Monday, November 5, 2018

What Does God Want?

If you allow your mind to pursue a love that is truly and fully unconditional, you end up in a pretty strange place. As Christians, as followers of Jesus, as those who have witnessed humanity's rejection of God's Son in the cross and God's love-defiant repudiation of that rejection in the resurrection, we believe that that is how God loves the world. God does not love us because we believe in God. God does not love us because we follow God's rules. God does not love us because we belong to a particular community, tribe, or tradition. God does not love us because we love God back. God just loves us, and, because that love is unconditional, it embraces everyone with the same fullness. Everyone and everything enjoys the complete benefit of being loved by God completely.

When it comes to relationships, hopes, prayers, discipleship, stewardship, and many other areas of life, truly unconditional love leads us to some bizarre places. What does it mean to have meaningful human relationships if we pursue that kind of unconditional love? I love my children, in part, because they are my children. You might have nice kids, but I don't love them the same way as I love my own. But what if I did? If your preacher delivers the unadulterated good news of God's unconditional love, emphasizing that God will love you the same whether you come to church, whether you say your prayers, whether you love your neighbor as yourself or tell that neighbor to bleep off, what happens when you see that preacher in the grocery store on Saturday? When she asks, "Will I see you in church tomorrow?" how would you respond? Well, if the preacher were embodying the fullness of unconditional love, her question would come with zero expectations, and you would feel completely free to answer however you wish. That doesn't sound very much like a religion. It sounds like freedom.

On Sunday, we will hear the story of the widow who places two copper coins into the temple's treasury (Mark 12:38-44). It's autumn, and many churches are in the middle of annual giving campaigns. If your preacher hasn't delivered a stewardship sermon yet, this might be the opportunity. But the beauty of this image, which Jesus highlights for our benefit, dissolves when the preacher turns it into "Jesus wants you to be like the widow and give more." That's not love. That's not grace. That's not gospel. That's guilt and shame and law. God doesn't want your last two copper coins. God already has them whether you put them into the treasury or hide them under your mattress. Wherever they are and however you choose to use them, they already belong to God. God, who loves us the same no matter where we put those two coins, wants us to know that God loves us without limit.

How do we pursue a life that is governed by unconditional love--first the love that God has for us and then the transformation of our own love into divine love? After watching the widow, Jesus remarks, "This poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on." Forget the money for a minute and think about the gesture, the action, and the self-declared vulnerability that it represents. "This poor widow has put in more [because]...she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on." Her gift is an act of desperation. She is a widow. She has no income except what people give to her. She lives purely on the charity (same word as love) of others. By placing all that she has in the temple treasury, she is placing her whole life--whether she lives or dies--in God's hands. Her gift reflects the truth that her life depends on God. That's true for us as well, but it's hard to see it when you've got a job, a paycheck, a life insurance policy, a savings account, a 401(k), and a retirement plan. It's still true. Whether we live or die, whether we're rich or poor, whether we're comfortable or struggling, is in God's hands, and God wants us to see it.

God doesn't want your money. God wants you to know that God loves you. God doesn't want your annual pledge. God wants you to trust that God's love will provide for you and your family. God doesn't want you to sell all that you have and give it to the poor unless selling all that you have and giving it to the poor is what it takes for you to wake up in the morning knowing that the Holy One is your shepherd. We celebrate the widow not because she gave all that she had but because, in giving all that she had, she reveals a deep and abiding faith in the One who loves her unconditionally. In the meritocracy in which we live, it's hard to get the truth of unconditional love into our minds and hearts and lives. God's going to love us the same whether we get it or not, but isn't life better and fuller when we know the power of that love?

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