Saturday, October 17, 2009

Still-Ness: Without Prejudice

If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5.46-48)

The Doctrine of Inclusion

We end our series on “still-ness” by circling back to Christ’s core principle: love for God and others. It filters into most every discussion here and we keep it before us for two reasons. First, Jesus taught it, exemplified it, and ultimately proved it in His undying mercy for His killers and selfless sacrifice for our sins. Second, it liberates alienated gay/straight Christians—and supportive fellow believers—from the restraints of rejection. Knowing we’re free to love our Creator opens our hearts to love others without prejudice or hesitation. Though they marginalize us, fear us, condemn us, or outright hate us, still, we accept them as they are, forgiving their frailties to prove the power of God’s love.

Hebrews 4.12 explains, “The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” We test the scriptural legitimacy of doctrine by these criteria. Is it relevant, effective, and applicable in daily life? Does it cut both ways, convicting adherents and detractors with equal weight and precision? The doctrine of inclusion—our belief no one is excluded from God’s love and acceptance based on gender, ethnicity, or orientation—easily meets these standards. Still, if we wield it defensively without allowing it to slice through our fears and prejudices, it’s dead on arrival. We embrace inclusion because Jesus could not have been clearer about its centrality to our lives and faith. On balance, however, He taught inclusion as a responsibility more than a right. Maintaining an actively inclusive life (rather than passively waiting to be included) is how we ensure the doctrine of inclusion stays alive and active.

Before He Speaks One Word

Inclusion defines Christ’s mission and message before He speaks one word. Old Testament prophets trumpet God’s intention to revoke exclusion immediately on the Messiah’s arrival. In Isaiah 56, He declares, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (v7) Prior to this sweeping statement, He calls out two groups: eunuchs, people of same-sex orientation banished from communal worship, and foreigners, non-Jews barred from the temple as punishment for their homelands’ hostility for Israel. To eunuchs God promises, “I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off.” (v5) In verse 7, He pledges, “I will bring [foreigners] to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer.” Finally, to thwart Israel’s aptness to single out eunuchs and foreigners as His only exceptions, God opens His arms to all outcasts and refugees in verse 8: “The Sovereign LORD declares—he who gathers the exiles of Israel: ‘I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.’”

Now, flash forward to the stable in Bethlehem. What do we see? Inclusion—an unwed mother, who by law deserves death by stoning; the fearless fiancé defying religious mandate to disown her; foreign pagans ignoring political pressure to disclose the Christ Child’s identity; country shepherds who rush into an overcrowded city to briefly glimpse at a newborn. In fact, no one who should attend Jesus’s arrival shows up. Not a priest, lawyer, scholar, politician, businessman, devout citizen, social insider—not even one member of Joseph’s family—can be found. Why not? There’s no room in their world to tolerate the non-conformist lifestyle of two reckless kids. Is it any wonder, then, as God Incarnate intent on leveling barriers and the Son of Man welcomed by outsiders, Jesus steers us to God by turning us from exclusionary beliefs and behaviors? From the Sermon on the Mount to Calvary’s prayer for His enemies, loving people who hate us and accepting those who reject us are the cries of Christ’s heart.

One of Those God-Things

When Jesus first lays out the doctrine of inclusion in the Sermon on the Mount, His matter-of-fact tone just stops short of asking, “Could it be more obvious?” He walks through it step-by-step, starting in Matthew 5.43 with a sharp rebuke for those who mangle “Love your neighbor” (Leviticus 19.18) to mean, “Hate your enemy.” Jesus insists we must love enemies and pray for persecutors to reflect our Father. Watch God closely, we’re advised in verse 45. He doesn’t exclude anyone, good or bad, from His sunshine and rain. Thus, how can discriminatory love possibly please or resemble Him? Don’t tax collectors—the scum of society—do that? Jesus asks. Don’t pagans—worshipers of false images—reserve kindness exclusively for friends? We confirm we’re children of God by loving like Him: without prejudice, condition, or expectation. “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” Jesus says in verse 48.

Jesus doesn’t invite us to imagine enemies would love us if they “really” knew us. Accepting them requires accepting they often hate us because they do know us. This incapacitates our decision to love anyone as a means of winning affection and inclusion. It very well may happen. But if that’s our motive, that’s also our prize. To reap love’s greatest reward, we suffer hate yet still love. We endure exclusion yet still accept. We face condemnation yet still forgive. Since God is perfect, His love is perfect. The better we get at conveying His perfect love, the more amazing its effect on us becomes. “Perfect love drives out fear,” we read in 1 John 4.18. Seeing what we fear exactly as it is and still loving exactly as we’re taught frees us from the very fear challenging our love in the first place. It’s one of those God-things only He and His children can ever understand.

Please comment and tell us what you’ve learned from loving your enemies.

Doing away with our prejudices to see enemies as they are yet still love them as we’re taught does away with our fear of prejudice and rejection.

(Tomorrow: Strength in Joy)

2 comments:

Missy Francis said...

A thought popped into my head as I read this: Israel is a light for the nations and the nations are a light for Israel. But that is sort of an aside.

Really good Word here, Tim. You always bring out the best.

I can't honestly say that I love my enemies--or that I forgive them, or pray for them. I guess I would like to be able to say that, that's what we're supposed to do--I'm just not that spiritually developed.

But I can go as far as placing them in God's hands. I can tell God, "You forgive them for me. I'm still struggling with it." Judgement and forgiveness are His bailiwick, not mine. I can also release the hate and anger that only hurts me. Small steps, to be sure. And honestly? Reserved only for the worst offenders. The small attitudes of others do not bother me, for the most part.

Peace, my brother~

Tim said...

Missy, I know you've been busy as all get-out, but I just have to say it: So marvelous and good to see you!

The Israel-light and nations-light parallel is truly fascinating. People look to us for light, yet their need for light guides us. The miracle of it is that this circular path is somehow straight, leading us ahead. One of those God-things again.

Then you say, I can go as far as placing them in God's hands. I can tell God, "You forgive them for me. I'm still struggling with it."

If that's not love for one's enemies, I don't know what is.

Much love and happiness, my sister. You always warm my heart with your wisdom.

Tim