Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 1

Posted: August 31st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 1

3.  When we misuse the soul’s powers their evil aspects dominate us. For instance, misuse of our power of intelligence results in ignorance and stupidity; misuse of our incensive power and of our desire produces hatred and licentiousness. The proper use of these powers produces spiritual knowledge, moral judgment, love and self-restraint. This being so, nothing created and given existence by God is evil.

We all have power and we all must choose how to exercise that power. We can act in love or we can choose to act otherwise. And we can always see the true use or misuse of our power in that which it produces.

But when we abuse our power and produce evil, we must not then blame God. We worship a good God who loves mankind. He is the light in whom their is no darkness and indeed which destroys darkness.

Not even the one called the devil or satan was created evil. He was created good and chose evil instead. He was created to be light and instead made himself dark.

The question lies always before us in our every act: Will we choose to love?


The Jesus Creed 10 – Peter: The Story of Conversion

Posted: August 30th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Jesus Creed 10 – Peter: The Story of Conversion

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The reading for this chapter is: Luke 5:1-11.

Conversion, like wisdom, takes a lifetime.

McKnight has a whole lot more in depth on conversion in his book, Turning to Jesus. Nevertheless, Peter is a good story to explore. He’s nice and complex.

For some, conversion is like a birth certificate while for others it is like a driver’s license. For the first, the ultimate question is ‘What do I need to do to get to heaven?’ For the second, the question is ‘How do I love God?’ For the first, concern is a moment; for the second, the concern is a life.

The Jesus Creed is more like a driver’s license than a birth certificate.

The Jesus Creed is about the totality of life, and so conversion to Jesus and the Jesus Creed is total conversion — heart, soul, mind, and strength.

I think the present-day American church has failed to grasp that, for a lot of us, the question of ‘how to get into heaven‘ just isn’t particularly interesting or compelling. It’s not much of an incentive for conversion. And if you ask any sort of more complicated question, it becomes much harder to pinpoint an instant of conversion. Peter is a good example. Let’s start by asking what should be a simple question: When was Peter converted?

  • Was it when Shimeon was introduced to Yeshua and Yeshua tells him that one day his name will be Kephas? His brother told Peter that this man might be the Messiah.
  • Was it when Peter confesses he is a sinner? Remember? That’s the odd conclusion to the fishing story. I never have quite figured out how a big catch of fish prompts the declaration, ‘I am a sinful man!’ But there you go. Is this when he’s converted?
  • Or is it when Peter confesses Jesus is Messiah? Peter does get it right when Jesus asks, but then almost immediately screws up again.
  • Or is he only converted after the death and resurrection of Jesus? After all, Peter had flatly denied even knowing Jesus and had had to be restored by Jesus after the resurrection.
  • Or is his conversion only complete when he and the others receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost? After all, it wasn’t until then that Peter was willing to publicly proclaim Jesus to others.

Two other events are of note. Peter receives a vision that converts him to the reality that the church will include Jews and Gentiles. And finally, there is the Peter who writes the letters to the churches. He’s surely converted by the time these occur, but they are still noteworthy.

Still, a credible case can be made for any of the first five as the point of Peter’s conversion. And then Scot McKnight says this.

No one doubts that Peter is converted, but we may not be sure when the ‘moment’ occurs, when he gets his birth certificate. And therein lies the mystery of conversion. Conversion is more than just an event; it is a process. Like wisdom, it takes a lifetime. Conversion is a lifelong series of gentle (or noisy) nods of the soul. The question of when someone is converted is much less important than that they are converting.

That was a very freeing statement for me. Of course, I could shape my story to fit many boxes, but none of them ever felt quite right. There were many points of ‘decision’ and all of them were legitimate and authentic. They were also mostly of the ‘noisy’ rather than the ‘gentle’ variety. McKnight was the first Christian voice I heard who basically said my story of conversion could be my story, whatever it looked like. I didn’t have to have a singular Pauline experience. I didn’t have to have a point where I turned and was forever different. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with that, but “There is no reason to think Paul’s is the definitive model.

Moreover, even Paul doesn’t seem to fit within the context of what many today seem to mean by a Pauline experience of conversion. Paul, after all, still had a race to complete, a mark to keep before him, a finish to achieve. The thief on the cross seems to be the sort of conversion that many evangelicals really seem to have in mind. And while God can do all things, that was clearly an exception, not the rule. After all, most of us aren’t in the process of being executed.

McKnight outlines the seven stages that we see in Peter’s story as follows:

  1. Peter suspects Jesus might be Messiah.
  2. Peter recognizes Jesus as someone profoundly superior.
  3. Peter confesses Jesus as the Messiah. [But Peter disagrees with the Messiah on whether or not the Messiah ought to suffer.]
  4. Peter perceives the Messiah must suffer.
  5. Peter confesses Jesus is Lord.
  6. Peter realizes that Jesus is not just the Lord of the Jewa, but the Lord of all. Here Peter sees that the Jesus Creed is about loving all others.
  7. Peter embraces Jesus’ life as the paradigm of Christian living.

Peter illustrates a progression of conversion. And I would hazard that his example is more common than Paul’s.


The Jesus Creed 9 – Mary: The Story of Vocation

Posted: August 27th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Jesus Creed 9 – Mary: The Story of Vocation

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The reading for this chapter is: Luke 1:46-55 (the Magnificat) (also Psalm 149).

As with Joseph, this chapter on Mary adds context to our reading of the story in the Holy Scriptures. McKnight finds in that story another theme. “Our vocation is to be what God made us to be.” Dwell on that for a minute. It’s not to be like Mother Theresa, or Daniel, or anyone else. “You are to be who God meant you to be.” If that’s not a tall order, I don’t know what is, especially for those of us who have almost buried what that might be.

Mary must instantaneously grasp that she will be labeled a na’ap (adulteress). But she also recognizes that God has something special in store. She is to be the mother of Messiah! And she responds immediately with a song of joy. However, in her song, McKnight sees evidence of more about Mary.

Joseph is a tsadiq, a man totally observant of the Torah. But Mary pokes her head out of a different nest, the Anawim (the pious poor). Historians agree on three characteristics of Mary’s people, the Anawim. These people suffer because they are poor, but they express their hope by gathering at the temple in Jerusalem. There they express to God their yearning for justice, for the end of oppression, and for the coming of the Messiah. Each of these characteristics of the Anawim finds expression in the life of Mary and especially in the Magnificat.

Mary is poor. At Jesus’ temple dedication his parents present two birds rather than a lamb. That is the offering prescribed in Torah for those too poor to afford a lamb. (Actually, if you dig into the history of first century Judaism, you’ll find that that’s not the only possible explanation. History, especially ancient history — where the data tends to be sparse, is often like that.) Mary is not hopeless though. Read the Magnificat and see the lines expressing a yearning for liberation from injustice.

Mary’s Song is actually announcing a social revolution. The King at the time is Herod the Great, and he is a power-tossing and death-dealing tyrant. Mary is announcing that he will be dealt his own due and have his power tossed to the winds. In his place, Mary declares, God will establish her very own son. Unlike Herod, he will rule with mercy and justice.

And then these very powerful words.

If spiritual formation is about learning to love God with our ‘all,’ then one dimension of loving God is surrendering the ‘all’ of our past to God. We dare not make light of our past — whether it was wondrous or abusive, reckless or righteous. All we can do, like Mary, is offer to the Lord who we are and what we’ve been. He accepts us — past and all.

Perhaps those words are less powerful for those who have a past that appears easy for God to accept. I don’t know. At the end of the day, I have only my own experience against which to judge. And I know more people with … difficult pasts than I do with wondrous ones.

Mary’s vocation, whether the ‘siblings‘ of Jesus were cousins, children of Joseph from an earlier marriage, children to whom Mary actually later gave birth (the latest developing and least likely idea — it’s an idea that’s actually only about two hundred years old), or some combination,  is clear. Mary assumes responsibility for these children, at least two girls and four boys besides Jesus. And since many scholars think Joseph died when Jesus was fairly young, that responsibility becomes even more significant.

McKnight points out that the names of the boys tell a story as well. Their names are the names of the patriarch Israel’s sons. Yakov, Yosef, Yehudah, and Shimeon. With Yeshua, they become five Jewish boys whose names tell the story of Israel’s liberation from slavery.

Mary’s vocation was also to teach the children. It should have been obvious, but I didn’t see the connection between the Magnificat and Jesus’ teachings until this book pointed it out. Duh. We often miss what’s right in front of our face. First, Mary blesses the holy name of God and asks him to fill the hungry. (Sound familiar?) Then, Mary is poor and from the Anawim. Jesus blesses and opens the banquet doors to the poor. Mary is a widow. Jesus frequently shows mercy to widows. (And his brother James speaks about taking care of widows and orphans in no uncertain terms at all.) Mary’s prayer emphasizes God’s mercy and compassion. What is Jesus known for? Mary’s own concern for Israel’s redemption is seen in Jesus’ wrenching prayer for Jerusalem. “These similarities are not accidents.

We modern Protestants tend to ignore Mary too much, I think.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Second Century) 27

Posted: August 26th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Second Century) 27

100. When the intellect is stripped of passions and illuminated with the contemplation of created beings, then it can enter into God and pray as it should.

This is a short text, but it says a lot. Still it’s easy for us to misunderstand. As I’ve discussed in other posts, passion in our common usage today usually means something different than the Greek word and concept it translates. We do still retain some of that meaning in the alternate definitions, but it’s not the first thing people think. The root of the Greek concept, as I understand it, is suffering or things we suffer. We see elements of that usage in English in phrases like the Passion of Christ.

The passions, then, are those things that drive our actions and reactions without the intervention of our will. We suffer in bondage to our passions. Interestingly, last night I watched a video that Brian McLaren had posted on his blog on 21st century enlightenment. It’s an intriguing video, but I was struck by the portion that described the advances in the sociological sciences that have revealed that most of our actions are actually reactions to stimuli without the intervention of our conscious will. Our science has advanced to the point where we now know and can prove what the Fathers like St. Maximos knew about human existence more than a thousand years ago.

But when our will is dominated by passions, we cannot truly pray as we ought. Oh, we must still pray as best we can. If we wait to pray, we will never pray at all. But the passions form a barrier between us and God. We need to be healed and freed from their bondage.


The Jesus Creed 8 – Joseph: The Story of Reputation

Posted: August 25th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Jesus Creed 8 – Joseph: The Story of Reputation

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The one for this chapter is: Matthew 1:18-25.

This chapter adds depth to our understanding of the social and cultural context. Joseph is a ‘righteous man.’ That is, he is tsadiq.

This is the reputation of anyone who studies, learns, and observes the Torah scrupulously. In Joseph’s world, that means he recites and lives the Shema daily, that he follows the food laws, that he supports the synagogue, and that he regularly celebrates the high holy days in Jerusalem. Joseph is proud of his reputation. In Joseph’s world there are no reputations more desirable than tsadiq — unless you are a priest (unusual), a prophet (rare), or the Messiah (very rare).

I will note that this perception and understanding of Joseph lends credence to the Orthodox memory of Joseph as an older, widowed man chosen to wed Mary. I’m somewhat familiar with the way cultures who name such men function and it’s unlikely that a young man just entering adulthood would have been seen and recognized as tsadiq. I’m not sure that Joseph’s age matters all that much, but this cultural lens does bolster the Orthodox story of Joseph.

That provides the depth to understand Joseph’s dilemma when he hears that Mary is pregnant. If he continues his association with her, it will cost him his place among the tsadiqim. He will become Am ha-aretz, one of those who does not observe the Torah. So what does he do? He consults the Torah. Here are the options Torah would have given him.

She has either been seduced or raped. If she has been seduced, the Torah says that both Mary and her seducer are to be stoned to death. If she has been raped, the rapist is to be put to death. But, if no one confesses, the Torah says that Mary is to drink the ‘waters of bitterness.’ If she dies from the water, she is guilty; if she doesn’t die, she is innocent. Or, from yet another part of the Torah Joseph could have consulted, her parents could produce ‘tokens of virginity,’ which needs no explanation.

In the midst of this, Joseph hears Mary’s story. She says that she has not been seduced or raped, but that the child is the result of a miracle. God has done this.

Joseph is on the horns of a dilemma. He would do anything to follow Torah. But what if Mary is telling the truth? Would God do something like this? Should he preserve his reputation? Or love Mary and take her as his wife? This is the dilemma the Jesus Creed often creates.

With all that tension swirling, Joseph opts to quietly preserve his reputation with a ‘private‘ divorce. And then an angel tells him not to fear. Don’t fear the loss of reputation. Don’t fear the future. Mary is telling the truth. He knows it’s unlikely that anyone will believe his story of angelic visitation, so he must decide. Surrender to God (that sacred love thing, remember — ALL) and ruin his reputation in the public square or protect his reputation by ignoring God. We all know how Joseph chose. “He did as he was told.”

Joseph is then legally tied to two people with sullied reputations. “Mary is perceived as an adulteress (a na’ap) and Jesus is considered an illegitimate child (a mamzer). … Joseph is no longer a tsadiq. Instead, he is husband of Mary and the (legal) father of Jesus.”

His next thought is key. “The first story heard around the table of Jesus is that identity is more important than reputation. Joseph learns that who he is before God (his identity) is more important than who he is in the circle of his pious friends (his reputation).” And that’s a hard lesson for any of us to truly learn. Yet until we do, we can hardly be said to love God at all. For God chooses to lose his reputation when he provides for his Son to have two parents with bad reputations. And then he does it even more thoroughly in a scandalous and thoroughly disreputable death as a common criminal on a cross.

God asks us to sacrifice everything to find our identity in him. But it’s no less than he’s already done.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Second Century) 26

Posted: August 24th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments »

94. A man writes either to assist his memory, or to help others, or for both reasons; or else he writes in order to injure certain people, or to show off, or out of necessity.

In this age where we have made publication easy for all, the above text is perhaps more relevant than ever. Why do we write?

For me, there is an element of necessity. I have always written, though I have not and do not always choose to publish. Sometimes it’s the only thing that will stop a train of connected thoughts from constantly bouncing around my head. Sometimes it’s the way I figure out what I think or believe about something.

At other times, especially at work, writing is a way to construct a perception of a problem that leads to a solution. Even if the discussion ends up being in person or via conference call, I find that writing a paper beforehand tends to frame and shape the discussion. Providing something written in our literate culture accomplishes something that words alone do not.

Why then do I blog? As I’ve written elsewhere, I decided to start my blog when I was diagnosed with celiac disease. I believed and still believe that capturing my thoughts, discoveries, and experiences with the disease could possibly help others. Although celiac related posts are only a part of what I choose to publish (and then only when I have something I believe is helpful on the topic to post), I do notice that most of the search results that land on my blog are food or celiac related searches. I think my original goal of helping others remains valid.

Once I decided to start my blog, I also decided not to limit what I post. I hardly post everything I write, much less everything I think, but I’m not looking for a niche. I have no desire to focus my blog in a single area. I also have no desire to gain readership. I deliberately chose and customized a very plain and boring theme and most of my posts tend to be little more than text. Both decisions were and are intentional. If you read what I write, it’s either because you already know me personally or you find something I write either interesting or helpful.

I’m aware that the things we write can injure others and I have no desire to injure anyone. I’m cautious in the things I choose to say. I know that words have power. As children we say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” not because we believe the refrain is true, but because we know it isn’t and we are seeking to ward off injury. Words can damage and change us in deep and lasting ways. Physical injuries heal. Words can stay with us a lifetime.

If you’re reading this and you write, why do you write?


The Jesus Creed 7 – John the Baptist: The Story of New Beginnings

Posted: August 23rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Jesus Creed 7 – John the Baptist: The Story of New Beginnings

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The ones for this chapter are: Luke 3:1-20; John 1:6-9, 15, 19-34.

In the middle section of the book, McKnight explores the implications of the Jesus Creed through the stories of different people in the gospels. He starts with John the Baptist. There are several themes in play. The Jordan River marked the time the children of Israel crossed over into the promised land for a new beginning. Likewise, John was calling for a new beginning. We also need to compare priests and prophets. John’s father was a priest. John was a prophet.

A priest speaks for humans to God in the privacy of the temple. A prophet speaks for God to humans in the publicity of the town square. Priests wiped sins from the people; prophets wiped sins in their faces. Most importantly, priests summoned people to tell the truth so they could make restitution, but prophets summoned people to tell the truth so they could start all over again.

And prophets didn’t always use words. There are many examples of prophets being told to act out the drama they were prophesying. So it is with John. Not just with words, but location. He stages his drama on the far side of the Jordan River, the side from which they entered Israel.

John is saying that if Israel wants to enjoy the blessings of God, they need to go back to the Jordan and begin again. … This is the only way to make sense of John is his world: He wants his audience to see that life can begin all over again. At the Jordan, John gives us the opportunity to start over. How? John has a word for it.

Repent! It’s the first word out of his mouth. Repentance “with an edge“. Repentance means we “must confess our sins“, in other words, “we must tell God the truth.” And that’s hard. We have layers.

Our public persona.

Our family image.

And our inner self.

And telling the truth to God means we expose all of them. “The Jesus Creed begins with loving God. Love, for it to work at all, requires truthtelling.” Don’t we see some of that in the Psalms? If we are not first honest, good and bad, we can hardly claim to love at all.

Truthtelling awakens forgiveness. By telling the truth, we are able to receive forgiveness from our Abba. If we do not learn to tell the truth, we are closed off from that forgiveness. We hide. God thrills at each reconciliation. That is clear. Truthtelling gets real, though.

Spirituality. Many of those listening had their spirituality anchored in their Jewish heritage. So does John and he’s probably proud of his heritage. Nevertheless, our spirituality must be anchored in our Abba.

Our possessions. Oh, that’s a tough one for us today. But honestly it’s always been tough. “The Bible speaks often of money because it is with money that we exercise the freedoms of choice.” That’s a heady thought. John says, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none.” How important are our possessions to us? We need to tell the truth.

Our power. To one extent or another, we all have it. Many of those John faced abused it. “If we love God and love others, we will use our power for the good of others. We need to tell the truth about power: how do we use it?”  This is why the discipline of confession strikes me as so very important today. We are all lousy at telling the truth about ourselves. It’s often not pretty. But unless we do it, we will never grow in faith.


The Jesus Creed 6 – A Creed for Others

Posted: August 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The ones for this chapter are: Luke 10:25-37; Mark 12:28-34.

This chapter turns to the parable of the good Samaritan to illustrate its central point. I liked this statement. “Jesus tells parables that catch his readers in the web of a moral dilemma so they can learn.” This parable starts because an “expert in the Torah” asks Jesus how to inherit eternal life. Jesus asks him what the Torah says, and the man responds with both love God and love others. He had already grasped part of the Jesus Creed.

But then he asks, “Who is my neighbor?” McKnight points out that he’s really asking ‘who is pure and who is not?’ What’s the classification system? Who is to be loved?

And in the parable, it’s important to realize that the priest and Levite followed the letter of the Torah. They were not supposed to come in contact with a dead body, not even allowing their shadow to fall over it, or they would become impure and unable to fulfill their duties. That’s why they went to the other side of the road. It was not out of heartlessness, but out of obedience to their understanding of Torah. However, it illustrates a great irony. By ‘obeying’ Torah, the priest and Levite  actually disobey what lies at the heart of Torah; loving others.

It’s the stereotyped outcast — the one who would have been considered an enemy — who actually does the right thing. Jesus’ answer to the potential conflict of ‘love-of-God-as-obeying-Torah’ versus ‘love-of-God-as-following-Jesus’ is clear: “Loving God properly always means that we will tend to those in need.”

Now Jesus is not against the Torah. Rather, he is against any reading of the Torah that does not encompass love God and love others. That is the spirit of Torah, however you interpret the letter of Torah. Jesus reshapes the question from ‘Who is my neighbor?’ to ‘To whom can you be neighborly?’ Don’t we all often fall on the wrong side of that distinction?  We tend to look down on the priest and the Levite, but are we really any different?

Neighborly love begins in our home. From the way some people act, this idea might be a shocker, but those in our family are also our neighbor. And it’s also a ‘whenever love and whereever love’. It’s not a question of whether or not the person “deserves” your love. As in our love for God, it’s only a sacred love for others if it is without qualifications.

“Neighborly love is moral love.” That’s an interesting statement. We are not called to ‘tolerance’. “Toleration condescends; love honors.” McKnight notes that in quoting Leviticus to establish his ‘love others’ addition to the Shema, Jesus is using its moral framework. Respect parents. Honor your word. Care for the physically challenged. Seek justice for the powerless. Live in sexual purity. Show love for your  enemies. And a whole lot more.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Second Century) 25

Posted: August 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

93. Death in the true sense is separation from God, and ‘the sting of death is sin’  (1 Cor. 15:56). Adam, who received the sting, became at the same time an exile from the tree of life, from paradise and from God (cf. Gen. 3); and this was necessarily followed by the body’s death. Life, in the true sense, is He who said, ‘I am the life’ (John 11:25), and who, having entered into death, led back to life him who had died.

Frederica Mathewes-Green recounts an event in her conversion when she heard Jesus tell her that he was her life — the other paths she was pursuing were not her life. I’ve never experienced anything quite as dramatic — though admittedly my life has been such that perhaps I’m not the best judge of what qualifies as drama — but the journey of my life has been marked by encounters, events, and experiences that are hard to explain in ways other than God’s active love for me. If Jesus is truly our life, then whatever we might find along other paths and from other sources is not ultimately life.

When I try to explore the reasons I remain Christian, this is probably close to the center. I feel at times somewhat like the disciples in John 6. Where else are we going to go, Lord? You have the words of life.


The Jesus Creed 5 – A Creed of Sacred Love

Posted: August 18th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on The Jesus Creed 5 – A Creed of Sacred Love

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The ones for this chapter are: Matthew 6:9-15; Luke 7:36-50; 19:1-10.

Our love for God is sacred.

That’s the central theme of this chapter.  And sacredness flows from the word ‘all’ in the Shema and the first part of the Jesus Creed. It’s an all or nothing thing. A sacred love ‘sticks with what it is stuck with’. Isn’t that pretty much what Yahweh does? He has ‘stuck with’ humanity through the ages, working to heal and rescue us, loving us always.

Hosea is a primary example of this chapter. Hosea illustrated with his life that God was not just the God of Israel, but its Lover as well. McKnight calls this Hosea’s ‘open secret’. God is the Lover of Israel. And that leads him to Jesus’ ‘open secret’. God is an Abba Lover. God loves and is to be loved as a human loves his or her own father (or at least how a father ought to be loved and worthy of love).

McKnight then moves into how such a sacred love transforms our speech, our acts, and our worship. In our speech, we cannot help but speak of God with reserve. We do not wish to carelessly violate that sacred love. Since sinful acts are any that violate our love of God and others, sacred love converts acts of sin to acts of love. (He uses Zacchaeus for the example here.) And finally, it transforms our worship. And here he uses the example of the courtesan who, while Jesus is with a Torah-observant host, enters, falls at Jesus’ feet weeping and pours expensive oil on his feet.

His closing is beautiful.

I can think of no better illustration of what genuine Christian worship is all about: Worship happens when I comprehend (1) who I really am before God — a love-violating sinner, (2) how faithful and gracious God is to his sacred commitment of love for me, and (3) how incredibly good God is to open the floodgates of that love to me.

When I comprehend this, I anoint his feet with oil and wipe dry his feet of grace.

Does that describe the depth and tenor of our worship?