Sunday, June 12, 2011

Welcome, Love and Change

Rev. Dale Kuehne's words
about welcome, as the Rule of St. Benedictine describes it, sharpened what the Holy Spirit has been testifying to our hearts, right now. As Dale wrote, the Rule states, "Every visitor must be received as Christ himself." We're mourning the unexpected loss of our Rhodesian Ridgeback, Lanzo. He was nearly 11 years old. What has struck us - as we mourn - is how keenly we miss his ongoing presence, his affectionate welcome, his smile at being with us in simple tasks and walks, his exuberant joy at our homecomings, and his appreciation for all that we gave him. We've experienced a stark contrast of the intensity in our mourning of our dog (God's good creature!) and our mourning of humans we've known who have tried to use people to serve themselves and their dogmatic agendas. Many humans fail to love, be trustworthy, be steadfast in patience and kindness, or extend welcome. As do many of us, we've known people who've returned hospitality with calumny and insults, who've returned love with human judgment, who've sought evil rather than good. (cf. Prov. 11:27) The hurts I've listened to in pastoral care and hospice rooms testify to the commonality of personal experiences of human betrayal, lies, deception and harm – within families, among friends and colleagues, or within our faith communities. In our humanity, we mourn less the loss of people who've deceived or tried to harm us than we do people or pets who have remained with us, unselfishly faithful and loving, building up and encouraging us through life's journeys.

Jesus' words challenge us past our human capacity. "But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven..." (Matt. 5:4-5)

The church of God is called to live out our love & welcome as do the Benedictines with whom Dr. Kuehne prayed, sang and was nurtured in Christ. Too often, we fail to be as Christ to fellow humans made in the image of God. We won't love them as God loves us - with patience, kindness, charity, truthfulness, gentleness, hopefulness, endurance & self-giving service – with love that is undeserved and unmerited.

Fr. Peter from St. Anselm College also expressed to Dale the necessary wisdom within Christ-like hospitality. While we welcome every visitor as we do Christ, we need to have confidence from faith that he or she is the one called to change, to be transformed by God's incarnate Word, just as we are.
There will be visitors who seek their own purposes among us. They use others, pursue their own interests and not those of our churches or families. One example I heard was of a journalist who sought out persons within an inner-city mission whose words could be twisted to confirm the sensational story she wanted to tell, seemingly to further her career, fuel her biases and those of readers. The reality of people loved and served, who learned to grow, live and make healthy choices is inconvenient and thus, ignored. We may not know such visitors' motives when we welcome them, nor should we try (cf. 1 Cor. 4:5). When we're young, we may be too trusting and naïve to expect such treatment, but wisdom is frequently acquired through painful trials. Sooner or later, these visitors' subsequent actions reveal what/who they serve.

Utter humility is required in order for us to change to conform to Christ's Body. As Dale describes his experience with the Benedictine love for visitors: I did not deserve what I received. I did not feel worthy to be treated as Christ. But that is the miracle and trial of grace. You deny it, reject it, or find enough humility to begin to receive it.

When we come into the presence of Christ and come into the presence of those whose lives are filled with the Spirit of Christ, too often, we naturally refuse to humble ourselves to see or join Jesus at work in the jars of clay whom the Potter is molding and shaping, with persistent patience and kindness. When we come into the presence of any person, each one created in God's image, we naturally cannot love or hear them truly because we've categorized them and prejudged them according to some subjective human standard, a disembodied education or "knowledge" (e.g., Gnosticism), or any other distinction unfounded on God's love and justice for all. We hyper-focus on where others don't meet our expectations, and won't read the full context of the human story grounded in God's ongoing creation, love, mercy, grace and justice.

Left to our natural inclinations, out of our arrogance and pride, we wield our self-will and refuse to receive what is being freely offered. We would sooner become "judges with evil thoughts". (James 2:4) In making distinctions and rationalizations, we falsely and unwisely judge one another by causing divisions, joining factions, gossiping, divorcing, slandering, alienating, rejecting, lying, pretending to know hearts/motives, deceiving, or maligning. The Apostle Paul's "vice lists" are cheat sheets for human judgments upon other humans and upon Godself. "Sin" in Scripture is our belligerent and rebellious refusal to humble ourselves, to cease our self-justifying destructive behavior, in order to worship God and love others as our Creator loves us. As self-elected &/or human-acclaimed "gods", we arrogantly demand others to obey us "or else". We will not humbly join Jesus in loving and obeying God the Father by loving, serving and honoring his ongoing presence and work among fellow humans, however broken and flawed. Some of us may even dare to misrepresent "God", mouthing "god" while acting selfishly to impose our wills, lording it over others.

For those who, by grace and the Holy Spirit, choose to die to those ways to follow Christ, our defense is to stand "in Christ", to take refuge in God. "Every visitor must be received as Christ himself." We don't attack with the weapons which our natural inclinations would wield. Instead, we speak truthfully, and discern wisely; we love them according to Jesus' love for us. We don't approve sinful behavior, attitudes or choices perpetuating human injustice and estrangement; rather, we must love others because God enables us to love them. In so denying our human selves, by grace given and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we continue drawing closer to God. He is our refuge & our Creator who knows us better than we know ourselves (& better than any human!). God's Son reveals our God-given image, and by receiving Jesus and entrusting ourselves to live and be led by God's power revealed in Christ, we are adopted children of the Father. God's sent Spirit offers the very strength we need to live humbly, peacefully and righteously in our community. We are empowered to do justly, love mercy, and walk in true life. We choose to believe what God tells us about ourselves, in the Word and by the Holy Spirit. We wisely differentiate between God's truth and human lies. We are assured that although God's truth may hurt, we will be changed in ways that glorify God and make us truly human, "good" via death and resurrection into new creation. We confess and renounce open and hidden sins, and turn our lives toward God's paths. As Dale put it, God's work is always the "Change that believes in me". As we draw closer to God, the One who always steadfastly loves us, we also draw closer to others who join us in seeking to truly image Christ – the community where God reigns.

Thank you, Father, for your gift of loving and justice-doing friends and family-in-Christ. Thank you, too, for your gift of our dog, Lanzo, who always welcomed us joyfully and better than most of us dare to welcome one another.

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