A circle of friends on pilgrimage for the love of God

Witness to Love – Lent 3

Merchants in the Temple (Mafa Jesus)

Lent 3
Rev. Doug Floyd
Exodus 20:1–2, Psalm 19, Romans 7:12-25, John 2:13–22

Last week our local news ran a story about a seven-year-old camped out in her front yard. Every Tuesday since last October, Paisley Elliot has been sleeping in the tent in her front yard to call attention to the plight of refugees. When she was four, Paisley listened to a Bible story about refugees. She went back to her bedroom and came our crying with an arm full of stuffed animals. “I want to give these to the refugee kids.” 

Over the last three years, this little girl has donated over 300 stuffed animals to refugee children. She also raised $50,000 to build a school for refugee children in Greece. Then she began to beg her parents to use the spare room for a refugee child. Last fall, they welcomed a 16-year-old refugee into the family. And now she’s sleeping in her tent in her front yard to help raise money for plane tickets to reunite separated families. 

As I watch the story, I am struck the witness of this child to the tangible love of God. Whether she realizes it or not, Paisley is bearing witness to love of God unveiled in Jesus Christ. Whether we know it or not, we are witnesses to the God who created this world in love and toward love. 

In his book Ethics, Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us, “Like all of creation, the world has been created through Christ and toward Christ and has its existence only in Christ (John 1:10; Col. 1:16). To speak of the world without speaking of Christ is pure abstraction. The world stands in relationship to Christ whether the world knows it or not.”[1]

Bonhoeffer’s quote offers a way for me to frame today’s reflection. He speaks of the relation between the world and Jesus Christ. All things stand in relation to Christ. In that sense all things bear witness to Jesus Christ. We can tease out that one thought by considering the witness of creation, the witness of revelation or the law, and finally the witness of God’s people. 

Consider our Psalm today. Psalm 19 opens with the vision of an ordered creation that is giving glory to God. It’s proclaiming the praises of God, but its voice is actually unheard.  The Psalmist writes, “There is neither speech nor language, and their voices are not heard.” The Psalmist continues, “But their sound has gone out into all lands, and their words to the ends of the world.” The creation literally reverberates with a song of praise unto God. Though humans acknowledge the glory of creation, they may fail to understand this song. They need God’s revelation. They need their eyes and ears opened. 

In verse seven, Psalm 19 shifts from creation to the law. “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.” The Psalmist proceeds to meditate upon the trustworthiness of the law and its effect upon humans. The law gives wisdom to the simple, rejoices the heart, gives light to the eyes, teaches the servant, gives great reward, searches the heart, and ultimately leads the Psalmist to trust more deeply in the Lord and call upon Him for cleansing, for strength to stand, to avoid presumptuous sins, and for acceptable words and thoughts. 

There is a movement from the song of creation to the wisdom of the law and to the prayer of the servant. The church often speaks of the Book of Creation and the Book of Revelation: both teach the servant to hear and to see a world that lives and moves in God’s grace and love. Ultimately, the movement of creation and the Word of God is pointing toward Jesus Christ who is the express image of the Father. 

In Jesus’ life and death, we behold love poured out without restraint. The New Testament writers, speak from an encounter with Christ. They read through Christ to creation and read through Christ to the Old Testament. You look at Paul. He reads through Christ even to the surrounding cultures. In his famous speech at Athens, he’s quoting their own poets, but he’s reading through Christ into their culture and using their own poets to point back to Christ.

All creation is bearing witness to Christ. All creation is bearing witness to a world created in love and toward love. By saying that I’m meaning that God who is a communion of love between Father, Son, and Spirit creates the world. He simultaneously creates the world in love with a potentiality to grow up into love. So, love is like a seed planted into the heart of creation. All things are created in love and toward love. Eden, the opening story, is the seed form of the story, and the whole idea is that it grows up into perfection, which we see at the end of the Bible in Revelation. But of course it’s interrupted, and so we go back to the creation story. 

Dumitru Staniloae says that space and time are two planes of movement toward love.[2] Space creates distinction between one thing and another thing: we are not all one thing. We even see distinction in the Father, the Son, and the Spirit: three persons, one God. This same God created every particular thing. Each blade of grass and each grain of sand. He creates me and you, and distinguishes you from me. There is an inherent glory in each particular thing, and the Lord looks at His creation, proclaiming, “It is good!” 

Each thing bears witness to the glory of God. As our eyes open in and through Christ, we see a world that God loves, that God sustains in and through Christ. We see a world bearing witness to Christ and pointing us in the way of love. 

Staniloae says that time is the interval between the offer of love and the reciprocation to that offer. It might be easier to say that time speaks of the exchange of love or the lack of exchange. We are always learning how to love faithfully. We also struggle to love faithfully. As we rehearse old hurts or anticipate new conflicts, we are choosing to savor offenses toward others. This prevents a free offer of love. I anticipate your rejection, so I turn away from you before you can hurt me. 

This reminds me of the old story about the guy with car trouble who needs to call for help. He knocks on the door of a nearby house. While he waits, he imagines the homeowner turning him away. Finally, the door opens, and he says, “Well just forget it. I didn’t need to borrow you stupid phone anyway!” We struggle to love freely and fully. 

Due to our tendency toward sin, we can be distracted from love by the very creation that bears witness to God’s love. All things point us toward love in Christ and love toward one another. Paradise is the place of our gift where Adam and Eve have potential to share all things as gift in love. In this place of love, they are distracted by the seductions of the serpent. In a garden of gifts from God, they take the one fruit not given. Their attachment to this fruit, this thing violates their relation with God and one another. This pattern plays out every day. 

We are created to love persons, not things. We may enjoy potatoes but we do not truly love them. We do not love computers or cars or iPhones. These things can help us and can even help facilitate love between persons.  I used eat with an old Reformed friend, and he loved to go to all-you-can-eat buffets. While we’re eating, he would have a stick pork and the green beans and hold them up in the middle of the restaurant. Oh, thanks be to God that before creation He knew I would enjoy this bite of green beans.

So, the green beans became a vehicle toward love. He, through the green beans, was able to expresses his delight in God as he enjoyed the green beans. That is actually the purpose of things. That’s how they function. They can move us toward praise of God and toward love with one another. Stăniloae actually says at one point that, “There’s so much potentiality in the world. As we learn how to love one another properly, we unfolded it.” He’s beginning to give us the seed form of science. The science is all based on relationship. You have to exchange information over time and you learn from one another, and that’s how we grow in our knowledge.

That’s how God created the world. But sadly, these very same things can do just the opposite. Imagine a boy and girl on a date, and both sit across from one another staring at their phones. The phone becomes a substitute for communion. 

A house if a gift that holds the love of a family. But if the house requires the husband and wife to work so often that they fail to spend time together, it is not a gift: it is an obstacle to love. 

When a thing becomes more important than the communion of love between persons, it is an idol. It can stand between us and God; it can stand between me and you. When Adam and Eve turn toward the promise of the fruit over the love of communion, they choose the thing over the relationship. They turn away from God and even turn against one another. 

The Bible tells the story of humans turning away from God and one another. Our Collect of the Day prays for a restoration to this disorder, 

Heavenly Father, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you: Look with compassion upon the heartfelt desires of your servants, and purify our disordered affections, that we may behold your eternal glory in the face of Christ Jesus; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The prayer that our hearts are restless until they rest in you is a prayer of St Augustine’s, and then he will speak of our disordered affections because Augustine realizes he himself has an attachment to things. He himself can easily become attached to things or to ideas. He himself can easily substitute other things for the love of God. When that happens, we are turning away from the light of God’s love and stumbling in the dark, which this is from the Proverbs. When we stumble in the dark, we are blinded and deaf, and we cannot hear creation’s voice.

We can no longer hear the voice of God, but we have been created for love and toward love, which means even those who are stumbling in the dark still have the longing for love. It’s still present. They’re still desiring it. They’re still somehow trying to move toward it. So what we see in scripture is a pattern of how disordered affections are resulting eventually in hurting one another, stealing, lying, taking, breaking, killing. It results in the destruction of the world, that very thing that is supposed to bring us joy.

In this condition of brokenness and sin, the world of creation and of human culture seems mute to the glory of God. This is the painful meditation in Romans 1:21. “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

In our sinful condition, we behold the brokenness, the cursedness, the unfairness of the world instead of the glory of God in all things. Even Christians may confess Christ but see only the sin and death in the world and fail to see the glory of the world that never stops bearing witness to Christ Jesus. 

The commandments given to Israel are God’s instructions for reordering their lives according to the way of love. When Jesus tells the disciples, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”[3] He is pointing them to His life and coming death, which reveal the love of God poured out without restraint. He is revealing the fulfillment of the law. In Jesus, we behold love fully known. He is calling the disciples and us to follow Him into this way that loves without restraint, this way of the cross. In Christ, we bear witness to the loving communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is pointing us to a creation made new in and through His redeeming love. 

We follow Christ in a way that loves without restraint. This is the fulfillment of the law which we see this all for the New… Paul will say it in Romans. We see it in Galatians. We see it in Philippians. This is the fulfillment of the law is this pure and holy love that Christ unveils, and only in Christ can we walk in it. In Jesus we behold love fully known. He’s calling the disciples and us to follow Him in the way of the cross, in the way of love without restraint.

And it’s in Christ that we bear witness to the loving communion of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is in Christ that we learn how all creation is pointing us to ourselves being made new and all the world made new. So during Lent, instead of the summary of the law, where Jesus tells us the love of the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love our neighbors ourself; during lent we rehearse the entire 10 Commandments. And the 10 Commandments are just part of Torah.

By meditating upon the 10 Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount or the moral imperatives in the New Testament letters, we behold a pattern of lives moving toward love. We see a pattern of trusting the Lord, pouring out our lives in generosity and humility, of loving our families, of submitting to one another, of wise correction, of blessing one another, and honoring one another. By rehearsing these texts in prayer and in action, we grow in wisdom. 

John Frame writes that the 10 Commandments are seeds of wisdom, that actually they grow up in the Bible. So, we start out hearing, “Honor your mother and father.” By the time we get to the New Testament, “Parents do not provoke your children to anger.” It’s become an interchange between parents and children.

In the commandments we hear, “Do not commit adultery.” What do we hear by the time we get to the New Testament? “Love your wife as Christ loves the church.” See that command has grown up. It’s flourished in a way it couldn’t have been understood in the Old Testament. All the commandments are like seeds. “Do not murder,” grows up and says, “Not only don’t murder. I want you to lay down your life for one another.” Instead of murder, you’re going to do just the opposite. You’re going to lay down your life for another.

So, during this season, it might be worth just pausing and meditating on some of these things, whether it’s the 10 Commandments, Sermon on the Mount, whatever, asking Christ to reveal to us how our lives might be reordered in love that we might become like the witness of this small child Paisley Elliott. It’s unbelievable that a child is pouring her life completely out to caring for the refugees of the world, and might we somehow reflect that same kind of love pouring out our lives wherever Christ might direct us. 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, ed. Ilse Tödt et al., trans. Reinhard Krauss, Charles C. West, and Douglas W. Stott, vol. 6, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005), 68.

[2] I’ve oversimplified Dumitru Staniloae’s argument from The Experience of God: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, Volume 1, Chapter Eight “The Super-Essential Attributes of God,” sections Eternity and Superspatiality (pp. 150 -184). 

[3]  The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jn 15:12.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.