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Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle. . . Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other. . . discover beauty in everyone. Thoughts from Romans 12, The Message, by Eugene Peterson.
The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread. ~Mother Teresa
Love is an act of endless forgiveness, a tender look which becomes a habit. ~Peter Ustinov
This week I am reading and studying a book on forgiveness… Embodying Forgiveness: A Theological Analysis, by L Gregory Jones. In the introduction, Mr. Jones states that
“forgiveness is not so much a word spoken, an action performed, or a feeling felt as it is an embodied way of life in an ever-deepening friendship with the Triune God and with others. As such, a Christian account of forgiveness ought not simply or even primarily be focused on the absolution of guilt; rather, it ought to be focused on the reconciliation of brokenness, the restoration of communion – with God, with one another and with the whole Creation.”
I believe that to practice forgiveness as an embodied way of life, that practice must come from the center of ourselves, by loving God and loving one another. In order to love and live in communion with God and others, we must practice and develop the craft of forgiveness, an on-going process of unlearning sin through forgiveness, and of learning, through specific habits and practices in community, to live in communion. As followers of Jesus Christ, as members of the family of God, our priority should be to offer love, compassion and the creative and free gift of new life in Christ, in the face of the sin and evil we all experience in the world.
For a deeper and godly love to radiate from the center of who we are we must, through words and action, bring God’s reconciliation through Christ to bear on our own lives and in the concrete situations in which people around us find themselves. In some situations, that love in action may require heroics and possibly suffering. In other situations, it may require patterns of reconciliation and reconstruction. But in whatever situation we find ourselves, to respond to sin and evil with love will involve us in “seeing forgiveness as an innovative gesture, patterned in Christ, that breaks apart those habits and forces that diminish and destroy. In this sense, forgiveness is an invitation to imagine and embody a future, a future revealed in God’s Kingdom that is not bound by the past or condemned to repeat it.” (p. 90)
In order for God’s love to touch the center of who we are we must daily experience His forgiveness for our own mental, spiritual, emotional and physical restoration. Only then can we love others from the center of who we are.
This morning, I joined in worship at the Gracewood UMC, Augusta, Ga. I had left my home, intending to drive out to Thomson, to an African-American non-denoninational church, pastored by a good friend of mine. But on the way, the Spirit urged me to take the interstate exit and go on out south of town to Gracewood UMC. Of course, I arrived a little late, and the praise team was already well into the second praise set.
Worshippers were singing; some dancing; three women were gracefully waving lovely sheer banners in front of the congregation. After 15 to 20 minutes more of adoration of our wonderful God and Lord, a powerful, filled-with-God, African-American woman began to exhort and encourage the congregation to share what God is doing and their requests for prayer. Thus began a time of deep, intimate sharing and prayer, such as I have not experienced for quite a while. I was following the conversations, the exhortations, the praise and prayer, when suddenly I realized that a woman near the front, who had just requested prayer for her daughter, was a friend of mine that I have not seen in nearly 15 years. I had lost track of her and her family, but have thought of her and prayed for her so many times over the years. When she glanced back at someone who was speaking behind me, I caught her eye and waved. Her face lighted up in astonishment. A little later, in a lull in the worship, I slipped up toward the front to sit close to her and hug her. What a reunion we had this morning! She whispered to me that she has prayed for me many times over these years, as I have for her, and added that in the past 6-8 months she has repeatedly felt the move of God to pray for me. Unbelievable! well, not really; that’s the way of my great God.
So let me say, I praise God once again for His mercy, for His grace, for His glory; for friends, old and new. For colleagues in ministry. For family, for children, for grand-children. I praise God that through all of the twists and turns of life, He often brings us full circle to once again find a friend of the heart and through that reunion, experience His magnificent and furious love.
In ancient times, great fortresses were built on mountain tops. Many of those fortresses remain today in Europe and Asia. Few such places of protection can be found in the US. During this turbulent time of economic and spiritual crisis, most people around the world would wish to find a place of protection, a place of security.
A reading from Psalm 43 in The Message strikes me as a message of hope for all of us today.
Give me your lantern and compass, give me a map.
So I can find my way to the sacred mountain,
to the place of your presence,
To enter the place of worship,
meet my exuberant God,
Sing my thanks with a harp
(how about a guitar, keyboard or flute)
magnificent God, my God.
Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?
Why are you crying the blues?
Fix my eyes on God —
Soon I’ll be praising again.
He puts a smile on my face… He’s my God!
Simply spoken.. He’s my God. I can trust in Him, enter into a breathing space, a space of His presence. There I meet Him and sing my thanks. Basking in the light of His presence, my soul is lifted up, my spirit takes courage to face another day of the realities of life.