Saturday, February 9, 2013

A Vision of What Can Be


The kind of love that Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13 offers us a glimpse of what “the new creation” looks like (2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15). The actions Paul describes must, however, be nurtured and cultivated. Richard Hays, who teaches Ethics at Duke Divinity School says, “One cannot merely decide in a day’s time to start doing these things. They are learned patterns of behavior that must be cultivated over time in the context of a community that models and supports such behavior . . . the church should be a school for the cultivation of these habits and practices.”

Yes, the church should be a school for the cultivation of the habits and practices of love. Because the church is called to be the incarnational presence of Christ in the world and an outpost for God’s kingdom on earth. Are we going to fail? Of course. We are human after all. The habits opposed to love run deep and are hard to break. This is one reason why forgiveness is such a central theme in Jesus’ teaching and stands at the very heart of the gospel. Nurturing the kind of love Paul delineates in 1 Cor. 13 in the community will require us to forgive one another when we fail. And we are certainly going to fail.

The movie, Open Range, is an old fashion western about a conflict over land rights between free-wheeling cowboys and a land-owning rancher. Kevin Costner plays Charley Waite, one of the cowboys who decides on revenge when the rancher kills some of his friends. As he plans for the violent confrontation, memories of terrible killings he committed during the Civil War come back to him, deeply disturbing him. When the shooting is all over, Charley is wounded, but alive.

A woman in town, the sister to the town doctor, loves Charley and he loves her. He tells her that he needs to leave town, he needs some time. She tells him that she will wait for him, but not forever. She says, “I don’t have the answers, Charley, but I know that people get confused in this life about what they want, and what they’ve done, and what they think they should have done because of it. Everything they think they are or did takes hold so hard that it won’t let them see what they can be.”

That is a profound insight. “Everything they think they are or did takes hold so hard that it won’t let them see what they can be.” The sins and failures of our past can blind us to any hopeful or faith-filled vision of the future. We can become so ensnared and demoralized by guilt over the ways we have hurt others or by resentment over the ways others have hurt us, that we cannot imagine how we might become someone different. It becomes difficult for us to imagine that we could be more than what we are. 

Paul believed that Christ had inaugurated a new creation. It’s not complete by any means, but it is underway, though it sometimes works incognito. The power of the new creation is here—within us, among us, and for us, working for our ultimate good (Rom. 8:28). Our task is to lean and live into it, so that we begin to experience the power of the new creation now, which Paul says is “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6).

We must let God love us in all our imperfections and incompleteness, allowing God to welcome, embrace, and accept us as we are. When we receive God’s love, when we accept that we are accepted, the past loosens its grip, our fears, anxieties, and insecurities loosen their stranglehold, and we learn to breathe freely. Faith and hope rise up. The scales start to fall from our eyes and we begin to see what life can be. Our eyes are opened to the new possibilities love can create and sustain.  

We are set free to trust the Divine Spirit to form the habits of love in our souls and bodies, and particularly in the body of Christ we call the church.  

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