Entering the Paradox of Gospel-LoveThursday, May 06, 2010
NPR this morning highlighted a homosexual/lesbian couple struggling with the contradictions between their state's legitimization of homosexual marriages and the lack of legitimization in the federal government's eyes. In short, they were mad because even though their state had "successfully" redefined marriage to suit their "needs", the federal government had not. As a result, they were spending an extra $20,000 a year in additional taxes due to the fact that by law they have to file as singles instead of married.
What grabbed my attention though was what went through my heart in the few seconds before the story ended. I envisioned myself sitting with Kathy Bush and Mary Ritchie...perhaps at the table with their two boys. My mind transported me then to their living room where I was pleading with them, even in tears, that the obstacles they are battling are simply the result of a refusal to submit to God's design for marriage. I fully realize that if a couple has concluded that this lifestyle is okay, then obviously the interpretation or even affirmation of God's Word is entirely up for debate at this point. But I was pleading nonetheless.
Then something interesting happened....in the living room where I was sitting with them. We ended the conversation, and then I went into the kitchen and began cooking dinner for them and their boys...just after I walked over and embraced them both. They followed me into the kitchen asking me why I had disagreed with them so forcefully and then embraced them with love, and then was cooking dinner for them...in love.
Immediately the pause button in my mental movie reel was pressed, and the scene stopped. I was somewhat bewildered myself. Then, it was as if the Lord suddenly rushed headlong into my mind and heart with story after story of His genuine love for His creatures who disobey Him. And my bewilderment turned to sudden joy that I could legitimately disagree with this couple - even heatedly - and yet still love them intensely. After all, even though sin is what drives this couple to believe and live this way, sin is simply a result of a lack of genuine love for God and for one another...which is what homosexuals are usually seeking....which is what the average human being is usually seeking.
So I got to thinking. What if Christians entered into the paradox of this gospel-love? This is the kind of love where we "hate the sin, and love the sinner" as the old cliche goes. Except, I was never able to recall anyone who said this actually do it. So I'd like to give it a try. Attempting to create a context of genuine, gospel-driven, divine, God-like love for someone in sin is what I wanna aim to do...despite the nature of their sin. I'm pretty sure this is what grace is: accepting people as they are, because of who Jesus is and what He has done.
No, this lesbian couple doesn't know who Jesus is and what He's done, and it's pretty evident that as of right now, who Jesus is and what He's done hasn't been applied to them yet. So what are we supposed to do? Reject them? Neglect them? Ignore them? Slander them? Gossip about them...with other Christian friends? Sounds to me like a recipe to drive them further into their hatred of God. That wasn't how Jesus responded to the greedy young ruler in the gospel of Mark. The dude walked away sad at Jesus command to sell it all and give it to the poor. He walked away sad because he was very rich. These things together revealed that he was very greedy. Yet Mark, the gospel writer, was so careful to include that helpful little detail that shows us who and what Jesus is really like. "Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him" (Mark 10:21).
When Christians look at lesbians and homosexuals...and Muslims...and Islamic terrorists...and Democrats...and Republicans...and rebellious teenagers...and...fill in the blank with the group who comes to your mind.... When Christians look at these people, do they feel genuine love for them? I know this for a fact. I have not. And those on whom I have looked at (with disdain) and felt no genuine love for, know it. So why then should they listen to a word I have to say about their lifestyle? From the Bible? Or about my church? I make myself and therefore my message irrelevant to sinners when I marginalize them. Jesus never, ever, ever did that.
Here's a plan we came up with last night as a group of Life Mission Group leaders, about to embark on a new era in our church. What if we took a tub full of ice and Coronas to the frat houses at Georgia Southern University, and just hung out with them? What if we started our relationship with them by apologizing for the way the church has neglected them, rejected them, ignored them, judged them, and condemned them? ...in the name of Jesus, of course. What if we then asked them to simply share their questions, concerns, issues, frustrations, and any other disappointments about the church, Jesus, Christianity, God, etc.?
And what if we just sat and listened to them? What if we squelched all inner desires to defend ourselves, our Savior, and His church? What if we just sat and took it all, turning the other check, and then the other, back and forth until we were black and blue from verbal abuse? What if we demonstrated Christ's love for these frat boys? What if we actually looked at them with love, like Jesus did? What if we sat there, and sat there....and sat there...and listened...until we felt that genuine love for these guys that Jesus felt? What if we did not revile them back when they reviled us? What if we responded to their hostile verbal projectiles with faces of love, instead of scowling faces of disgust?
What if then we walked over and embraced each one, weeping over them for the utter, ridiculous, laughable, provoking, irritating, double-standard contradictions of Jesus they've seen in other "Christians" and "churches"? What if all we said that first night was simply, "I'm so sorry...I'm so, so sorry. I'm so ashamed of us..." What if we had a corporate identification with the errors of the church just like the OT prophets had with their own rebellious nation chosen by God? I guess I'm asking, what if we were all just humble with these guys?
So the idea is in motion. All of us were on board with it. I wonder if we'll be on board with a similar idea to go to the Unitarian Universalist Church, ask some of 'em to lunch afterwards and engage with them the same way? Is it too far fetched to believe that some of them landed at the UU church because of the contradictory reflections of Jesus they've seen in His followers? Then what if we went to the gay episcopal church here in town and attempted the same thing?
I already know some of the consequences and ripple effects we will experience. We're already looked at as a weird church anyway. This will push us over the top...off the deep end. But who gives a righteous flip? This whole deal is about Jesus, His kingdom, and His righteousness. How dare I take His name upon me, claim to be His follower, and then not look at others and feel genuine love for them. How dare any Christian do this!! I feel such shame about my past actions.
No doubt, many of my own friends will look and say, "Oh, we're not surprised by this next antic of Rob's. He's been on a road of postmodernism and compromise of the gospel for several years now. It will only end in a complete erasing of the black and white line of sin and holiness in the Bible." How ironic. It's compromising the gospel to look at others and feel about them the way Jesus did? Even if they decide NOT to follow after Him...just like the rich young ruler in Mark 10?!!
Now I'm mad. And nobody's even said anything to me yet! I think those are the only people Jesus ever got mad at. They're called Pharisees. And Matthew 23 is filled with His pronouncement of judgment on them because of their hypocrisy.
"Light in me the holy fire YOU had, King Jesus. That holy fire of hatred for sin which the Father poured out on YOU in the garden, during the beating, and on the cross...while You poured out unconditional love on those who did it to YOU, even making sure that the last thing you prayed for was their forgiveness. THAT is the biblical gospel."