April 27, 2012
True Love Makes You Beautiful: #letters2afuturechurch from Lisa
We've decided to celebrate April Fool's Month by trying our hand at writing Scripture, in the spirit of John's letters to seven churches in the book of Revelation and the recently released Letters to a Future Church. This is Lisa's entry. Feel free to respond and retweet (use the hashtag #letters2afuturechurch).
I've got brides on my mind. Three in particular. One is a friend whose wedding is in a few weeks. About a year ago, while she was unassumedly going about her life, teaching college students and writing and singing in her church choir, God completely surprised her with a new relationship. I love to think about God's delight in getting to delight her and her soon-to-be husband in that way. Two weeks ago I got to see her in her wedding dress (and learned to bustle it--no small task, let me tell you!). Beautiful on ordinary days, she was stunning in the layers of white and beads and lace. I'm excited to celebrate at her wedding.
The second bride on my mind was seemingly surprised by God too. After many years of being on her own, she--a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and surrogate grandmother to many--will be married in June. And her beauty also seems to have an added glow if you look closely.
The third bride I'm thinking of is us. You and me, the church. I know--it's not easy to picture ourselves as radiant and beautiful, dressed in white, in the midst of the muck and sadness and failure and shame and sin that we live in. Most days we do not feel very bride-like. At the very least, I think most of us would say we have a lot of scrubbing and cleaning up to do before we'd even think about showing up at someone else's wedding as a guest--much less as the bride.
But that's not what Jesus says (and, him being the groom and all, who are we to argue?). Jesus looks at us, sees all of our mess and the beauty it's hiding, and says "You are loved, you are loved, you are loved."
Our job, sweet Church, is not to clean ourselves up but rather to believe Jesus' words and accept his love. When we do that, crazy things begin happening. Jesus himself starts to clean us up, wiping away the dirt and grime, the lies and abuse, the lines on our face from fatigue and stress. And slowly, the beauty he has seen all along becomes visible to others, and we start to look more and more like what we are: a radiant bride on her wedding day.
If you've ever watched someone fall in love or observed someone starved for love begin to receive it, you know how love changes someone. You know that it changes everything. Which is why Jesus so badly wants us to accept his love for us, and live out of that place of security. In Show Me the Way, Henri Nouwen explains, "When Jesus talks about faith, he means first of all to trust unreservedly that you are loved." Why? Nouwen's answer is simply this: "So that you can abandon every false way of obtaining love." When we know and believe we are loved, we're set free to live and love fully, without reservation. Jealousy, judgment, objectification of others, perfectionism, materialism are all curbed because we feel affirmed and secure in God's love. Addictions, and all our unhealthy ways of coping with pain, are healed because we trust ourselves to the love and care of the One who created us, and who himself was "a man of suffering, and familiar with pain" (Isaiah 53:3). Knowing we're loved allows us to serve, celebrate, encourage and help others joyfully; there's no need to compete with them to prove our value, gossip about them or belittle them to make ourselves feel stronger, or lash out at them in anger when they disappoint us. Rooted in love, we live out that love toward others. True love makes us beautiful.
It should, of course, be the easiest thing in the world to accept how deeply and unconditionally we're loved by God. We want to be loved, after all; we crave it. To be told that we're loved as we are, right now, should cause us to sit in wonder in the "just-got-engaged-to-the-love-of-my-life" glow for the rest of our lives.
Yet somehow we've almost convinced ourselves that it can't be true that Jesus has chosen us as his bride, that he's making us clean and pure and white even as he sees our sin and filth. And it definitely can't be true that his love is unconditional--that there's nothing we can do to earn it or lose it. That kind of love doesn't fit into our finite, fallen framework. So we keep flailing our arms, floundering in the mud to find something that makes us feel valued. We rage against those who don't agree with us, feeling threatened by their beliefs. We exhaust ourselves, at the expense of our family, by serving in every ministry available to earn God's favor, or we work all day every day, at the expense of community, to earn our parents' (or boss's or neighbors' or children's) approval. We throw ourselves into codependent relationships or accept abuse as the price of love.
Meanwhile, Jesus keeps loving, keeps inviting us to come to him and rest in his love. I envision him weeping over us, sometimes, as he wept over Jerusalem because his chosen ones didn't realize or wouldn't accept the fact that Love, and the life that knowing we're loved brings, was right there among them, just waiting for them to take hold of his offer.
Love is in your midst too, Church, as near and accessible now as he was to the Jews in the first century. And I want you to know that he thinks you're beautiful. So do I. I have observed you and been part of you my whole life. As a pastor's kid, I saw much of your dirty sinfulness--the ugly anger and unforgiveness--and much of your beauty--the sacrificial acts of faith, the wobbly steps of growth. I still see those in you (myself included) today. But I also see you being transformed by love, slowly and steadily. I see the glow, the sparkle in your eyes, the beads and lace and yards of white being woven for your wedding day.
Until then, take every opportunity you have to be with your groom. Let him whisper words of love to your heart. Let them sink down deeply into the tired, shameful, sinful places of your soul. Let him show you the ways you're trying to obtain love apart from him. And let yourself consider the truth that he loves you. That truth will transform you--and the world.
With much love,