Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Love is Patient

"Love is patient" (I Corinthians 13:4)

This week we talked about the relationship between God's patience and his love. God is patient with us because he loves us. One of our advent readings this week is from2 Peter:"The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance". God's patience towards us is something that I confess I have not thought enough about over the years. It also occurs to me that I don't hear others thinking or talking about God's patience very much either. We talk a lot about God's love, forgiveness, holiness, justice, etc. but not as much about patience. Perhaps one reason we don't talk much about God's patience is that we don't understand what patience really is. God's patience is not passive neglect or apathy towards our broken condition. Quite the opposite is really the case. God's patience is always joined by his tireless pursuit of deeper relationship with us. In his pursuit, though, he is patient. This means that he does not write us off when we fail to respond to him. He keeps pursuing.

I would suggest another reason why we don't think as much as we ought about God's patience is that we don't like thinking about what it means to be patient with others. Being patient with others means that we need to regard them as works in progress which, in turn, means that we are called to love them when they are not being very lovable. Before we have thought too long though about what it means to be patient with others we meet an obstacle which takes many of us off guard: a lack of patience with ourselves! My friend, Chuck DeGroat, from City Church, San Francisco recently offered this insight on his blog - the first quote is Chuck quoting an Episcopal Priest called Martin Smith:

“What chance is there of loving and respecting others if I refuse to meet and listen to the many sides of myself? How can I be a reconciler if I shut my ears to the unreconciled conflicts within myself… Now I begin to see that the spiritual life is based on a basic honesty which enables me to recognize that everything I find difficult to accept, bless, forgive, and appreciate in others is actually present within myself (Smith)".

"I’ve seen healing and transformation when men and women begin to love their enemies, even their inner enemies. These unreconciled parts of ourselves which live in extreme conflict cannot thrive.... And like the Prodigal Son and his Elder Brother, they need to be invited to a feast of reconciliation and redemption. You can only thrive as you become the Father in the great story, as the new and redeemed self led by Christ races out to both the Prodigal and the Elder Sons with an embrace of love and compassion. Transformation begins when you kiss the demon on the lips. Martin Smith suggests that the spiritual life is built and grown on a basic honesty which admits the truth about ourselves. When this happens, not only are we transformed, but the communities in which we live and love become places of transformation. And like yeast in bread, the Kingdom of God becomes an ever-expanding reality. However, where honesty is lacking, we not only create walls within our hearts and between ourselves, but we create a great divide between ourselves and God. This is why the Christian Gospel takes as it premise that men and women are basically sinful, in need of a reconciling love that cannot be manufactured and managed, that cannot be won by wall-building self-righteousness. Sadly, many of us who claim the name of Christ live unreconciled in so many ways. Put me at the top of that list (De Groat)."

What I would add to the terrific insights from the quotes above is that patience is required for this journey. The unreconciled parts of ourselves do not become unified under God's rule of love immediately and our struggle to be reconciled within ourselves is a life-long journey towards the wholeness God offers. Along the way, we must learn to be patient - not passive or apathetic - but patient with ourselves and others. Thankfully, God is patient with us.

Questions for discussion:

1. Have you noticed a connection between a refusal to be patient with others and a refusal to be patient with yourself?

2. What does it look like to be patient with yourself and/or others? Give an example of the difference between patience and apathy or passivity, and give and example of the difference between patience and impatience, particularly in relationship with others.

3. Naturally, there are all sorts of qualifiers to what it means to love someone through thick and thin. For example, some relationships must be for all intents and purposes terminated or radically redefined in order to act consistently with the deepest understanding of what it means to give and receive love from others and God. Above, we were reflecting on how patience helps us understand love so I did not want to spend a lot of words on the caveats. However, because it is on our minds, let's talk about what sorts of circumstances require the radical redefinition of a relationship. What are some examples?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Advent 1

Isaiah 64:
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— 2as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! 3When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. 4From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. 5You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.

6We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. 7There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. 8Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. 9Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.

Advent Season is the time of the year that we join millions of Christians all over the world in a time of waiting and watching. During this time we ask God to sanctify and stimulate our imagination so that we may join our hearts and minds to the hearts and minds of God's people who were awaiting the first advent of Jesus. In so doing, we are reminded of many important truths. Let's consider one of them here. The darkness of the world requires God's redemption, God's work, God's solution - not a solution of human making. We pick up this thought from the reading of Isaiah this Sunday. The prophet cries out for God to keep his promise to bring redemption to the world, confessing that only the God of Israel can do such a thing ("No ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait on him"). This language is picked up by Saint Paul and built upon when he talks to the Corinthians about the uniqueness of the gospel of the cross of Christ in 1 Corinthians 2:9 (No eye has seen or ear heard what God has prepared for those who love him), the point in Corinthians being that the cross of Christ is unique and basic to the heart of what God is doing to bring salvation to his people. This truth is foundational to our spiritual formation as Christians but we easily forget its importance. All too often we settle for a diminished experience of God's love because we have failed to ask him to open our hearts more fully to what he and he alone can do - transform us so that we are more fully capable of receiving his love, returning it to him, and more fully giving and receiving love in our relationships with others. The time of advent invites us to confess to God that we are not yet who we should be and that we will not flourish as well as we are intended to without the deep work of his spirit in us. So, we are to cry out with the prophet for God to tear open the heavens, come down to us, and do what only he can do in our hearts.

Questions for discussion:

1. Do you take opportunities during Advent Season or other times to ask God to work more deeply in your heart to put more of his love in you? Can you think of patterns of thinking and living of which you need to repent because they stand in your way of participating more fully in God's love and God's life?

2. Advent season reminds us pointedly that God's light and God's light alone is what is required to dispel the darkness in this world. How do you and I apply this imaginatively to the darkness that still lurks in our hearts? Here is one possible answer: there are many times in our lives when we struggle silently with what we know deep down are thoughts and inclinations that draw us away from the love of God. In some instances, these thoughts and inclinations have been lurking so long that they have taken up squatter's rights and we barely notice them. Asking God to shine his light on these intruders and move us away from them and towards a deeper experience of his love is one way to think imaginatively about applying what we confess to be true: that God's light and God's light alone is what is required...... can you think of other applications?