Where does love come from?

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File:Labirinto Cristo - San Francesco in Alatri.jpgVerses for The Great Fifty Days

Day 37 in Easter

(A belated posting for Monday, May 7)

1 John 4:13

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.

Sometimes we read verses quickly and miss things. Ours doesn’t say that we know we abide in God and God in us because “he has given us his Spirit,” but because “he has given us of his Spirit.” Something has been given us from God, from the Spirit. And yes, scripture says in many other places that God has given us his Spirit, but not here. Here our author is saying something a little different. Something from the Spirit has been given. And it has been given to an ‘us’ – to the community.

I wish I could talk to our author and try to pin down just what he means, but I suspect his answer is given in the beginning of this chapter where he talks about spirits that are “from God” and the spirits that are “from the world.”Love is from God,” our author says, and “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

Where does love come from? How do we learn to see others as connected to us, as part of the body of Christ and a common human family? How do we learn to see and act with compassion, patience, understanding, humility, and grace? Because we have experienced such love from God. And we have experienced such love and faithfulness from God because we have experienced it from others.

The circle goes round and round. We know we abide in God and God in us because of what has come from the Spirit. And what has come from the Spirit is the love and fidelity of God that is, at the same time, love and fidelity from others that is, at the same time, love and fidelity to others.

It’s a little dizzying to read First John, this rich tapestry of interwoven phrases and ideas, but it’s hard to miss the point:

We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. (3:14)

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us– and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. (3:16)

Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. (3:18)

What comes from the Spirit is a community created by Good Friday and Easter, a people born of the new creation, a people abiding in love.

It is both a necessary reminder, urgent call, and a wondrous promise.

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Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Labirinto_Cristo_-_San_Francesco_in_Alatri.jpg See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Invitations

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File:Steps - panoramio (4).jpgVerses for The Great Fifty Days

Day 36 in Easter

(A belated posting for Sunday, May 6)

Psalm 95:2

Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
….let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

Three times this psalm invites us to sing God’s praise. Later, in a part we seldom read in worship, this psalm will warn us of the dangers of hardening our hearts.

The invitation to sing God’s praise, to join the festal procession, to participate in the great celebrations of God’s grace and glory is, after all, invitation. It’s an invitation to a party. There will be food and music. The crowd will share in the excitement of the day. It will be memorable. It’s not to be missed. And we are all invited

But this is also something more than an invitation. The warning that comes later in the psalm reminds us that this is not like those invitations to some seminar on investing for retirement, or to a public meeting with our congressional representative. This is more like an invitation to a friend’s wedding or to the family Christmas. To shun such an invitation reveals something has gone wrong in us. The psalm calls it hardness of heart.

There are occasions, of course, when families or faith communities are dangerous and destructive and ought to be avoided, but that’s not what we are speaking of here. We are speaking of those times when resentment, apathy, guilt or grief, or the pursuit of our own work or pleasures, hold us away – any number of things that dull or block our care for others.

Hardness of heart might have any number of causes, but the proper therapy is to show up anyway. We don’t always feel like joining the family Christmas, but failing to show up will not bring us closer to one another. And we may not always feel like singing God’s praise, but failing to show up will not draw us closer to God.

We are 36 days into the Easter season, and the joy of Easter is easily eclipsed by the demands of daily life. But the grave is empty. Christ is risen. The new creation is begun. Grace and life have come to reign. And it calls us daily to come into God’s presence with thanksgiving.

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Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Steps_-_panoramio_(4).jpg Mark A Coleman [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Because the arms of God are wide

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File:Well-clothed baby.jpgVerses for The Great Fifty Days

Day 35 in Easter

Colossians 3:17

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Our author has encouraged his community to clothe themselves in Christ, to clothe themselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,” to cloth themselveswith love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony,” to let the peace of Christ rule in their hearts and let the word of Christ dwell in them abundantly. It is a wonderful word of exhortation, rich with the new creation dawning in Christ. Our author doesn’t speak about the fruit of the Spirit, but it is the reality being described. This is being rooted in Christ. This is abiding in the vine. This is living as children of the light and children of the resurrection.

It is a bold challenge to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus – in the spirit and power of Jesus, and to his glory and honor. We are frail creatures. We are easily distracted by myriad irritations from the way people drive to the things we tweet, to the noise of our neighbors and the wars of the nations. But this exhortation is not a command to do everything right; it is an instruction to stay rooted in the vine. Let the breath of Christ breathe in us. Let his vital energy flow into us like the vine drawing its rich nutrients from the ground and giving life to the branches. Let us bud and flower. Let us put forth fruit. Let us speak kindly, pray sincerely, sing joyfully, give graciously. Let us defend the weak and show hospitality to the stranger. Let us not be afraid to name the name of Jesus or to follow his example. Let us dare to forgive. Let us dare to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly. Let us dare to live the empty tomb.   And let us do it all with gratefulness not for whatever material things we may possess, whatever family joys we may be privileged to share, or whatever religious ecstasies we may enjoy, but because the arms of God are wide and full of a true and everlasting love.

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Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Well-clothed_baby.jpg By Andrew Vargas from Clovis, United States [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Taste and see

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Verses for The Great Fifty Days

Day 34 in Easter

Psalm 34:8

O taste and see that the Lord is good;
….happy are those who take refuge in him.

Every parent has said this to their child, “Try it you’ll like it.” Sometimes it’s with some exasperation, “Just try it!” Sometimes it’s that delightful moment when you give a child their first taste of something you know is wonderful.

Taste and see that the LORD is good. I remember the first time I tasted sugar snap peas from our garden. We ate them all before we could cook them for dinner. We made a ritual out of the first tomatoes off the vine when the girls were small – BLT’s on a coarse grain bread with homemade milkshakes – a rare treat in our house, a heavenly moment. And that first taste of homemade bread. The first warm chocolate chip cookie from the oven. The first sip of coffee in the morning. The first kiss, awkward and thrilling.

The poet has in mind more than the sweetness of life’s everyday goodness, however. The poet give this inscription to the psalm: “Of David when he feigned madness before Abimelech, so that he drove him out.” It was a life and death moment for David as he fled from Saul. The promises of the psalm are meant for the trials of life, when doors close, when sorrows rise, when betrayals afflict, when fears haunt. In those moments, too, we are invited to taste God’s goodness, to look for God’s hand, to take refuge in God’s mercies, to remember Easter.

The highways to Zion

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Verses for The Great Fifty Days

Day 33 in Easter

Psalm 84:5

Happy are those whose strength is in you,
….in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

We understand the power of the poet’s words: “Happy are those…in whose heart are the highways to Zion.” We talk about the joy of the open road. It conveys a sense of freedom, adventure, anticipation. There are things waiting to be discovered, beauties to see, vistas that will be breathtaking. Perhaps there is a lake waiting for your toes, or a beach waiting for your feet upon its cool wet sands. Perhaps there is mountain waiting for your climb or a simple campfire for your marshmallow. Maybe, there is a loved one with whom to be reunited, or a peace of mind hoping to be found. There is joy in the road and its goal.

The poet understands pilgrimage, understands the sense of journey and the allure of the goal. Above all our singer understands the value of a life that looks towards Zion, that inhabits this road towards the dwelling place of God. The poet sees that true peace is found in the pathway towards that place where grace and mercy reign, where lies the joy and passion for all that is good and true, where life is made whole and holy, where the road leads to a love of God and neighbor written on the heart.

It is the journey to that has its source and goal and daily breath in the empty tomb.

Happy are those whose strength is in you,
….in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

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Photo: dkbonde, Spotted Wolf Canyon in Utah

God’s house

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File:Eurasian tree sparrow at Tennōji Park in Osaka, December 2015.jpgVerses for The Great Fifty Days

Day 32 in Easter

Psalm 84:4

Happy are those who live in your house,
….ever singing your praise.

Our poet is thinking of the sparrows and swallows that nest in the nooks and crannies of the temple and longs to be ever present in that sacred place. Here where heaven touches earth, here where generations have sung God’s praise and offered their prayers, here where sacrifice is offered and fellowship with God enjoyed, here where sins are carried away and new beginnings given, here is where our poet’s heart dwells.

I understand why that fragment of the second temple retaining wall in Jerusalem has the hold it does on Israel and the world. What would it be like if there were only a few stones left of St. Peter’s cathedral, a few plaster fragments of the Sistine Chapel? What would it be like if there were but steps remaining of the Lincoln Memorial, the Capital or the White House? What would it be like if the 9/11 terrorists on United flight 93 had succeeded in their goal?

If there were no Easter, this is what the Christian community would see in the body of Jesus on the cross: the broken remains of hope; the unfulfilled promise of a new world; the tears of regret and loss.

But Christ is risen. And we are his house. Our frail communities scattered throughout the world are his body. We are more than sparrows nesting in the eaves, we are living stones being built into a holy temple. Here heaven touches earth. Here generations sing God’s praise. Here sins are carried away and new beginnings given. Here the eternal feast is shared.

Happy are those who live in your house,
….ever singing your praise.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eurasian_tree_sparrow_at_Tenn%C5%8Dji_Park_in_Osaka,_December_2015.jpg Photo by Laitche [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0) or FAL], from Wikimedia Commons

Setting right the world

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File:Väimela Mäejärv 2011 09.jpgVerses for The Great Fifty Days

Day 31 in Easter

Psalm 92:4

You, O LORD, have made me glad by your work;
….at the works of your hands I sing for joy.

The death of Jesus was a miscarriage of justice – though it’s anachronistic to think of the first century as having a justice system. It was a punishment system. When powerful people accused you of an offense the only judgment remaining was the appropriate punishment. The speeches of the “attorneys” were designed to sway the emotions of the crowd and lead the “judge” to maximize or minimize the penalty.

Jesus certainly accused the Jerusalem leaders of corruption, and shamed them by triumphing in every public encounter. They got their revenge. They silenced this threat to their social order.

But The LORD works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed.”

Such are the “works” our poet celebrates. The deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt, the manna in the wilderness and water from the rock, the manifestation at Sinai, the triumph of Joshua, Gideon, Deborah and Barak, David’s triumph over Goliath, these are not personal favors for a privileged people; the works of God are about righting the world. This is why the poet or our psalm sings:

The dullard cannot know,
….the stupid cannot understand this:
though the wicked sprout like grass
….and all evildoers flourish,
they are doomed to destruction forever,
….but you, O LORD, are on high forever.

The church is right to recognize in the resurrection of Jesus God’s victory over sin and death. But we miss something if we don’t remember the resurrection is an act of justice, a setting right of the world. The empty grave provides far more than relief that this one unjustly convicted prisoner has been freed; it overflows with joy at what that grave proclaims about the heart of God: God is a god who sets right the world.

And it is in this God we abide.

You, O LORD, have made me glad by your work;
….at the works of your hands I sing for joy.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:V%C3%A4imela_M%C3%A4ej%C3%A4rv_2011_09.jpg By Vaido Otsar [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Perfect joy

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File:Lotus flower (978659).jpgVerses for The Great Fifty Days

Day 30 in Easter

John 15:11

I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

We don’t really think about Jesus as joyful. We see him as dedicated. We see him as compassionate. We see him standing firm against hostile opponents. But joyful isn’t the first thought that comes to mind.

But if this is a man in perfect communion with the author of life, if this is the incarnate Word through whom this rich and abundant world came into being, if this is the living bread whose word sets creation free, if this is the breath of God who saves a wedding by turning water into the finest wine, then there is joy here. Joy like the exquisite bloom of alpine flowers in the spring, joy like the thunderous waterfalls that dot our planet, joy like the crystal clear lakes, the majestic mountains, the brilliant parrots, the cavorting sea otters, the moments of pure joy with young children in the arms of their grandparents. If this man is the water of life, the reconciliation of all things, the good shepherd who lays down his life and takes it up again never to be contained by the grave, then he is the embodiment of joy. His word is the source of joy. And he makes all our joy complete.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lotus_flower_(978659).jpg By Hong Zhang (jennyzhh2008) [CC0 or CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Rooted

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File:Grape of old vine shiraz 2.jpgVerses for The Great Fifty Days

Day 29 in Easter

Colossians 2:6-7

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

The word translated ‘received’ normally means ‘take’. At the angel’s command, Joseph ‘takes’ the child Jesus to Egypt to escape the murderous king. Jesus ‘takes’ Peter, James and John up the Mount of Transfiguration and, again, ‘takes’ them with him to pray in Gethsemane. The soldiers ‘take’ Jesus out to be crucified. The word gets its sense of ‘received’ by the notion that one has taken up something and carried it along with you. So Paul speaks of the tradition that he has ‘received’, and tells the believers in Philippi to put into practice what they have seen, heard and ‘received’ from him.

So, although ‘taking up’ the Lord Jesus and being rooted in him seem like contradictory images, they both indicate a new, ongoing reality. We have taken this risen Lord with us on the journey of life. We have been grafted into the vine that is Christ. And our verse adds a third metaphor, a construction image: being built up in him – presumably as a temple of God’s spirit.

Personally, I prefer the organic images. I like the idea of being rooted. Warm images of flowering gardens, summer tomatoes, and laden grape vines come to mind. The notion that we have “received” Jesus sounds like he has become a possession rather than an enduring source of life and fruit in us. Besides, it’s not so much that we take Jesus along with us, but that he takes us along with him – usually to new and unexpected places, even to the ends of the earth.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Grape_of_old_vine_shiraz_2.jpg By Verita [CC BY 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Traveling in joy

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Verses for The Great Fifty Days

Day 28 in Easter

Psalm 124:8

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
….who made heaven and earth.

Travel is always risky for pilgrims. But it is also full of hope and joy. They are on their way up to Jerusalem for one of the great festivals of the year. They travel together for safety. They sing of God’s deliverance. The dangers of their journey are muted by their confidence in God who has been their help in ages past.

Had it not been for God’s faithfulness to Israel, the people would have been swallowed up by the chaotic forces at work in the world. Whole nations disappear before the warring armies of empires. Earthquake, famine, locust, and plague leave rubble behind. The great civilizations of the Hittites and Minoans, of Assyria and Babylon are but memories and ruins. The pyramids of Egypt stand, but not their kingdoms.

But Israel remains – chastised, maybe, yet still free to worship in God’s sanctuary. The pilgrims sing of God’s deliverance. They travel in joy and song, for their help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

Even so, we who journey from the empty tomb towards the new Jerusalem travel in joy and song, for the grave is empty, the Lord is risen, the Spirit poured out, and neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Crepuscular_ray_sunset_from_telstra_tower_edit.jpg fir0002 | flagstaffotos.com.au [GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons