DiscipleChurch Friends and Family:
This Sunday, I will not be concluding the three sermon series on Franciscan spirituality as I had planned . . . because this study has had such impact that I am hopeful my preaching (and my life) will be influenced by it in the future. I certainly hope so.
In this regard . . .
What impact would it have on your life if you became suddenly and overwhelmingly convinced, to your marrow, to the depth of your soul, that God’s love for you, and therefore your ultimate worth, has absolutely NOTHING to do with your actions? That you can do absolutely nothing to earn or to forfeit God’s love and value? That your worth is already and irrevocably, freely and totally given to you? That merit plays no part?
Put aside that there seem to be so many commandments demanding and forbidding certain conduct, promising rewards and punishments as a result, not only in the Old Testament but in the New. How many other deep, personal objections to this theological claim come to your mind?
- So anything goes? So there is no accountability? No consequence? So we have license to do whatever we want?
- What of incentive and disincentive to faithfulness and obedience? What of the carrot and what of the stick? What would happen to human community if there were no incentive and disincentive to faithfulness? For instance, what limits would there be on the exploitation of the weak by the strong?
- So someone who steals and cheats and injures is as valued and loved by God, and as welcome in heaven, as someone who sacrifices their possessions and honor and fame for those in need, and who tries to follow the teachings and example of Jesus as closely as they are able? So someone who is generous and faithful to the Church and to the poor is as beloved and valued by God as someone who regards and treats his church like his exclusive club? Is someone who abuses his spouse or his children as loved and valued by God as someone who is his innocent victim? Then what value, what impact, what teeth do the teachings of Jesus have?
- What of moral judgment? What of moral worth? What of the value of wrestling with hard moral choices, what of the value of the growth of the character and of the human spirit in resisting sin? Who would be saint and who sinner? What of the “narrow gate” and the “extra mile”?
- What of the encounter with God that comes from making and living hard choices, of denial and self-discipline?
- What of conscience, that inner voice of God within us all?
- What of God? Is God weak? Is God a weak father so overpowered by love as to incapable of discipline? So…is God a bad father?
- What of justice? Is God not concerned about injustice? Isn’t a God who lavishes love on all equally, regardless of their conduct, an unjust God? What of the cry for justice of the prophets, speaking “the word of the Lord”?
Yet this belief — that God loves and values you and me and all people without limit and without regard to our action or merit — was a driving conviction of Francis, and now of contemporary Franciscans.
What are my real objections to this?
If God loves another as much as God does me, regardless of what I or they do or merit, regardless of my heroic obedience or sacrifice and their indifference or selfishness, then how can I distinguish myself from others? On what basis can I value myself? Where is the contest? Where, the competition?
And if I truly am convinced that God loves and values me regardless of my action and merit, how completely must that conviction change how I myself love and respond to others?
I leave you with these saying of Jesus, all well known to you, all central to Francis and the Franciscans, all troubling.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit…” Matthew 5. 3
“But I say to you, ‘love your enemies…so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous…Love without limit, as your heavenly Father loves without limit.” Matthew 5.44-48.
“Do not judge…” Matthew 7.1
“He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them…’” Matthew 13.24-29. [Yes, I omitted the ending that we like so much.]
I tell you, there is no more radical, outrageous, life-changing conviction than that God loves each and all us lavishly and without limit, no matter what we do or merit.
Why do we resist this so? Why do I, of all people?
Hope to see you this Sunday.