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Rising in Love Part 1: Love Is Patient, Love is Kind

Blog by Nikayla Reize

I hate to admit this but only two weeks ago I was emailing with another pastor in our denomination who admittedly, isn’t a fan of Awaken Church or its pastor. In our exchange I said, “believe or not, I don’t just stand up there every Sunday and talk about God’s love – it’s not like I just read Mary Oliver poetry and preach self-care!”

And here I am, in week one of a sermon series on 1 Corinthians 13 pitching “the unfailing Love of God” feeling like the guy who pitched “Sharknado” to a Hollywood boardroom only 10 years ago. But it’s okay, right? Because we preached through Romans in the fall so we’re allowed the luxury of this short break from the REAL stuff. Hang on – is that how this works? Is meditating on the love of God the coffee break we get before returning to our real work of being sin accountants? Yikes, I hope not. Do we need to make sure we’ve mediated good and hard on how wretched we are before sneaking out and peering over the garden wall to the place where LOVE gets the first and the last word?

It seems to be the case that talking about the Love of God generates discomfort and conflict among us. There’s an anxiety in me when I imagine posting this to the church website. I can’t quite pinpoint the source of the fear but it’s there. It’s like I can hear the whispers in the room and I can’t focus. I get distracted by what I think they’re saying in the boardroom I’m not allowed in.

Classic liberal talking points – she’s effeminizing the church!

We need someone to really preach the gospel and tell it to us straight – we are condemned to death if not for the mercy of God!

She’s just tickling our ears and telling us what we want to hear – she should be telling us to repent, to beg for mercy! This isn’t meat – it’s milk.

I am reminded of a quote by Henri Nouwen:

“I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but her own vulnerable self. That is the way Jesus came to reveal God’s Love.”

I notice myself feeling vulnerable and so I close my eyes and I pray: bring stillness O God – bring silence to my crowded mind. I light this candle and place it in the window  for you– knock on this door O Son of God – interrupt the performance. I am weary and suspicious. I am cynical. Soften me, slow me down. Help me to stop competing for the Light – proving my right to make claims about the Light – gatekeeping the Light. My ego tells me there isn’t enough and that I need to take control of the narrative so that everyone agrees with me. Free me from this – help me to see what you see. Help me to see all that your Light illuminates. Amen.

1 John 4:7-11 says,

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

A few verses later (4:16-19), the Beloved Apostle says more –

“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.   There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.”

This is the beginning of the Gospel. Remember? John 3:16? We know this. For God so loved the world, he gave his one and only son. Before the crucifixion, he loved the world. Before Jesus died on the cross, he forgave people of their sins and sent them back to their own lives, whole and beloved. God loves us. There’s no way around it – you are loved, and you are loved tenderly. You are not loved more or less than the day you were born. You are loved with a perfect love. The prophet Jeremiah writes, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness” (31:3). Father Greg Boyle says, “God has taken seven buses just to arrive at us”. God has pitched his tent in our midst. God desires us, longs for us, pursues us, chooses us. God is the one calling, “Where are you?!?!” to the hiding Adam and Eve, “who told you, you were naked?” he asks. Hiding from God in shame was not God’s idea. God is not disappointed in you. God hasn’t had to learn to “accept” you and neither has God had to settle for whatever this version of your present self is, as if it isn’t the version God had hoped for. God isn’t mad that you’re carrying your load the way you’re carrying it – God’s impressed you’ve carried it this far. God loved the very good world he created so much that he became one of us and moved into the neighbourhood, cleaned it up a whole bunch so that it could feel like home for all of us. All of the work God’s doing and all of the work we’re sent to do, is the work of home-making. Our hope is that at the end of it all, the home of God will be among us mortals, all tears will be wiped away, and all things will be made new (that’s from Revelation 21). That’s the end goal – that’s the last stop on this train – God at home with us and all of us at home in the God who is love.

Paul writes to the Romans that in Christ, our hope is that nothing, nothing, nothing, can separate us from the love of God. There is no condemnation for those in Christ so literally nothing you do can separate you from the love of God. Neither death nor devils can take God’s love away. The depth, width, height of God’s love is immeasurable and incomprehensible. This is love: not that we loved God but that God loved us. We cannot coerce or convince God to love us any more or any less than he already does. He doesn’t love us because Jesus died, Jesus died because he loves us. This is the starting point. N.T. Wright says, “This is the basis of all other good news: that the power behind the cosmos is not blind chance, nor yet brute force, but love.” This is the claim that ought to shape the Christian imagination and propel us into the neighbourhood. We love because he first loved us.

This isn’t a fickle love or a manipulative love. God doesn’t love us only when we’re obeying and then withdraw his love when we wander off course. God doesn’t stonewall or give us the silent treatment until we figure out what he wants and get to work. God is the source of all Love – phileo, agape, eros, all of it. God is the initiating Love that begets all love and reconciles all of creation back towards it.

Christian poet, Stephen T Berg said it like this:

But in the daylight God disappears, running here and there, contending with the desires of people, shaking with laughter, then weeping. Which recalls to her this singular concern: to keep dancing her crazy cosmic conga and coax all the broken circles back to love.

God loves you in the neighbourhood of your own mind you’d rather not visit. God loves you at the site of the wound you’d rather not tend. God loves the side of you that’s turned towards him and God loves the shadow you cast that you’ve never turned to examine. God’s love is a gift, not the wage you earn for your hard religious work. It’s a gift. Gifts are for giving.

I go back to the word “forgiven”. In Greek it’s the word “release”. God has “released” you. You’re free! You are not in debt. I kind of cringe when I hear that classic Christian lyric, “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe”. Imagine going for dinner with Jesus and you get the bill and it’s $300. Goodness! You do not have the money and you are embarrassed. Jesus pays the bill and says “It’s on me! I fully intended on paying – don’t be ridiculous, put that bank card away!” Wouldn’t it be insane if you then went home and spent the next years of your life saving up the $300 to pay him back? The debt has been paid. There’s no outstanding debt. Amount owing: $0. Jesus didn’t keep the receipt and the restaurant does not have an open tab. It was a gift – he said, “my treat”, remember? He didn’t even say, “you pay next time!” he didn’t hint at splitting the bill. He wasn’t weird and passive aggressive about it. He paid it. You don’t owe anything. You don’t have to invite him up for a nightcap because he bought you dinner. The generosity of God doesn’t generate guilt – it removes guilt. The generosity of God doesn’t negate your boundaries. It affirms them. You can say, “THANK YOU” and guess what his response is: “YOU. ARE. WELCOME.”

God’s love is a circle whose circumference you will not find. You are in the center, I am in the center, the children and the grandparents, the left and the right are in the center. I think that’s the overall point of Colossians: the reconciling of all things back to the center of God’s love.

Hafiz writes, “O grab hold of the hems of His skirt as he spins this universe on an emerald dance floor! Cling to the transcendent elements in His glance as the Beloved forever whirls his Love.”

After washing the disciples’ dirty feet, Jesus said, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another” and later, “by this the world will know that you are my disciples.” It’s by our love, not our virtue, not our production, not our brand – not our creeds or confessions – but by our love for one another. This is our work, our liturgy, our worship: to gaze upon the face of one another, the illuminated face, and know from the soft marrow of our bones that we are gazing upon the face of God and to know the face of God is looking with eyes of love upon Godself: “no one has ever seen God but if we love one another ….whoever lives in love lives in God and God lives in them”. You are the image of God. I am the image of God. We are the image of God. Holy! Holy! Holy! The whole earth is filled with God (therefore … says Paul to the Romans (1:21), we are without excuse). In Matthew’s telling of the Good News, Jesus says that on that Great Day we will stand before him and ask, “where were you?” and his response? “I was right there – when I was hungry, you fed me. When I was sick, you visited me.”

Paul was a missionary to the uncircumcised (a big problem for the traditionalists of his day – the bible is pretty clearly against empowering uncircumcised people to the work of God in the world but Paul had stronger convictions than being accepted by the Gatekeepers of his tradition, and so he was often in a lot of trouble. He planted communities of Christians who tried really hard to love each other and not categorize each other based on gender, status, ideology, age, income, etc…. but every single one of those communities struggled to love each other – every one of them. There was conflict and division and Paul’s teachings were always the same: have the mind of Christ and honour each other above yourselves. Love with the love you’ve received. Love each other – welcome each other – pour yourselves out for one another.

At the beginning of his letter to the Corinthians he names the conflict they were facing: 1 Corinthians 1:10-11

Now I appeal to you, siblings, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my siblings.

He continues in 1 Corinthians 3:1-9,

And so, siblings, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?

The Love of God is the milk which nourishes us into maturity. Paul isn’t mad that they need milk – he’s annoyed that they think they’re ready for solid food when they’re still trying to force each other to assimilate (associate?) and segregate. They’re still “annoyed” by the new people. They’re still shouting over one another, WHAT ABOUT ME? He’s not mad at them. He realizes they haven’t yet heard enough about Love. The baby is not shamed for needing milk. The mother is patient to give it until the time comes for a more complex menu. The love flows until we stop speaking at each other and categorizing each other into the “those I respect” and the “those I do not respect” boxes. Imagine having a “hungry people I WOULD feed” list and a “hungry people I WOULD NOT feed” list. Imagine having a box for “people I would not accept help from if I were in a near-death situation” and another box for “people I would accept help from”. I think that’s the cutting edge of the Good Samaritan story. Scrap the box. Rip up the list. We are like babies with a good latch and God’s love contains everything we need until we settle tenderly into the deeper awareness of our true identity and the only category: beloved. You ever stop to consider what the very first judgement in the bible is? “and God saw that it was good.”

Brennan Manning says it like this, “My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.” He also said, “Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.”

To these infantile Corinthians whose energy is spent on quarrels and divisions – whose time and money is spent on creating new boxes and new lists and new hierarchies of worthiness, he gave this writing about love:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.   If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

So. Here’s the task: slow down today and let LOVE do its work. Your only job is to open to the sustenance of God. Start now! It’s not too late. Receive the Love that is patient. That’s the first thing Paul tells us about love here in 1 Cor 13:4. Love is patient. God is patient. God has nowhere else to be. God is not growing tired of the wait. God’s love is patient. God has time to find all the parts of you that you think don’t deserve love and God will keep tending to those wounds and reconciling all of the parts of you back towards the center of Love. Next, Paul said that God’s love is kind. This kindness is unfailing. God is never harsh or hurried – there is only kindness. God isn’t secretly angry or sitting on the sidelines waiting for you to fail. God isn’t setting you up or tricking you. God isn’t waiting for you to die so he can say, “ERRR WRONG!” God isn’t causing your loved one’s suffering and hoping you get the message and change your ways before the cancer wins. God isn’t Lassie, trying to get our attention but experiencing significant language barriers as would be expected across species. We don’t need to frantically play charades and hope we get it right and get it right on time. God is patient. God is kind. So slow down and remember that when working with broken pieces, it’s best to move carefully and to treat each shard of the human heart with delicate care.

There are likely a lot of lies you believe about yourself – a lot of noise in that crowded head of yours. But be consoled, Beloved of God: this love is patient, this love is kind, this love isn’t going to run out. In God’s freedom and in God’s sovereignty, he has chosen to love you and he doesn’t change his mind. In time, as God recovers (saves? Hello!) your true self, this love will begin to generate new life within you and you will be propelled with joy toward your neighbour, toward loving them as you have learned to patiently and kindly love yourself. Your neighbour needs you to be patient with him and he needs your kindness. Imagine knowing you’re loved so deeply you start to show up to your own life, wide-eyed and bushy tailed. Justice will begin to flow like a river in these streets. Chains of addiction and chains of oppression will start to crumble. Prisons will sit empty. Courtrooms abandoned. The table is set and centered and there is a seat for everyone, beginning with the last and ending with the first. Loneliness isn’t on the menu, neither are tears. There are no motions and no votes. There are no prices. This meal is a gift.

But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,   so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Ephesians 2:4-10
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