Reflection on Love

“…A bad person can receive the sacrament of the body and blood of the Lord, for is said, “All who eat and drink unworthily, eat and drink judgment on themselves.” [1 Cor. 11:29] A bad person can have the name of Christ and be called a Christian. Such people are referred to when it says, “They polluted the name of their God.” [Ezek. 36:20] To have all these sacraments is, as I say, possible even for a bad person. But to have love and be a bad person is impossible. Love is the unique gift, the fountain that is yours alone. The Spirit of God exhorts you to drink from it, and in so doing to drink from himself.

Excerpt from St. Augustine’s Love Sermon, italics added for emphasis

I haven’t figured out much of anything, but I feel like if someone were to ask me what God called us to as his children, I would summarize it thusly: Let love overflow from you; let love be the foundation of your words and your actions. Have every step be a movement born out of love.

This does not mean things like grace, truth, justice, etc. aren’t important. They surely are and we know they can co-exist; in fact to love is to be honest rather than deceive, to show grace in the face of injury, to seek justice for the oppressed and marginalized. But if we lead with justice, we often miss opportunities for grace. If we lead with truth, we sometimes lack compassion. The foundation must be love. If it is not built on love, what will lead you?

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:7-8

“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” 1 John 4:16

Reiterated, perhaps because it is so hard for humanity to fully understand, is the fact that God is love. It is not saying God feels love but rather that God’s very nature is that of love; that to love is to be in relationship with God and to be unloving is to not know God.

How are we to love? This is perhaps the hardest part, because we are not called to love just the people we like. Not to limit it to only our family and friends. Jesus was perfect but he didn’t love only perfect people. He spent a tremendous amount of time loving those who were seen as untouchable, despised, neglected, marginalized and cursed. What is Christ’s response to these people? To all people?

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:16-18

We are not meant to love from a distance because God does not love like that; God is relational and personal. It is worth noting that God is love because our God is Triune. A solitary God before creation could not be love without having another to love. Love is communal; it requires plurality. We cannot truly love in solitude and although our God is one, our God is also three.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” John 1:1-3

“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.'” Genesis 1:26

So we see that they were together from the beginning; that they were one but also separate (I know, it can sound confusing and we can’t fully comprehend it but think of it more as 1x1x1=1 instead of the more confusing 1+1+1=1). Most often we can understand God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit more easily through their relationship. Described by St. Augustine through the lens of love, the Trinity can be discerned through seeing God as the lover, Jesus as the Beloved and the Holy Spirit as love.

“And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.'” Mark 1:11

“And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:5

Love is such a big part of this story; in fact I would say the entire story is about love. Jesus even told us the two most important commandments were to LOVE God with all our hearts, soul and mind and to LOVE our neighbor as we LOVE ourselves. To know God is to love the way God loves. It is a reckless sort of love, a love the abides even in the midst of rejection, disappointment, failure, and disobedience. It is love at a cost to oneself. A sacrificial love; an abundant love. It is a love that whispers in the darkness, “You are loved and you can love.”

 

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Moving Away

I found out yesterday a friend of mine is moving away and it made me more sad than I expected. As a native Cincinnatian, you get used to people leaving and I don’t see him often now that we don’t work together but it still sucks. He’s not the only one leaving or considering leaving.

“Sometimes when you sacrifice something precious, you’re not really losing it. You’re just passing it on to someone else.”
Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven 

I used to want to get away from Cincinnati, you know? I wanted to get away from what felt like a tiny town with suffocating people and go… anywhere but here. Looking back, I can see that was more about how I felt than it was about the city. I doubt I would have been happier anywhere else. At the time though, when God put His finger on my heart and on this city and said, “Abide in me through them,”  my gut response was, “Shit.” I mean it’s not a classy response but it’s how I felt.

I’m locked into this city and saying no to money? Sounds like sacrifice. Yet here I am over two years later and I LOVE Cincinnati and her people. I praise God for the community He has blessed me with and the opportunities He’s provided me to build into others and be built into. I still want to travel, I want to see things. But I’m not running from or to anything anymore. This is a city that God is moving in and I am excited to be a part of it.

Not everyone feels that way about Cincinnati and I get it. Maybe Cincinnati isn’t part of their story. My last class I read this book written by a man who was dying (paper posted earlier). In part, I think he was saying what I believe: that life is not all “live, love, laugh…” It is suffering and sacrifice. For instance, the cost of love, particularly when death is involved, is loss. Does that mean we do not love? No, we should love all the more fiercely and profoundly; let this life be something that is a tragedy when it ends. The REAL question is, what do we sacrifice and suffer for? What are we giving our life over to?

“Every man gives his life for what he believes. Every woman gives her life for what she believes. Sometimes people believe in little or nothing, and so they give their lives to little or nothing. One life is all we have, and we live it as we believe in living it…and then it’s gone. But to surrender who you are and to live without belief is more terrible than dying – even more terrible than dying young.”
Jeanne d’Arc

For me, it used to be promotions and money. Relationships outside of work suffered for that and I was willing to leave my family and friends halfway across the country for a pile of paper. Not even a passion! I wasn’t invested in my industry; it was just money… But now? Cincinnati. The possibility of building into a community where I hope to someday have my own family surrounded by these people I love dearly and of course my sister and parents? These things are worth dedicating my life towards.