Posted by: mikebackup | March 5, 2011

Radical love

1 john 2.3-11
3 We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. 4 Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: 6 Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.
7 Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. 8 Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.
9 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. 10 Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.

In the book and film, Chocolat, written by Joanne Harris, the central character, Vianne Rocher, arrives in a French village and sets up a Chocolaterie, a chocolate shop situated across the square from the austere medieval-style church. Much to the dismay of the mayor and the new priest, she arrives at the beginning of Lent, when they are urging their community to repent and fast. This brings the worst out of a number of people, particularly the mayor who quickly wants her out of the town.

In contrast, Vianne and her daughter set about their chocolatière’s craft with great enthusiasm and love, cleaning and painting the little shop and creating delicacies never before seen in the village.

One by one, Vianne welcomes the reluctant but curious villagers into her shop, gives them chocolate and hears their life’s stories, their problems, their pain. And gradually, gently, as the story unfolds, she encourages them to make changes in their lives, to rebuild relationships or move on from broken ones. She welcomes those others reject and treats them with the same love and respect. And the more the church condemns her lack of restraint or respect for the church’s teachings, the more people are drawn to her and to one another.

The grumpy grandmother gets to know her grandson and appreciate his talent for drawing, the elderly man after decades musters up the courage to date his childhood sweetheart. The young woman escapes from her violent, drunken husband and a little girl makes new friends. A married couple rekindle romance, travellers are met with a smile and music and dancing are heard on the edge of the village.

Despite all the difficulties she encounters, Vianne is full of grace and forgiveness particularly to the mayor, who in the end understands the love she has brought to the town. Isn’t this what the God of love is about: the healing of relationships, the blossoming of love, the helping out of friends in need of a home, the welcoming of outcasts and foreigners, the quashing of prejudice and discrimination?

In the past 2000 years the church and many Christians have just not grasped the radical depth of God’s love. A bit like Chocolat God has had to work in spite of the church. This at times has been down to poor personal reflection and interpretation of scripture. These verses from John give familiar metaphors of God’s light and hate’s darkness and we go ‘I understand that’. What we initially understand is the illustration, but what we do not get is the challenge that translates into being in the world and particularly our own lives. After all, we’re all OK aren’t we? These verses challenge that lazy view held by many people. Radical love is hard because it requires us to identify and challenge an often subconscious personal acceptance of how things are. In Chocolat the church felt threatened and under attack because they thought their teaching on God’s love was being undermined, that abstinence in lent illustrates a profound commitment to the love of God.

Lent is a very good example to explore. Abstinence in lent is arguably one of those areas we need to challenge. All it shows is that we can manage to not have something for a period of time – big deal. Jesus’ time in the desert wasn’t about going on a New Year diet but profound reflection on how he would challenge the world through God’s radical love. What we tend to focus on is the diet side of those 40 days and when compared to what Jesus actually did it’s embarrassing that most people don’t even see that.

Spend the next couple of days prayerfully thinking how you could radically re-interpret what to do in lent. You can take something up and use it positively. Or you can tackle those dark recesses that John talks about here. For example, those relationships that you’ve been neglecting, challenging bad behaviour in people you know or having a look at what you can really afford to give to good causes. Living in the light of God’s love is sacrificial, yet when we are in it we see so clearly. A fantastic analogy at the end of these verses illustrates this. We are not blinded by the light; we are blinded by the darkness.

Let’s move onto another area that radical love challenges. A far more troubling subject than lent that Christians have struggled with is that of others faiths. Being blinded by the darkness seems very real here. A great article in Mission Catalyst, the BMS magazine was very helpful to me in this regard and I’ll mention some of it now. Many Christians have taken the insensitive approach and practiced replacement theology, and said other faiths are all wrong and should be eradicated from the face of the earth. There are many bloody examples of this in Christian history. Many Christians today believe other faiths to be either made up or demonic deceptions and we should have nothing to do with them. The Old Testament is often cited, where God warns of being polluted from surrounding religions. Does that approach really love our brothers and sisters in the light?

As a contrast to that fulfilment theology draws attention to those characters in the Bible that were not Jewish or Christian but clearly had God in their lives. Examples are King Melchizedech in Genesis, the sailors that threw Jonah overboard, the Wise Men and Cornelius. How about three big names – Noah, Job, and Abraham. They lacked the Scriptures, lacked Jesus, and lacked a community (Israel or the Church) yet they knew God and received salvation. Even in Jesus family tree there are three women listed who were not Jewish or Christian (Ruth (Naomi’s daughter-in-law) who was a Moabite; Rahab (who helped Joshua’s spies) who was a Canaanite; and Bathsheba (David’s wife) who was a Hittite.

Fulfilment theology does not believe other faiths should be replaced but are more like starlight with Christ as the great sun. It recognises other faiths have erected some barriers that keep God out, but at the same time have made bridges to bring him in. Some of those bridges are ones that Christianity needs to know God better. A good example is the New Age movement where they were way ahead of Christianity with their focus on meditative prayer and particularly ecological awareness and care for the environment. Another faith got to know God in a way that we were missing.

Radical love never slams the door in another person’s face because Jesus would never slam the door in anyone’s face. As verse 6 says ‘Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did’. This means we have to work hard at everything in our lives. Jesus didn’t spout out instructions for others to do; he worked hard, often in the face of much criticism and danger to himself. These verses remind us that the message is simple, but living out that message will constantly challenge us. Please, be up for that challenge and live and see clearly in the light of God’s love.

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