Monday, April 2, 2012

Loving with God's love

Theologian, Roberta Bondi once said,“being a Christian means learning to love with God’s love… and no amount of pious behavior or Christian discipline can replace love.” This is a lesson beautifully illustrated in the movie, Chocolát, in which the mayor of a quaint French village mistakenly values piety, discipline, and strict obedience to the law over love as Jesus has commanded. Judging people by their imperfections, as he defines them, he enforces his oppressive authority using fear, shame, and threat of dishonor.

Into this setting comes Vianne, a young, beautiful, chocolatier, who is a single mother (and therefore obviously sinful herself). She opens a candy store near the church during Lent, a time of strict fasting, and fills the front window with rich, luscious treats and decorations of a decidedly pagan persuasion.

The Mayor and his oppressed followers in the church are scandalized… most of them anyway. The problem is not just that Vianne makes chocolate and other treats – forbidden fruit during Lent – or even that she is an unmarried woman with a child. The real problem is that she befriends the insane, the infirm, and the outcast gypsies whose free-wheeling, party-filled lifestyle is clearly sinful.

When the upright and fastidious mayor finally breaks under the pressure of his own oppression, gorging himself on the treats in the candy store window, it is Vianne who extends mercy and compassion to him. She loves him as God loves.

As we approach Easter, we remember that in the resurrection, a new thing has happened in Jesus Christ, and it changes everything for all time: “I give you a new commandment, (Jesus said) that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jn 13:31-35)

Shortly after Jesus issues this command, Peter is forced to explain to church elders why he ate forbidden food in table fellowship with unclean Gentiles. Rather than defend his actions, Peter testified to this resurrection reality: “…a new thing has happened, Peter says… the Spirit told me… not to make a distinction between them and us... [and] who was I that I could hinder God? (Acts 11:12-17)

Throughout our history as the body of Christ, being at the Eucharistic table with the unclean, the un-pious, the un-wealthy, the un-white, the un-straight, the un-like us… has been and remains ongoing issue. Yet, who are to hinder God?

When we fight over what doesn’t matter in the big picture of salvation we hinder God who asks us to love as God loves. This isn’t a warm fuzzy, sentimental, emotional kind of love. It’s an orientation of the heart and will, and it comes about only by faith in God’s grace. It is, as Roberta Bondi says, a “real love that sees [others] as human beings, beloved of God, and yet flawed, just as [we ourselves are flawed]… We are to love (Bondi says), not just at a distance, but up close…in concrete ways, …as the Gospel requires.”

At Redeemer, we are richly blessed with a loving community of very diverse people who worship and serve God together. We are very aware that we are flawed persons loving other flawed persons. That is one of our strengths and it is very exciting to me as your rector, because by our life together, in all of our diversity, we witness obedience to God’s command “not to make a distinction between them and us.”

This month we celebrate the new thing begun by our Savior. We also notice and celebrate the new thing Christ is doing in us now at Redeemer, and we run into our future together the only way we can - in faith, loving one another as God loves us.

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