Toorak Uniting Church

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The Love That Binds Us Together

John 17
Rev. Ken Gilson
9 May 2010

Over the last two weeks the lectionary has explored images of the church. The first spoke of the intimate relationship between Jesus and God Jesus and us as his disciples.
The second spoke of the way this relationship is nurtured.The bridge between these images is the concept of the love which binds all things together. A love which is a conscious choice to care for others. In to days reading Jesus is praying for his disciples. The bottom-line in each of the readings is that Jesus tells us, his disciples, that if we are to truly be his witnesses in the world, and to discover that peace which is the gift of God, we must learn to love even our enemies.

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I took out the thesis I wrote when I was doing a year of probation before my ordination. The topic was "THE CHURCH’S ONGOING SEARCH FOR TODAY’S IDENTITY"
In it I looked again at the words of Deitrich Bonhoeffer. He makes the following statement about love.

Human love can’t love an enemy. When it is faced by an enemy, it turns to hate because the enemy refuses to be dominated; to be absorbed.

He claims that Human love doesn’t serve, it desires a response. It is always looking for a return. It desires community. It will do anything to resist a breakdown in community. It creates an idol of community and sacrifices anything for it. Human love cannot tolerate the dissolution of a fellowship that has become false, for the sake of a genuine fellowship. It cannot give up its power over another person in case that person will desert the lover. Bonhoeffer claims that at its essence, human love; love which does not recognise God, seeks to bring all other people under our influence; To make others in our own image; to have others become what we want them to be.
On the other hand Spiritual love; God’s love, doesn’t desire, but serves. It serves Christ alone.
It knows that it has no immediate access to people.

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Let’s return to this idea in a moment and let me present you with another idea. Bonhoeffer tells us that THE CHURCH IS THE GIFT OF GOD. We can receive it, participate in it, but it is never our possession. It is something that comes to us from outside ourselves, and is revealed to us, by the lives and words of others people, who, like us, are seeking to respond to the giver.

What the church is called to be, when it is truly the church, is a group of people who recognise, that their primary reason for being together is that God has called them to be his people, not that they think the same or even like one another.
As the church we are called to be People who meet together as bearers and proclaimers of the word to each other.
CHRISTIANS ARE CALLED TO BE people who are prepared to "meet the other person with the clear word of God and be ready to leave him (her) alone with this Word for a long time, willing to release him her again in order that Christ may deal with them." (Bonhoeffer)
I BELIEVE THAT THIS STATEMENT CONTAINS A VERY IMPORTANT TRUTH ABOUT THE LIFE WHICH GOD OFFERS TO ALL PEOPLE AS A GIFT and the nature of the church of which we are all a part. If we try to make the church what we want it to be then we are being seduced by the world and denying that the church is God’s gift, to us and to the world for which Jesus died.
What might it mean to be a person who "meets the other person with THE CLEAR WORD OF GOD and be ready to LEAVE him (her) alone with this Word for a long time, willing to RELEASE him (her) again in order that CHRIST MAY DEAL with them."

Firstly I think Bonhoeffer is on to something important, when he says that what the world is on about, when it speaks of love is, DOMINATION OF THE OTHER PERSON When we form a relationship the tendency is to want, what Bonhoeffer calls, IMMEDIATE CONTACT with the other person .We want to bring them into our sphere of influence; We want them to be like us;

It is the urge to fuse the ‘I’ and ‘thou’ into ‘me’. The attempt to absorb the other person, to over power them, to enslave them, not to allow the other to live independently of the one who has power.
ONE OF THE HARDEST THINGS FOR PARENTS TO DO is to allow their children to make their own decisions, and also their own mistakes. It is hard to let go of those we have sought to teach…those we believe we have responsibility for…I think that in any relationship, we get into the most trouble when we not only tell our partner what we would like, but go the next step, and try to convince them that what we want is what they aught to do?
Kahill Gibrand wrote a poem that I sometimes share at weddings. In it, when speaking of marriage, he says.

"Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even the strings of the lute are alone but they quiver with the same music. Stand together, yet not too near together; The oak and the cypress grow not in each other’s shade"

HUMAN LOVE SEEKS TO BE IRRESISTIBLY; TO RULE. The problem is that the right to rule is God’s alone. In contrast what we see, in Jesus, is that God doesn’t send his love as an irresistible force, but as a suffering humiliated servant of all humanity. Only God can show us how to share a love which is totally life giving, totally freeing, a love which allows the other person to be their own person.

In the end, the only person who can change me, is me And you, is you. You can offer what you believe to be true, but you cannot make decisions for me, nor can you be responsible for the response I make to you or any other person. Jesus reminds us, who are members of the church.
That it is God who chose each one of us to be his people.
To be willing to share what I believe to be right and then leave you with that, to think about for your self and to come to a conclusion, is to believe that, just as the Holy Spirit works with in my heart and mind so it works in yours also and that only the Spirit of God can convict us of what is right and good.
The Holy Spirits way of doing this, is to point us to Jesus, in his dealings with people.
Jesus spoke what he saw as the truth and left people to respond. He is the key to the love that offers us and all people, true freedom and responsibility. To do anything more than tell you what I believe is right and good is to try to bring you under my control; to rule your life; to dominate. When we do this, we take upon ourselves what is rightfully the task of God’s Holy Spirit. How presumptuous can we get?

CONCLUSION:
To love is to serve, not to dominate. It is to offer to others what has been offered to me and to leave them, under the influence of the Holy Spirit to respond to that gift.
If we, as members of the church, would act in this way, in our dealings with one another then we would be, what God calls us to be; a light and a model for all people in all their relations with one another.
To do this is to allow God to be God; ourselves to be ourselves; and others to be themselves.
Imagine what effect this way of dealing with people would have on our relationships.

We would also be called by many names, the least of which would be "fools", but so was Jesus.
And so we are in Good company.

To leave another with the word that we see as truth is to realize that they and we belong to God’s sphere of influence not our own. This is what it means TO SPEAK THE TRUTH IN LOVE!
To do this, in all our dealings with one another, is to allow God to be Lord, rather than us Lording it over others. It is to walk in the way which leads to true peace. It is to love others as we continue to be loved by God. My prayer is, May the love of God, Father, Son and Spirit free you share the truth you know and leave others to respond as they are enabled by the Spirit, at work on them. Amen!

© Rev. Ken Gilson, 2010


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