Choosing To Love
Having just returned from being immersed in God’s good creation at the Feliciana Retreat Center, and Camp Agape, these words from Genesis have a special meaning for me today. In that place – just as in this place – we were held in the arms of God. I had the good and wonderful opportunity of being a counselor for the Adventure Camp group of Sr. Highs. One of our “adventures” was a day hike, not far away at Clark Creek in Mississippi.
While on the trail we were encouraged to look for, and think about, ways in which we saw each other make a choice to love – that is to make a choice based on someone else’s need before our own. I’ve led lots of these trips, and I have to say that this one seemed unique in a lot of ways. Maybe it was the mix of kids, or the time of day, or something in the air – but there was something different about this group.
I saw a wrestler offer to carry a back pack for an overweight nerdy kid who plays a ukulele for fun. I saw young people competing with adults to pick up another people’s trash. I saw those with weak ankles leading those with strong, and I saw the beauty and diversity of God’s creativity all around us. So, not only did I see people choosing to love one another, I saw God’s creation wrapping around us in a loving embrace.
In that embrace, we also had horse flies and poison ivy and the threat of the sun and of heavy rains. John Calvin, one of the early church reformers, would of course have agreed that all of nature reflects the goodness of God – even those terrible things that bite and sting can chasten and hasten you to greater faith. That may be true, but it does not create space in my heart for mercy for horse flies. Still, it was a welcomed treat to turn from moments like those to the story of creation.
I think it’s important to call it “the story of creation”, because that opens up more opportunities for us. Stories describe events, but they also tell us what is important about those events. Stories connect our emotions with our thoughts and help us to value the reason for the event along with the people and places involved.
This event – this creation event – is not so much about the how of creation as it is about the who and the why. In other words, this story is as much a story about the Creator as it is about the creation. It’s not a cookbook for the Universe or an answer to the question of the chicken or the egg (answer: archaeopteryx).
It’s a story that has allowed us, throughout time, to ascribe meaning and purpose for the ordering of our world. And while there were other stories that are believed to pre-date the Hebrew scriptures (Marduk and Tiamat and her son Kingu), the difference in the Hebrew God was that this was a God that not only created everything from nothing, but this was a God who created people to be image bearers.
What mattered to them in this story is that, because God created everything that is, God also has authority over all that is. The breath that you are breathing right now would have been considered evidence of the handiwork of God. The floods of 2016 would have been considered an intentional action of God (not just by insurance)!
So, the question we are left with is something like, “Who’s in charge around here?” Did the Creator just set it up like a clock and skip out of town? Does God not care about all of the suffering in this world? Of course, the traditional response is that all of creation is broken because of our sinfulness, and the Creator mourns our brokenness. Not only that, but the God who created you and me and ticks and fleas is also the one who redeems us from our brokenness. And that same One is also the one who sustains us in times when we just don’t know how to get through the day.
I think that God’s sustaining presence is the common thread in all of the readings today. Paul comforted the church in Corinth by reminding them that God would be with them if they can find a way to listen to one another, to agree with one another and to live together in peace! I’d love to say that we are so far beyond that in the church today, but we all know that it is as important today as it was then.
It’s not that God comes and goes. It’s just that we forget. We forget what it’s like to be in God’s presence. We seek anything and everything to cover us like sleeping under a blanket that’s just a little too small and never quite covers your toes just right. We assume that we are alone, and sometimes we set up boundaries and barriers to make sure that we will be.
But God is still at work in and through creation. God is still drawing us in and weaving us together as God’s people, even while we doubt God’s presence. God moves us from isolation to restoration and constantly says, “I am with you!”
There are so many spaces and places this plays out in the world, and one of them that I think bears repeating is in Oxford, Michigan. It started one morning in the announcements at a local High School with these words, “Hi, I'm Morgan Abbott, younger sister of Megan Abbott.” Morgan went on to tell of her sister’s suicide, and she initiated a program called “13 Reasons Why Not” in which others that had considered suicide – or simply felt outcast – could describe the situations that others had put them in (without naming names) and then name the people that had helped them to feel valued and not alone.
Can you imagine the power of hearing your name called over that speaker as a person who has made a difference in someone else’s life? Can you imagine the power of naming someone else who has made such a difference in yours?
At or core, at the most basic level, that kind of naming and claiming is what we are all about as followers of Jesus. It is through our faith that we come to see that the universe has been created out of love. It is through our faith that we come to see that – whether we choose to love God or not – God has chosen to love us. And it is through our faith that we come to see that the God who is our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, is still creating, still redeeming, and still sustaining us through every challenge and every great and good thing.
That is why we send kids to camp. That’s why we fret over meeting minutes and budgets. That’s why we sing. That’s why do anything and everything that we do as the church. It’s not to uphold a legacy. It’s not to get people to commit to words and phrases that they say without meaning. It is always and only to glorify the one who chose to love us before we even knew about it!
We’ve been wrestling with that idea this past week at Camp Agape. We wrestled with the idea of receiving the love of God and reflecting God’s love out into the world, because God’s love can never be contained but only shared. Consider that this week as you think of God’s presence in you, with you, and in the space between you and others.
It is good to rest in God’s presence alone, but eventually we have to put it into action by listening to one another, finding those points of agreement, and replacing the tension between us with peace. With some people and groups, it’ll come as easy as hiking with a group of high schoolers. With some people and groups, it will be as hard as you might imagine hiking with high schoolers could be, but I imagine that beginning with the choice to love is a good idea.
I pray that it may be so with me, and that it may be so with you, and that God’s kingdom might come in all its glory through the likes of us – but also that we might see it when the kingdom is revealed by those with whom we share absolutely nothing in common. Amen.