Filed under: Bible, Christianity, Church, God, Grace, Inspiration, Jesus, love, Religion, Sermon, Spirituality
As most of you know I spent most of last week in Austin, Texas at my alma mater. I was nominated to serve on the Austin Seminary Association Board of Directors (essentially an alumni board). It is always the traveling part that I am the least fond of. Those of you who have traveled with me to New Orleans know that I do not like to fly. As a matter of fact I am quite a wreck when I fly. My routine consists of obsessively checking my carryon, eyeing where I will board with nervous anticipation and thanking God for such an abundant life as the plane quickens its pace down the runway. I try to be calm during turbulence, but my white knuckles on the armrests to my side betray me. I have learned to bring enough inspirational, devotional material that calms my soul long enough to distract my mind away from the thought that the wings might shear off in the wind.
This trip was no different and being sandwiched between two other passengers I pulled in my elbows as close as humanly possible and buried my nose into the book I had grabbed off of my office shelf the night before my flight. It was a compilation of the 5th century patristic father St. Augustine titled Lately Have I Loved Thee. It was an edition filled with Augustine’s writings on the theological theme of love. I thought that I was being coy picking out something about love right before Valentine Day. Reading these 1500-year-old words breathed life into my thoughts on the subject of love.
Of course Augustine believes that the only reason that we know how to love is because the one who is love has loved us. We have been taught to love by the best. More surprising was his supposition that those who cannot accept others in the church loose the claim to be called Christian. We must choose to love those who we find ourselves pew bound together on this life’s journey. Then in one of his most amazing sections he said something that stopped my breath. Augustine says, “So we are not urged not to love, but to choose what we love.”
Wrong and right loves? I should rethink my love of possessions, power and work. Choosing to love those that I think are unacceptable is the more Christian way. This gave me pause from my fear of flight until I realized that we were touching down at Austin-Bergstrom International airport. I slung my bag over my shoulder and hurried with my briefcase to catch a taxi. As the first pulled up I thought that my eyes were deceiving me. It was a beat up Oldsmobile. The man who emerged from the car looked neither happy nor patient. At about 65 the only thing bushier than his gray hair and eyebrows were the plentiful hair coming from his forearms.
“Its cash only, ok!” he said and startled I nodded my head.
As we pulled away from the terminal I tried to make small talk. “Has the weather been this nice?”
“It’s Austin,” he answered somewhat exasperated. Then he leaned forward and turned up the dial on his car’s radio.
As the scratchy station came in and out the talk radio host who now filled the car stunned me.
“Yes, I am saying that women should have never been given the right to vote. There was once a time when the men where the breadwinners and the womenfolk raised the kids. That was a better time.” At that point the radio became too fuzzy to understand.
Then it picked up again with a caller, “Tom I think that you are wrong about the women’s vote, the real problem was the voter’s right act of 1964. That allowed a lot of people who had no business voting into the polling stations. “ I sat in stunned silence thinking that my sense of justice required me to demand that this trash be turned off while I was in the car. In between more static someone was saying that we needed to kick out all immigrants because some areas of Austin looked more like Tijuana than Texas. I found this ironic as we weaved through East Austin a part of town that the original town fathers intentionally segregated geographically so that the Black and Latino workers would not live with the general population of downtown Austin.
As I took a deep breath of action something stopped me. Something deep inside me told me that I was not going to be this mans savior and that I must love him. I remembered Augustine’s pointed words that I must choose to love. I remembered the Romans passage that I have been saved by the efficacious grace of God through the concrete reality of Jesus Christ. I was loved from the source of life so that I might know how to love others. So, instead I prayed that this man would receive the peace that I so desperately wanted in that moment. As we pulled into the seminary parking lot I thanked him and slid too big of a tip into his palm knowing that he had taught me a bigger lesson than he would ever know.
Who do I choose to love? It is easy for me to love my wife Carol and my daughter Calla. This love seems to flow from deeply within me. Most of the time it is very easy to love each and every one of you. My longtime friends and most of my acquaintances fall into the category of the ones that I love. Those who agree with my ideology, theology, and political leanings are certainly easy for me to choose to love.
Then I am confronted with the gospel lesson. Jesus is chastised for hanging out with an unlovable crew of outcasts. Must we love thieves, liars, the mentally unstable, criminals, bigots, homophobes, misogynists and the violent? The only answer in which we are left is yes? We must choose to love them. This does not mean losing ourselves inside them or even wasting hours of our time on trying to convert them. It means that in the end we must make a choice about whether we will be people who love those who are acceptable and hate those whom Christ came to save. Grace comes to us in the life and resurrection possibility afforded to us by Christ. In the end whether we choose to love him depends on our willing to love those whom we find unacceptable. That even includes choosing to love ourselves. Happy Valentine Day!
photo by mattjfleet
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