesus, because the baby who was born in a manger can radically change the way we live. And Jeremiah pronounces a future that will come to pass and is already on its way. This “future that will come to pass and is already on its way (33:14-16)” is packaged in between “pronouncements of devastation and restoration set in Jeremiah’s time (33:1-13)” and “emphatic declarations that the Lord will bring about every promise of healing and restoration in an unspecified future (33:17-26).”[3] The future is  now and we are to look to Jesus as the model for how we are to live. Jesus shows us what is right and just. In Jesus we will be saved. In Jesus, our longing for love and to love are met.

We all yearn to experience the unconditional love of God. God came to earth in the form of a man. This man was Jesus. Today is the official beginning of the Christmas season in the life of the church. It is called Advent. Advent serves as a dual reminder of the original expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the nativity of Jesus as well as the second coming of Christ. Advent ties the coming of the Christmas child to the climax of redemptive history with the Second Coming of this “Christmas child.” Oh, for such love as this does the human spirit yearn.

As followers of Jesus, we are sustained by God’s love in Christ. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. We can bank our hope on the Christmas child, because Jesus makes good on all his promises. Like Brennan Manning, Jesus is calling each of us by name. We are deeply loved by God. May our love for God increase. May our love for each other and others overflow.

[1]Sandra Maria Van Opstal The Next Worship: Glorifying God in a Diverse World (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2016), 27.

[2]Adapted from Brennan Manning, Lion and Lamb (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Chosen Books, 1986), 28-34.

[3]Citations taken from L. Daniel Hawk 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), 2-3.

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