By Bishop L. Jonathan Holston
“So, love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle. Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master; cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality. Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody. Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you; get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. ‘I’ll do the judging,’ says God. ‘I’ll take care of it.’ Our scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good” (Romans 12:9-21, The Message).
The beginning of a new year brings about a spirit of ambition in each of us. We are filled with ideas of goals to achieve, and perhaps, after a season of Advent reflection, we may even be more in tune with God’s call for our lives.
With eager anticipation, we set out to follow that call, taking the steps to bring the dream God has given us to reality. And yet, something we very quickly realize is this—following God’s call is not always easy.
When the path becomes steep, we wonder why God chooses us. We question ourselves exactly as Moses did, asking God, “Who am I that I should go?” We question if we have the stamina. We worry if we have the perseverance. We doubt if we have the gifts or the heart for the work God calls us to do.
Romans 12:9-21 reminds us that on this faith journey there will be challenges along the way.
As Paul writes this letter, he is becoming the best known of the Apostles. Some believed Paul was up to some trick; others feared he would make the new faith about him alone.
Many of us have faced this dilemma. When we undertake a needed change in our lives, from extending the “olive branch” of peace to a former adversary to losing weight or kicking some habit, some friends cheer us on. But there are those who distrust our motives. They exclaim that they liked us better when we were overweight or accuse us of being self-righteous.
Instead of fighting against this sentiment with harsh words, Paul offers a message of humility, patience and love. We are reminded of what really matters—that love really matters! It is what calls us to a higher level of life. It is genuine, devoted and joyful. Love leads us toward authentic spiritual worship.
What I have discovered is that when I focus on the stuff that really matters, my spiritual journey is easier. When I focus more on doing God’s will and less on worrying about what others think they know about me, I learn to live faithfully.
That is the task. What matters most is to live as faithfully as we can.
Mother Teresa said it this way: “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s Kingdom; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”
Paul helps us to understand that we should demonstrate that love is more powerful than hate. Love is the more excellent way! To live a transformed life is to have a transformed mind. What matters most is that we truly love; that we become the hope, change and love we seek for the world.
There are some things that scare me, like heights over 10 feet (I’m not your roofer!) or the yellow “gas” icon in my dashboard that flashes only when I’m stuck in traffic.
Yet if we are willing to listen to a gospel message that scares us with its willingness to love, even in the face of adversity, we witness to the scary fact that God did not come in Jesus to make things just a little better or a little more bearable. Listen, God came to do the extraordinary! To turn over the tables; to create a whole new system; to redeem us rather than simply rehabilitate us.
God came to turn us right-side up! To make the crooked places of our lives better. To do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
So the question resounds, “What’s love got to do with it?” Everything!
The promise of God speaks to a place deep down inside of us. We desire to believe that there is more to life than meets the eye. We hold on to the hope that despite all appearances, we are worthy of love. Not just any kind of love, but God’s agape love. God’s unconditional, with no strings attached, kind of love.
God is joined to our ups and downs; hopes and fears—that’s love!
God is committed to not giving us more of the same but something more—that’s love!
Christ came not to give us more of the life we know, but Christ comes to give us an abundant life. Christ will not stop until we have all been caught-up in God’s tremendous love.
What’s love got to do with it? Everything, my friends, everything!