“they will know we are christians by our love, by our love. they will know we are christians by our love.”
– peter scholtes
when we started the refuge 4 1/2 years ago we said that we never wanted people to come to the refuge for the “great teaching, worship, or kids program.” i am not saying that these things have no value, but i sincerely believe these are the 3 primary reasons many people go to church. there’s a church i know of with a really amazing preacher & i can honestly say over 13 years i’ve lived in denver that i have never once heard anyone talk about that church in any other context than “so and so’s teaching is amazing.” i know why these 3 things are highly valued in contemporary church culture–they bring people in the door. the problem i have with it is that none of these 3 things have anything to do with what seems to be the primary message of Jesus–a sacrifical life of love in relationship with other people. i am not saying that these 3 things make that impossible; of course that would be missing the point. but i do believe that when we focus on these 3 things first, we very rarely get to the real stuff underneath.
this past saturday night my friend karl taught a short message as part of our saturday series called “living the way” (we’ve been focusing on the epistle passages from the lectionary). here’s the passage:
Dear brothers and sisters, we can’t help but thank God for you, because your faith is flourishing and your love for one another is growing. We proudly tell God’s other churches about your endurance and faithfulness in all the persecutions and hardships you are suffering… So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call. May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do…” 1 thessalonians 3-4, 11
we had a short but lovely conversation about it together and it reminded me of how much i love our little nutty community & how much i continue to learn through being part of it. when i read this, i see the apostle paul telling this little church to remember three things:
- your love for one another is growing & that really matters.
- you will need endurance & faith to keep living this crazy life of love out amidst hardship & suffering.
- encouragement to do all the good things that our faith leads us to do.
i want to be a person who is known for my love.
and i want the refuge to be a community that is known for its love.
love fueled by Jesus’ love & example.
but like almost everything that Jesus tells us in the gospels–it is hard to love. because love requires patience, kindness, humility and a whole other range of things that don’t come cheap, easy or very naturally for many of us.
our propensity toward serving ourselves is incredibly strong. and i think that’s what worship, teaching & kids programs can tend to perpetuate. they’ve got us addicted to inspiration & feeling safe and comfortable instead of pointing us toward the crazy upside down ways of the kingdom where suffering, hardship & in-the-trenches-with-other-people is central. “the church”, to me, is not about getting my needs met, it is about being part of a group of people who help me learn the ways of Jesus so that i can pass his love & heart on those i intersect with not just with words but with actions. i always like to call the church “Jesus school.” and i don’t think we learn by passively sitting & listening & going home or keeping ourselves at a distance from our own and others pain & suffering . every day, i am reminded of how much more there is to learn.
i know i always sing the same song, but i can’t help but think what alcoholics anonymous & 12 step programs are fairly universally known for–a safe place that helps people give up addictions & change their lives. some day i want to do a little data collection to confirm this, but my gut says that if people were asked what “the christian church” is known for, they’d probably say something along the lines of “gathering people together once a week for sermons & singing” or “being against homosexuality & abortion” or a host of other things that probably do not include the word “loving people.”
i think Jesus is fairly clear that love is where it’s at & what he wants to be known for: one of my favorite chunks of scripture is john 13-17, Jesus in the upper room. today i am reminded of Jesus’ words in john 15: “love each other as I have loved you. greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends…this is my command: love each other.”
yeah, saturday night was a good little reminder for me. i feel more clear than ever that i want to be known for our love & that’s it.
and that’s enough.
radical, inclusive, tangible, real, enduring, crazy, against-all-odds-and-what-the-world-and-sometimes-the-church-says-is-practical love.