He Loved First

1 John 4:7-12, 19 (Homily)

My* eldest has always had quite the ability to wage verbal warfare and throw impressive tantrums. When my son was about six, he and I had quite an altercation. After receiving a consequence for unacceptable behavior, he stomped up the stairs loudly informing me (and no doubt the neighbors) of the injustice of his punishment. The stomping was followed by a door slamming, a door that then became the target for his toys as he threw them; as he threw each one, he shouted, “You are the meanest mommy ever!” I sat on a stool in the bathroom just listening to him. “I will never ever snuggle with you again! I don’t like you! I wish you weren’t my mommy!”

Typically, according to the parenting practices we’ve adopted for our children, I would wait until he was calm before talking with him again. (For all practical purposes this is an excellent strategy.) In fact, during the conflict I had said, “Go to your room and come back when you are calm and ready to be sweet.” But as I sat in the bathroom, something else came over me: conviction. Laying heavy on my heart as I listened to him hurl insult upon insult at me was that I was asking him to be better before I would once again be with him. Finally conviction had its way with me. I stood up and entered his room as he was in mid rant. I walked to his bed and sat down. “Come here,” I said to him and motioned for him to sit on my lap. He reluctantly complied, and I held him. He didn’t want to be there, but I held him firm. The entire time whispering to him, “I love you…I love you, I love you, I love you…” He relaxed further and further into my embrace and his crying and anger subsided. After a short while he whispered, “I love you, too, mommy.”

Why did I change my mind? What made me retract my earlier request and do the exact opposite? All I can say is that in the midst of my son’s tantrum, I became freshly aware of something: God has never asked me, asked us, to be better before He would dwell with us. In fact, while we were at our worst, God showed up; while we were busy denying God’s very existence by our lack of faith and mistreatment of our neighbor and the world, God made his presence known to us and pursued us. We earned none of God’s coming not the first time and not every time we come to encounter with God in the event of faith; our acts weren’t (and aren’t) together before God comes. In fact, Paul writes in Colossians 2:13 that we were dead in our trespasses—it doesn’t get any more inactive and unprepared than that! And in this deadness we are loved, truly loved. Victor Hugo wrote in his work, Les Misérables, “The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved — loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.” God, in Jesus, loves us this way – we can neither earn God’s love nor can we drive it away.

Each of us is struggling through this thing called existence and life. I’ve said a number of times this semester, to my kids and to my students: it’s hard being human, why do we make it harder for each other? Day to day we fight to make it to the end unscathed and unharmed. Each and everyone one of us fights to maintain our dignity and our humanity intact from the moment we rise to the moment we rest our heads on our pillows. So I wonder, why choose tearing down when we can build up? Why choose condemning others when we could feel our own conviction? Why choose me and myself when I know you and I are both struggling through? Why not love, love that breeds itself: more love…

I want my children to know they are loved; I want you to know you are loved…today, and tomorrow, even yesterday. And loved not only when you are calm and sweet but when you are at your worst. It’s there, at our worst, where the “I love you” breaks in and becomes real. Jesus Christ, the one who was “in the form of God” and who is the love of God for the entire world, has come to us and says, “Come unto to me.” He came while we were still screaming and throwing our toys, and he says, “Come here.” And reticently crawling into His lap and into his embrace, our ears are filled with His relentless “I love you, I love you, I love you,” And, maybe, after a short while softened and given to his embrace, we whisper in reply the words of worship: “I love you, too.”

 

*The original post “He Loved First” has been edited from its original version which was edited by Jono Linebaugh and appeared on another blog.

 

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Judge and Be Judged

Luke 6:37-42 (Homily)

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

He also told them a parable: “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit?A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher.Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

We are commanded not to judge; but yet we do. How do we refrain from participating in the very part of our intellect that seems to make us most human? That we judge things as good and bad, right and wrong, just and unjust. Our ability to judge and think, to be rational and reasonable, to think freely and equitably is the fabric of what makes human societies politically, economically, and socially great. Free, responsible, and reasonable human beings forming and maintaining a just society…yes, please!

But this beautiful gift to judge goes beyond its domain when it attempts to determine the personhood of another.[1] When we use our judgment to determine who gets and does not get our affection, our love, our mercy, our forgiveness based on some self-imposed system of acceptable, this is judgment overstepping it’s limits. When we segregate based off of external factors, making distinct groups equating to “us v. them,” thus good and bad respectively, this is judgment overstepping its limits. Using my activity as the basis and foundation of your quality and substance is judgment overstepping its limits. When I fall to the temptation to religious totalitarianism[2] and legal piety[3] grounded too much in actuality and forget and forsake possibility, I’ve made it impossible for you to be good enough in my eyes; you’ll always fall short.

What our judgment of others exposes is actually not where the other person is falling short, but where we are. That we use our judgment in this way indicates that we are desperate to find a way to self-validate ourselves (in both thought and deed). And the way we judge others will reveal our lack of character and our lack of commitment and expose our hypocrisy.[4] Our judgment of others, our eagerness to remove the speck in their eye while ignoring the log in our own, is the action that exposes the fundamental problem of a hardened heart. The posture of our heart will orient the posture of our bodies; “People, like trees, are known through what they produce.”[5]

Jesus’s admonitions here in Luke 6 are a call to a full-bodied devotion to a major reversal of inner and outer person. It is not the actions of a person that determine a person, but their heart. As we judge, so are we judged because the judgment we deliver judges us: we follow the devices and desires of our own hearts rather than God’s purpose.[6] Thus to be good disciples of Christ, to actually be the believers we like to think we are, we need to be reoriented to the one who is the real and rightful Judge.[7] We need to be oriented to the one who ushers in the Reign of God and renders to dust the kingdom of humanity. We need to have our feet set in alignment with the Judge judged in our place; the one who takes the judgment of God and the plight of the world unto himself and makes it impossible for any of us to judge anyone else because we are all guilty.[8]

Christ poses a conflict for us: will you trust your own judgment of the world and of others, or will you trust Christ’s? Will you continue to follow the devices and desires of your own heart and mind, or will you follow Christ? [9] Jesus is the plumb line; will you measure up? Will you heed the call to hear so deeply that you obey the call of Christ to live differently in the world? Will you allow your values to be redefined? Will you see as to become more like your teacher? [10] Will you become a person of character and constancy of heart and action? [11] Will you let yourself confess? Or, will you stubbornly persist in your own ways?

In the story here, articulated by Luke, you and I must contend with these questions, even if you don’t believe Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God. There’s no escape route to take or secrete hatch from which we can drop to evade the demand of the questions. Especially, we must come face to face with the ultimate question being posed to us: Will I be the one who judges others thus is judged and indicted? Or will I be like the one who had every right to judge, but didn’t? Will I choose to follow the law of the spirit thus receive life? Or will I choose to stay the course of the rest of the world thus confirm death?

In Christ we have received grace upon grace, and life upon life. Where we should have been exposed and condemned, we weren’t. Where we fell short of the plumb-line, the plumb-line was destroyed. When we were determined to be dirty, we were declared clean. When we were yet dead, we were given life. And as we receive, we give.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. 1 John 4:7-12

 

[1] Green 275, Joel Green The Gospel of Luke TNICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997). “Just as the merciful God does not predetermine who will or will not be the recipients of his kindness, so Jesus’ followers must refuse to ‘judge’—that is to prejudge to predetermine who might be the recipients of their graciousness. This is nothing but the command to love one’s enemies restated negatively. In an important sense, Jesus’ instructions are to refuse to act as those scribes and Pharisees had done in 5:27-32, as they calculated beforehand the status of those toll collectors and sinners and thereby excluded them from circles of social interaction.”

[2] Friedrich Gogarten, Christ the Crisis. “Religious Totalitarianism” “…in which it tolerates absolutely no and nothing within itself which does not belong to it, and which does not serve it, by receiving from it its life and its meaning.” 127.

[3] Friedrich Gogarten. Christ the Crisis. The legal piety of the world is impacted by Christ, the foundations of this legal piety come under doom. “But criticism is aimed at the essence of this piety For however it practiced, whether with fanatical seriousness or with conventional casualness, its essential basis is that it claims to serve God and the life which men have to receive from God through its practice. But, in fact it serves the world that is constituted by it, and the regard that one receives through it in the eyes of the world. It is this that Jesus calls its hypocrisy.”

[4] Green 277, “Even here where ‘doing’ is accorded such privilege, fundamental to Jesus’ closing remarks is the contrast between two sorts of people whose hearts are revealed in their actions. The issue is one of character and commitments issuing forth in action. The two, character and action, are inseparable for Jesus, and those who attempt to sunder them are guilty of hypocrisy (w 4142 46).”

[5] Green 277, “…Jesus is concerned with the nature of a person the heart but such a concern does not lead to what today we might call psychological evaluation. In Luke’s (pre-Freudian) world, a person’s ‘inside’ is accessible not through his or her psychology but through or her social interactions.”

[6] Green 277, “Clearly then, the following Jesus seeks is a full-orbed one; his is a message that calls for total transformation, with a consistency of goodness between the inside and outside of a person. Even if the language of repentance is absent, the idea of change of heart and life, of a thorough reorientation around God’s purpose is very much present.”

[7] Karl Bart CD V.I.449. “That He is the Judge, and that He makes judgment impossible for us…is the indicative which stands behind the evangelical command not to take top seats but the lower (Lk. 148), not to exalt but to abase ourselves (Mt. 2312), and especially the prohibition in v. 37 (Mt. 71f). The One forbids men to judge who restrains and dispenses them from it, is the One who has come as the real Judge. He makes clear what is true and actual in His existence among men as such: that the one who exalts himself as judge will be abased, that he can only fall into the judgment himself. The evangelical prohibition frees us from the necessity of this movement in a vicious circle.”

[8] Friedrich Gogarten. Christ the Crisis. “He has only two choices: either to despair, or to submit to the sentence of doom. Jesus chose the second alternative. He was able to choose it only because he recognized that this sentence of doom was the judgment exercised by the righteousness and truth of God upon the world, which endures by the very fact that in it the righteousness and truth of God are perverted into its own supposed righteousness and truth, and therefore into its unrighteousness and untruth. Thus for Jesus to submit to the sentence of doom meant that he subjected himself, as one who belonged to this world, to God’s judgment which is carried out through this sentence of doom It is this that Jesus did by turning towards those who like him lived in this world and became their neighbor. And thus the responsibility for the way the world as such which was laid upon him when he became aware of the sentence of doom, also became a responsibility for the men who lived in it.” 209.

[9] Green 278, Blind, refers “…those who lack faith or those who lack insight. The saying about the relationship is also proverbial, and, when read together, these verses underscore the necessity of seeking trustworthy, insightful guidance.” Whom will you follow?

[10] Green 278, “Throughout this sermon, as in his earlier ministry of healing and instruction, Jesus has been renegotiating norms; will these gathered masses accept this reversal of values? Will they hear and internalize this unconventional worldview? How will they become like their teacher?”

[11] Green 279, “Central to Jesus’ admonition is his own rebuke of those who see the faults of others but not of themselves. He calls them ‘hypocrites.’ In general usage today the negative connotations of this label are incontrovertible, but in Greco-Roman antiquity a more nuanced understanding is required. In parlance contemporary with Luke, a “hypocrite” might refer to someone whose behaviors were not determined by God (LXX) or someone who is playing a role acting a part (Roman theater). In this case a decision between these two is difficult and probably unnecessary. Jesus indicts persons who attempt to substantiate their own piety through censuring the shortcomings of others as acting inconsistently. Their hearts and actions are inconsistent. While they themselves posture for public adulation, their behavior is not determined by God.”