“God is Love?” – Part 4
Text: Philippians 2: 5-8
5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
I wanted to begin this morning with a true story about a situation I became aware of while I was attending Seminary in Denver. I’m not going to use any real names, but the circumstances remain factual.
There was a clergy colleague of mine who reached out to help a teen-aged girl named Holly. Over the past several months Holly had made some poor choices and had really gotten herself into a bit of a tight spot. She had dropped out of high school and had been kicked out of her house by her parents. When her parents kicked her out, she went to live with one set of grand-parents who provided a room for her in their basement. When the grandparents discovered that she had been smoking in her room, which was a violation of the agreement they had made with each other, the grandparents also kicked her out.
By the time my clergy friend became aware of what was going on, Holly had been living in her car for over a week. She had no money, she was hungry, her car needed repairs and she didn’t have a warm place to sleep. This was in October and the nights were beginning to cool off.
The place where my colleague was living had an extra room that was not in use, so she offered it to Holly on a temporary basis. There were rules of course, but there was also grace. Over the course of the next few months, Holly stayed with the family of my colleague. She ate meals with them, slept in the spare room and began to feel better about herself and her situation over time. My friend arranged to get the car repaired and paid for the parts necessary to get it running well again. With transportation and a safe place to stay, my friend began to work with Holly about getting a job and beginning to think about ways to become more independent.
There was a GED program at a local high school in the evenings nearby and so my colleague enrolled Holly in the program so she could get her GED. She attended the classes for several weeks and my clergy friend helped Holly remember to attend the classes and kept her on track. If I remember right, there was also a small fee, which my friend paid.
By this time it was the middle of the Christmas season and Holly stayed with the clergy family through the Holidays. They welcomed her into their family activities, bought her presents, had Christmas dinner together and made certain she felt supported and not alone during this obviously hard time.
In January, the time came for the GED test. The program Holly was enrolled in had provided a study guide with sample questions and topics to be familiar with. It was at this time that my clergy friend discovered that Holly didn’t know how to study; she didn’t have any academic skills at all. She literally didn’t know what to do with sample questions and suggested topics. No wonder she had dropped out of high school, she simply did not know what to do to prepare for this test. Over the next few weeks Holly and my friend met each day for an hour or so and began to work through all the sample questions and the topics that had been provided them by the GED program.
Later in January on a Saturday morning Holly took her GED test and passed. She was now a high school graduate and ready to perhaps move on with her life in a positive way.
During these months, my friend had insisted that Holly check in every so often with both her parents and grandparents to let them know she was safe and OK. With this last check-in Holly began to share with her Grandfather all that had taken place and all that she had accomplished. She told him about the GED program, the study preparation and the fact that she had passed her test and she now had her high school diploma. Maybe for the first time in a long time, Holly had a little self-esteem.
On Monday morning after the Saturday test and after Holly had checked in, the grandfather called my clergy colleague. He was angry. He used derogatory language and he accused her of sabotage. She had stuck her nose into family business that was none of her business and now she had helped Holly study and pass her GED. He was upset with all of this. In the final sentence of his rant, the grandfather blurted out something that was very telling, he said that my friend had done all of these things for Holly and how do you think that made him feel? With that he hung up the phone.
The saga continues but I’m going to stop at this point. What I wanted you to hear in this story is that love is vulnerable. The way of love can often lead to unintended consequences.
Over the last few weeks we have been exploring the topic of God’s love. I have tried to take an honest look at the love of God and have admitted that often it seems elusive. Often we raise questions about the love of God and why there is so much human struggling and human suffering if God truly loves us. I have suggested that part of the problem we have understanding the presence of God’s love is how we understand and relate to God. If we hold a human image of God and confuse God’s love with an emotional human type love, it can really backfire.
I have also started to look at the topic of love by considering love as an acronym and breaking the topic into smaller more manageable pieces. A couple of weeks ago, we looked at two words that I offered as positive descriptors of love that began with the letter “L” – those two words were “limitless” and “luminous”. Last week we had a discussion of two more words that began with the letter “O” and those two words were “obvious” and “optimistic”.
That brings us up to speed and to the point where we can look at a couple of words that begin with the letter “V”. The first word, just in case you haven’t figured it out yet, is “vulnerable” and the second word we are going to explore is “vital”.
I want to get back to the Holly story and the text that I read a few minutes ago, but before I do that, I want to take just a minute and talk about the vital nature of God’s love. A few years ago there was a movie released that starred Tom Hanks playing the part of Commander Jim Lovell as he was heading for the moon on board Apollo 13. Do you remember that movie? Most of you might even remember the actual events of Apollo 13 as they were unfolding in the early 1970’s.
The mission to the moon on Apollo 13 had a number of difficulties and the lives of the astronauts hung in the balance on a number of occasions. One such crisis was when they discovered that the spacecraft they were using to return to earth after orbiting the moon just one time was only designed for a short period of time and only designed for 2 people. They had 3 people in the spacecraft for an extended period of time. Luckily, they had enough oxygen to breathe, but what happened was when they took a breath, the astronauts also exhaled carbon dioxide. In an enclosed space capsule, you can’t just roll down a window and get some fresh air. The air has to be filtered to remove the carbon dioxide – if it is not filtered and the CO2 levels increase, the air becomes toxic. This would eventually cause the men on board to pass out and eventually be slowly poisoned to death.
The spacecraft had filters to filter the air. But because the number of people had increased, and the time spent on board the spacecraft had increased, the filters had become clogged. There was some drama around finding a way to replace the clogged filters with new ones so the air in the space capsule would not become toxic. This cleaning of the air was vital to the lives of the astronauts; they would not have survived without the cleaning filters removing the toxic CO2 from the air.
I think this is a helpful illustration of what God’s love can do for us. The love of God acts as a filter through which we view and understand all that takes place around us. Without the filter, I’m not sure if survival is possible, but if it is, it isn’t much of a life worth living. Just as the CO2 filters were vital for the astronauts, so is the filter of God’s love vital for us.
Life can be hard. Life can be overwhelming. Life can at times kick you in the teeth. Without a filter to help us deal with some of these circumstances, the toxicity of our environment can reach a point where it becomes unbearable.
Now you really need to hear this next part. When we view the love of God from a human perspective, it doesn’t do its job very well as a filter. As a matter of fact, I think it makes it worse. A recent example of this came to my attention last week. A prominent conservative theologian was asked how God could allow something like the school shooting in Florida to take place; the answer was that since we have removed God from our schools, then God, “being the gentleman he is” has backed away. This has created a void that is now filled with the evil shooter.
I’m sorry, but this just is not helpful. It is toxic and it creates an image of God that is not only inaccurate, but also equally as evil as the Florida school shooter.
The two words we are looking at today are vital and vulnerable. We heard about how my clergy friend found herself in a vulnerable position when she reached out in love to try to help Holly. We have also talked about how the filtering of our environment is vital to ensure our survival.
The text I read at the beginning of this message speaks to both of these ideas. The text opens in verse 5 by saying that we should have the same mind as Jesus. In other words, the same filters that Jesus had in place in his mind that allowed him to interpret his circumstances a certain way, should be the same filters that we have in place in our minds. We are to view the world and our circumstances in the same way that Jesus did.
If we have the same filters in place that Jesus did, does that mean everything will always work out and life will be easy?
Keep reading. The text goes on to talk about humility and obedience; Even death by execution on a cross. No, having the same mind as Jesus doesn’t mean life will be easy. What it does mean is that perhaps you have the opportunity to understand life from a new perspective. It also means that you understand that if you pursue a life of love, as Jesus did, that life will place you in a vulnerable position at times. Just like my clergy colleague found herself in a vulnerable position when trying to help Holly.
Make no mistake. It wasn’t evil that put Jesus on the cross. It wasn’t some pre-ordained grand plan from God the Father either. What put Jesus on the cross was love and love alone. Because love is vital, and love is also vulnerable.
And that is food for thought. Amen.