LOVE INCARNATE. Divine love in human form. A God who meets us in the everyday longings, pain and hunger of our ordinary lives.
I am intensely aware of this as we serve coffee on Aurora at the methadone clinic amidst more suffering than I can fully comprehend. Beautiful and resilient spirits housed in bodies ravaged by addiction with dreams that seem forever illusive. God, where are you?
For since the beginning of time, we have tried to wrap our minds around what God is like -- and I think that most religion, philosophy and mythology is trying to answer this question. Is God like the violent and demanding pagan gods of the ancients? Is God full of wrath and judgment like the hell and brimstone preachers say? Is God distant and uncaring? Or is God absent, irrelevant and obsolete?
But Jesus answered this question, once and for all. God is love incarnate. Love is the essence of God. God loves as the sun shines: love expresses who God is. And through Jesus, love came in human form and laid down his life for us through the work of the cross, taking on our suffering, sin, sorrow and pain. And somehow, even in our secular culture, the cross remains a poignant symbol with the theme of sacrifice repeated again and again in the stories we tell. For somehow we know in our bones that the cross of Jesus was the ultimate revelation of true power and true love.
For we all feel our wounds and our sorrows, whether discreetly hidden behind the safety of middle-class garage doors or flagrantly blatant on Aurora Avenue. And so the image of Jesus on the cross speaks of the true God -- not as a distant, faceless bureaucrat, nor as a bullying boss, but as the one who has strangely come right into the middle of the pains, the agonies, the hungers and sorrows of the world and taken their full force on himself. In a sense, all of Christian theology, certainly theology of the cross, is the attempt to explain this very immediate, personal, visceral experience.
And so standing at the foot of the cross taking in the extraordinary lengths that God has gone for us, it almost seems impossible to NOT sense the wonder, the power, the miracle and the possibility in love.This is the force that has changed the world, and is still has the power to change the world if we as followers of Jesus could only catch it.
For what John says next is huge.
Beloved, if that's how God loved us, we ought to love one another in the same way. Nobody has ever seen God. If we love one another, God abides in us and God's love is completed in us. [I John 4:11-12]
Jesus is the example; now we should copy it. Yes, simple and straightforward, beautiful and stunning, and well, almost impossible to do. And yet through the power and unction of the Spirit, that which is impossible becomes possible.
No one has ever seen God, not so much as a glimpse. This one-of-a-kind God-Expression, who exists at the very heart of the Father, has made him plain as day. [John 1:18] This is remarkably profound. We don't really know who God is until we look at Jesus. And so what John is provocatively saying is that people around us really don't know who God is -- until they see it revealed in our lives as the people of God. Until God's love is completed in us. For the work of Jesus is meant to continue through us, the church.
This is phenomenally challenging and also achingly true. This is why I signed up to be a pastor and why I can't walk away from the church -- for this is our calling, our vocation and our mandate as the people of God. As disparaging as our current realities are and as far as we stray from this truth, it remains.
We are called to be LOVE INCARNATE.
And this week as I stood out on Aurora doing an inanely simple thing, a profoundly human and earthy thing, offering coffee, muffins and a smile to my fellow siblings, I was reminded by sages much wiser than I. Of the goodness of showing up. Of the beauty of presence. Of the gift of listening and seeing. One woman said, "Thank you so much for doing this, for being here. You know most folks don't even see us as people." And she offered me the gift of seeing what I couldn't see without her eyes -- showing me how we dehumanize, categorize, and ostracize, cutting ourselves off from the true lament of suffering with.
This is the kind of love that Jesus offers. Compassion. A love that suffers with. Us. In all our pain, flailing, acting out and struggle. And a love that suffers with our neighbor. Who we are tempted to classify and thus write off as "other". Somehow I know that as we attempt to connect to this divine love and to more fully embody it, those who we deem most in need will become our greatest teachers. For our arrogance is blinding and our independence crippling.
Somehow we as a community will have to find ways to embody this love, to live a way of love together in our neighborhoods and communities, to share life and meals, joys and pains, our dreams and our disappointments. We will have to begin to "overflow" with the love that we have received to those around us as we show up in our communities joining in justice, renewal, mercy and compassion. We will have to care about those that are perceived to be "other" or on the "outside", those who are oppressed, those who are hated. And doing this will take intentionality. It will take sacrifice. It will take proximity.
But what if...?
What if we could begin to be love incarnate? Love in human form. What if we could stumble and experiment and practice and embody love as the Spirit weaves us into something truly beautiful and stunning?
I hope you will join us this Sunday as we continue to wrestle with how we are called to live lives of love. For God is love and this love is so compelling, so true, so powerful that it can still change the world.
by Jessica Ketola