Walking with the Other

Following Christ is not as straight forward as I thought. It can be pretty messy. There’s actually a book called Messy Christianity by Mike Yaconelli, a very good read.

The cross was stained with blood and plasma, and resurrection doesn’t mean reversal (despite what some preachers have said).

We are to count the cost of following a God who chose to reveal himself in Jesus, even in His wounds.  A God who washes his disciples’ dirty feet, a God who does not lift a finger to condemn those who scourged and crucified Him, a God who chose an ex-prostitute to tell everyone else about Hiim.

There’s this story of a 3-year old boy, who climbed up to his mother’s lap. 

She smiled down at him and asked softly, “How much do you love me?” He extended his tiny arms as far as they would go and exclaimed, “This much I love you.”  In an instant, it was thirty-some years later; the little boy in the fullness of manhood hung nailed to a crossbeam. His mother looked up and said, “How much do you love me?” His arms were stretched out to the ends of the universe. “This much I love you.”

And having loved us all, Jesus gave a new commandment: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).

Martin Luther reminds us:

I must indwell my neighbour by love as I indwell Christ by faith. One needs to ponder this formulation. It is nothing less than a doctrine of total immersion – total immersion in my neighbour now that I live by faith in God, through Jesus Christ.[1]

 Loving God is easy, some may say, but loving people can be a real pain, especially people who are different, who rub us the wrong way. And there is this couple who couldn’t handle how their significant other would squeeze out toothpaste from different positions on the tube, their furious arguments led to a fast divorce![2]

 A reconciling love

There is so much that divides us.

Years ago, a good friend stomped out of my apartment because we couldn’t agree on a particular theology.  I was dogmatic and needed a crucifixion of the ego!  I have since repented, we have reconciled, and we remain the best of friends.  I would lean towards this adage: it is better to be kind than to be right. 

Anand recently reminded us that:

Christianity is not about doctrinal differences, but rather living out a relationship of love with the God perfectly revealed by Jesus of Nazareth. It is about turning away from worldly priorities and caring for and showing compassion to, every human being irrespective of creed, race, religion, or social status.[3]

The gospel is a gospel of reconciliation. To reconcile is to remove the barriers which impede fellowship. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). As Vinoth Ramachandra said, it is through the incarnation and the atoning death of Christ that we are united both to God as the centre and also to one another. The dividing walls of gender, ethnicity, age, economic class, and social status are all broken down (Gal. 3:28; Eph. 2:14-22)[4].

Over many years of working with people of different races, cultures, and religions, I became colour-blind.  And after spending a few months with a church of other-gendered folks some 9 years ago, I became gender-blind.

I was deeply moved by their humanity. I saw broken men and women, who have known so much rejection (from family, society, churches), isolation and pain.

I met a college counsellor who gladly refers her clients to this church, because she saw that those students, being depressed, rejected and suicidal, were able to find love, acceptance, and a sense of belonging there. I was glad to be able to interpret the service for a young deaf LGBTIQ man (in both signs and notes). I believe he heard the word of God and felt His love.  

For most of them, my presence portrayed a sense of acceptance, a bridge to the wider community who tend to treat them as weird outcasts. For this I am thankful for the BLC community who have on many occasions offered safe spaces for difficult conversations, for seekers, strangers, for angels in disguise, for saints and sinners.    

The church exists as a community of reconciliation in all the brokenness and pain, looking back on the unique reconciling work of God in Christ on the cross, and pointing forward to the ultimate reconciliation of all things (Col 1:20).  

Eucharist, the Sacrament of Love

One historic proof of this cosmic reconciliation is that of Jews and Greeks gathered around the Lord’s table. Andrew Walls describes this as “The Ephesian Moment” when “two races and two cultures historically separated by the meal table now met at table to share the knowledge of Christ”.[5]

Henri Nouwen (himself gay, and known as the wounded prophet), says that the Eucharist table is a place of contrition and lament, reclaiming their/our broken condition rather than denying its reality, partaking of broken bread at the foot of the cross[6].

Mark Noll argues that a stronger existential grasp of Christianity (of true spirituality) can lead to deeper engagement with those we encounter daily.  He talks about the Lord’s Supper as a transforming experience, which pushes vigorously against pretence, ego, pride, self-serving and irony … when emptiness is being filled, guilt overcome by grace, strife replaced by communion.[7]

In his poem, he talks about a God who reaches out to broken humanity, to “petty gossipers, boys uncertain of themselves and girls not sure of where they fit, those with cancer ridden bodies, those who battle drink and do not always win”.[8] 

They come O Christ, they come to you … to listen to the words, ‘for you my body broken’.  We may be different, but we can all come just as we are to the Holy Lamb of God:

I come broken to be mended
I come wounded to be healed
I come desperate to be rescued
I come empty to be filled
I come guilty to be pardoned
By the blood of Christ the Lamb

We come.

[1]  From Luther’s “Three Treatises”, (Muhlenberg, 1960)

[2] https://worldofbuzz.com/msian-couple-divorced-after-they-squeezed-toothpaste-out-differently/

[3] An excerpt from Puzzle of Christianity, by Peter Vardy, posted on the BLC family chat.

[4] Ramachandra, Global Society: Challenges for Christian Mission. Anvil 21, no. 1, (2004): 20.

[5] Andrew Walls, The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2002), 78.

[6] Ringma, Charles, The Seeking Heart: A Journey with Henri Nouwen. Brewster, (MA: Paraclete Press, 2006), 121.

[7] Mark Noll, Deep & Wide: How My Mind Has Changed. Christian Century, 2010 June 1, p32-34.

[8] Noll’s poem:
The pious cruel, the petty gossipers
and callous climbers on the make,
the wives with icy tongues and husbands with their hearts of stone,
the ones who battle drink and do not always win.
 the power lawyers mute before this awful bar of mercy,
boys uncertain of themselves and girls not sure of where they fit,
the poor and rich hemmed in alike by cash,
physicians waiting to be healed,
two women side by side —the one with unrequited longing for a child.
the other terrified by signs within of life,
the saintly weary in pursuit of good,
the academics (soft and cosseted) who posture over words,
the travellers coming home from chasing wealth or power or wantonness,
the mothers choked by dual duties,
parents nearly crushed by children died or lost,
and some with cancer-ridden bodies,

some with spikes of pain in chest or back or knee or mind or heart.
They come, O Christ, they come to you.

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