Tuesday, 22 April 2014

In the beginning - community

I've started a new bible reading plan with YouVersion, since it keeps me reading, and hence an excuse to write.

The first reading was Genesis 1-2. There is SO MUCH to say, but I decided to focus on community. There is much to draw from this, but it seems community is an important theme.

In chapter 1, it takes both male and female to bear the image of God (can't get away from God here). So bearing the image of God is communal, and indeed tied to the blessing of reproduction. Now the Earth is indeed full at 7 billion people, so thinking carefully about population is not contrary to the biblical blessing. We are not to be negative about children, just not naive about our impacts.

But back to the main point - even if one rejects this as a literal account, the biblical idea of man and woman together as image bearers is the bedrock of a theology of marriage. It is for kids, but even more so it is for serving God. Now given that singleness is promoted as a Christian lifestyle in the New Testament, we should be clear that not only marriage specifically, but community life in general is what flows from this passage - after all, lots of babies does mean community.

Genesis 2 takes a different look, but the suitable helper for man comes out of himself, not as a literal operation but as a statement of identity. Again, this speaks powerfully of marriage in the first instance, and the basis thereof. But it also tells us that animals are not us - not to denigrate them but to elevate to full humanity all other people. We become one flesh with a spouse, but we are all of one family of humans, and in faith those in Christ are one family.

Salvation and service are never solo but social.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Easter Sunday - resurrection and egalitarianism

Today's reading from John 20 was the passage I preached on this morning. The transcript is going to be published so I won't say too much. Let me select one theme.

Mary Magdalene goes on the first day of the week to the garden where Jesus is laid. Just as John 1 echoes Genesis 1, so we should see Genesis 2 and 3 here; life in the Garden of Eden. Instead of Eve being misled by the serpent and then misleading Adam (who should have known better anyway), we have God (Jesus) addressing Mary (the new Eve) to go and set the disciples straight - telling them Jesus had risen and was ascending to the Father.

Mary was the apostle to the apostles; the first apostle of the new covenant. We should also note that when Mary addresses Jesus as Rabbouni, she is saying "my teacher" and not just "teacher". Jesus had taught her as a disciple in an age where only men were taught this way.

My point is, apart from personal reconciliation with God, the curse on Eve is undone. There is no excuse for anything less than full equality in the church, as it was always intended to be - remember Eve is described as Adam's helper, a word also used of God.

This is behind what Paul says in Galatians 3 when he says there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. All barriers come down, and all are equal in Christ. Once this becomes the narrative in which you work, other texts must be understood in this light.

Christ is Risen, He is Risen indeed!

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Easter Saturday - Messiah for rich and poor

One of the things that I and many others often focus on is that Jesus was and is a champion of the poor. That poor people exist is a testament in general (factors of sloth, etc notwithstanding) of systems of economic injustice. This was certainly the case in first century Palestine and it is also the case today. It is not as if being poor is more holy in and of itself - but the poor in Jesus day were more aware of their needs. Riches can act as thorns and weeds among the seeds that is the gospel.

But Paul rightly identifies that it is the love of money rather than money itself that is evil. Industry and hard work - though along side with trust, generosity and Sabbath rest, are all emphasised in the bible.

So when Jesus comes to be buried in John 19, it shouldn't be a surprise that men of influence ask for his body and arrange his burial. Joseph of Arimathea is a disciple in secret for fear of the Jews (Judeans), and Nicodemus was the one who came at night, though publicly spoke up for Jesus in the Sanhedrin. It seems to me that these comments, if they are condemnatory, are only vaguely so. There is perhaps a time to be silent, and a time to speak up. In any event, it is these two men who make provision for the body of Jesus to be laid in a tomb.

On Easter Saturday, we should not forget that we know the end of the story - even if we don't fully understand it. These people did not. We are stuck with a pregnant pause - the man who attracted men and women, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile lies dead. For those who followed him, it all seems over.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Good Friday - soldiers cast lots for his clothes

Rome was a cruel, cruel empire. Though they did not invention crucifixion, they perfected it. I don't know if it was sheer indifference born of familiarity with the suffering of others, or the sort of dehumanisation that the Japanese had for prisoners of war, and that many seem to do to asylum seekers today.

Beneath the cross, while a man died slowly and horrifically, soldiers cast lots for his clothing. Mocked as a pretend king, this man Jesus had sought to bring a nation back to its God, to forsake violence, repression and exclusion. Not in favour of lawlessness, or lack of a desire to see people holy, but because of love the gates of heaven were flung wide open. And now, on a Roman cross, was the way through that gate. And soldiers cast lots for his clothes.

The Germans took everything from those they condemned to die in the gas chambers. Their clothes, their money, their gold teeth. From the cold emptiness of the executioners to the banality of those who sorted the money of different currencies and took it back to Berlin, evil took many forms. Just as it does today, in many ways great and small. On that day, soldiers cast lots for his clothes.

We can be banal, complicit, violent. Or we can turn away from these things and embrace a man whose clothes were part of an ancient game of dice.

We cannot be silent anymore, about the evil in our own hearts, about the evil in treating people like things, about the evil of closing boarders to those in need, about the evil of destroying hope for future generation. Lest we cast lots for the clothes of those with little else. Less we be soldiers, casting lots for the king's clothes.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Lent day 43 - non-violent speech

I'm the sort of fellow who can quickly escalate my rhetoric. Fisticuffs is harder and more risky, blunt words? For many that is easier.

In Luke 23, Jesus' last words are "into your hands I commit my spirit". It wasn't unusual for people being crucified to call down curses on the Romans. Going out with a bang rather than a whimper. But when we see Jesus on the cross, he doesn't speak curses but blessings, like "forgive them, for they know not what they do".

For a centurion to attest to Jesus' innocence does reflect on his conduct. I've recently seen a few Christians publicly standing up for refugees and for the environment (creation) because they believe these things are important, and biblical. In all of these cases, both deeds and words have been non-violent, often drawing comment from the police and being cleared by the courts. Think how different that is to kicking and screaming, or verbal abuse.

There is much to stand up for in our age, issues of peace and justice such as characterise the kingdom. Not that all of our actions will change the world into a utopia, but if the cross is our forgiveness, our reconciliation, our restoration and a sign of our future and that of the entire of creation, we need to live as if this were true. It is time to speak and act in cross shaped ways.

Lent day 42 - waging peace

Translations don't always cut it. In Matthew 27, some translations say Jesus was crucified with two robbers, but this falls short. Bandits sounds similar, but banditry wasn't in the Robin Hood sense. It involved plunder of villages. Perhaps terrorist might capture it more in modern parlance. The usual word for robber as we might think of someone who picks pockets or breaks and enters for a few things that are easy to carry away is the word from which we get kleptomaniac.

So the two men Jesus was crucified with were men of violence, but Jesus was a man of peace.

Just as these brigands planned their raids, Jesus planned his death. So, if we want to model peacemaking (such that the cross was) and non-violently, we need to be deliberate. Jesus was crucified with the violent, and hence we can't and shouldn't remove ourselves from people who might share our concerns but not our methods. But more and more, intelligent and thoughtful non-violence needs to be waged in an age where individuals and bureaucracies quickly turn to violence of rhetoric and actions, we need to model something different, just as Jesus did.

Lent day 41 - the crucified king

[ooops well behind and tomorrow is Good Friday]

The trial of Jesus is sometimes challenged historically on the grounds that Romans took their justice system seriously, but John 19 shows a soft man being manipulated, and the idea is simple. Jesus claimed to be a king (but in a very different way to those who came before him), Caesar cannot tolerate competition, therefore Pilate, choose which side you are on. Very chillingly, the religious leaders made their choice, and they sidestepped saying that for them, God was meant to be king.

Jesus' kingship is deeply ironic in John; given a crown and purple cloak in mockery, proclaimed king by an unbelieving Gentile to an unbelieving Jewish crowd.

Jesus is the crucified king, the crucified God. If you want to make sense of the world, you might not get ready answers. At least, it will be clear that God is not above getting his hands dirty and facing all that it means to be human, including facing (a degrading) death. Yet that death was not the final word, and that is what Easter is about

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Lent day 39 - a new kind of power

If there is one thing I hate, it is an excarnate Christianity that speaks of spiritual things as if they had nothing to do with the world, with bodies, with the things of life.

One place where this is done based on a poor understanding of Greek (and therefore a sin for theology graduates is the trial of Jesus by Pilate in John 18. Pilate asks Jesus if he is the king of the Jews, and points out his own people have handed him over. Jesus then says

"My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here." (NASB)

What is usually read (sometimes translated as)

"My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not of here." 

Of and from imply two different things. Of implies that Jesus' kingdom has nothing to do with the world, politics, economics, ecology and so on. It's all about heaven - meaning heaven as opposed to Earth, the place we go to when we die, not heaven the rule of God.

From implies where the authority comes from, and hence what it looks like. Recall Jesus prays that his disciples will be in but not of the world. The fact that the kingdom is not from this world means its ideas on authority and violence are different to the Roman empire, indeed all empires.

Christianity, or more particularly the church, is the community of God, not an empire. It does not resort to coercion, though it has solid arguments and internal discipline. It does not use violence to advance itself. Well it should not do either, though it has. In doing so, it has not been true to where it is from.

In post Christendom, we are called to continue to be a voice in the world, a presence. We do so without expecting, or more properly, demanding to be heard. But let us be worth listening to; just not in the way of empires, but in the way of an innocent man who was unfairly executed.

Lent day 38 - the way of non-violence

The Lenten readings cover parallel material, and so Day 38 looks at ground we've covered before, in this case Luke 22. For this reading, I want to look at what happens at Jesus' arrest.

Now I consider myself more pragmatist than anything, though confess to be still somewhere in the middle. I cross the street to avoid suspicious people, yet have studied martial arts for years. Think that maybe there can be just wars, although most wars are not, and there is little to no guide for this in the bible (the Ban of Deuteronomy is of a very different nature).

So that all said, I suspect the vast (if not entire) of life of a Christian (issues of soldiers, police, etc aside) should be governed by non-violence. When Jesus was being arrested, one of his disciples cut someone's ear off. Jesus then heals him and his ear is restored. I find this the funniest miracle in the bible.

Jesus' question "Have you come out with swords and clubs as if I were a bandit?" is a telling one. Jesus was no bandit (i.e. revolutionary) who dealt in swords and clubs, so why treat him as such. Whenever the church has resorted to these, it has failed. (It's another issue for me when the state has a job of protection to do, but far more often than not, the state has not been interested in protection.)

The Christian mission is not one of force, neither rhetorically nor physically. This does not mean it has no power, but that power is as a song by Scott Stapp says "he spoke he always drew a crowd, his message was his lifestyle".

Let our words draw hearers and our lifestyles be a message of God's love.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Lent day 37 - Christ the king

There are lots of  overlaps between today's reading, which is most of Mark 14 and the past two passages, so my emphasis is on the trial of Jesus in verses 53-65.

The trial was truly a kangaroo court - with conflicting evidence and false witnesses, and a twisting of the truth. The trial is one of blasphemy, but in an age where politics and religion were not separate, the question "Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?" is ultimately both. Son of the Blessed One is also a Messianic title, not a statement of ontological identity with God.

Jesus' response was what they wanted - not that it was true - for it got Jesus on a charge of blasphemy. He acknowledges that he is the Messiah, but then adds a reference to Daniel 7 when he said

"‘you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of the Power,’
and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven. "

In Daniel 7, the Son of Man (a human one) goes to the Ancient of Days (a name for God) on the clouds of heaven, to be given "dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed."

So the blasphemy is that Jesus claimed this authority for himself. Bye bye temple authorities, Rome, all empires and pretensions to power. Dominion is a word we shrink from, it carries with it ideas of domination. Likewise, the idea of serving someone else carries ideas of servitude and slavery.

Yet quite apart from the fact that the church declares Jesus as God - and therefore deserving of all of this - what we learn of the character of Jesus tells us that dominion does not mean being dominated but wooed, loved and cared for. Indeed, Jesus pathway to being seat at the right hand of God is via the cross: the supreme act of love and identification with wandering humanity.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Lent day 36 - no one is invincible

The Matthew passage from day 35 overlaps with John 18:1-18 in that both deal with Jesus' betrayal and arrest. In verses 15-18 of this passage we see Jesus' foretelling of Peter's denial unfold. It is interesting to see how there is another disciple known to the high priest, who was able to get them in. We know nothing of his connection beyond this, but he appears to make no move to deny his association. Peter (presumably with a Galilean accent) was spotted as so, but denied it.

We might claim we won't deny Jesus, but many of us falter when the opportunity to own up to our faith comes up. This short passage reminds us that we need to be slow to speak of the strength of our faith, for when push comes to shove, no one is invincible in their faith. We'd like to think so, but it is more honest to recognise when our faith is weak, and seek for Christ to help make it stronger.

Lent day 35 - sacrifice

I've been studying the martial arts for years, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for 12 years. You sacrifice quite a bit to get good, or at least to improve. Then at some point it dawns on you that you need to sacrifice some of your training for the improvement of others. You teach classes, roll with people who might not help you improve, but you might help improve. You give up of your time.

Many people sacrifice for others, a parent for their child, a spouse for their partner.

The heart of Easter is sacrifice. Not insane, suicidal martyrdom, but a sacrifice that achieved peace and reconciliation. The scene from Gethsemane is a painful one to read (Matthew 26:36-46), but shows that the cross was an act of obedience, not a morbid fascination with death. Jesus needed to pray about it (Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want), and appreciated the prayers of others.

The question that burns in the mind is: why would God demand this? There are many theories on this, for now it is sufficient to know that Jesus' death achieves what it sets out to do, to bring life and peace.

Further, Jesus' sacrifice and approach to it is a model of humility and obedience to God's will. But it also shows us the need to pursue God in prayer over our situations; to discern whether or not some purpose is served by what we go through, or whether there is another way. Seeking suffering for its own sake is not at all Godly, which speaks against aestheticism per se.

Finally, having others pray for us - hopefully with more diligence than the disciples - is important. No person is an island.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Lent day 34 - unity

While it is true that Jesus wasn't thinking primarily of you or I during his earthly ministry, John 17 is an example of an eye on the future. Jesus wanted Israel to repent and take the gospel to the world. In his 12 disciples, he had a new Israel that would be made out of Jews, and later Gentiles (non-Jews). And wanted them all to be united.

John 17 is part of Jesus' final discourse, a section I love. We learn more about the Triune nature of God there than anywhere else, and discover how it includes us.

Verses 6-19 are missional; a prayer for the disciples to be in the world (human society) but not of it (shaped by non-gospel cultural norms). Sanctification, or the process of being set apart for mission, is in the the word of God, which are truth. Jesus himself is truth, so ultimately the word is about Jesus. The mission is the gospel of Jesus, the preparation for mission is the gospel of Jesus.

He then shifts to those who would believe because of the word of his disciples, that we may be one. United. Just as Jesus in the Father and the Father is in Jesus. The Trinity (early, Jesus spoke of the Spirit) is a model for Christian community. Sure we remain physically and metaphysically distinct, but in purpose and community. This is meant to be a witness to the world. In the first century the church's unity was radical, with women treated as equals, slaves and citizens eating together, Jews and Gentiles associating.

Now I know what it is to fellowship with people with different theological views, and yet try and focus on commonalities and mission. There are times to discuss, times to differ, but many more times to join in mission for Christ's sake. Let our unity, Trinitarian in shape, be what defines us.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Lent day 32 - real spirituality

People prefer to say they are spiritual rather than religious. It's a nice way of emphasizing the rigidity of formalized religion; it's legalism, calcification and hypocrisy.

That said, spirituality can be so free wheeling, so supermarket like in its selection of this and that, that is can be feelgood and faithlite, focused on self and not other.

In John 16:5-33, Jesus talks about his departure, and the advocate, the Holy Spirit (verses 7-11; NASB)

Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

So Jesus goes away but sends the Advocate. As an advocate for the believer, there is also an adversarial role against the world - society against God.

  1. Sin is denial of who Jesus is and refusal to believe in him. This isn't very PC or pluralistic. In the first place, Jesus was speaking of 'the Jews', by which John means Jerusalemites as opposed to many of the Galileans who followed Jesus. The people of Christ are the people of the Spirit. Of course, this is open to all.
  2. Jesus goes to the Father, and the Advocate convicts the world about righteousness. I wonder here is justice is a better reading (they have the same Greek root). Jesus is truly the King of Israel. His death at the hands of 'the Jews' was unjust. Jesus is the just ruler - and this incorporates but righteousness in the usual religious sense, but also justice. People of the Spirit are righteous and just.
  3. Judgement here is about the ruler of the world. John is very clear that the cross is a defeat of the powers of darkness. This might be downplayed today, and it is right not to see a demon in every cold or unfortunate incident. It is also unbiblical to downplay the demonic, regardless of how wary we need to be about how we speak of this. The defeat of the ruler of this world should give us comfort - the war is won even if battles rage on.
So Christian Spirituality is sin denying, Jesus affirming, just and righteous, and in some sense triumphant - though not arrogant. This is concrete, not vague; biblically grounded, not new age; humble, not arrogant; thankful, not independent.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Lent day 31 - to be Christian is to be de-vine

Ok, so that is a terrible pun (just ask anyone, it's not unusual for me). I don't have the greenest of thumbs, but I do know that if you cut something off a plant, chance are it will die. Flowers wilt and die, fruit rots. A branch draws sustenance from the plants, down to its roots.

Agricultural illustrations were Jesus' stock in trade; he lived in an agricultural society. None of this is rocket science. It makes sense, but to go beyond the illustration to the heart of the matter takes a lifetime. The goal of a grape vine is for it to produce fruit - from a human point of view to make wine (safer than water in Jesus' day). Fruit is a sign of health in a plant.

Jesus is the vine, providing nourishment, showing that the branches are organically connected (John 15:1-11). Without connection to the vine, nothing can be done (he speaks in spiritual terms, people do all sorts of things, just not fruit borne for God). Anyone hanging around the vine but not connected to it won't bear fruit, and is cast into the fire.

So how does this relate to us? Do we spend all of our time worrying whether or not we are bearing enough fruit, and whether or not we will be cast off? Or do we argue that we are part of the vine and were always meant to be? A classical theological debate!

It seems to me that the parable is simple - those who bear no fruit will be cast into the fire because they have no connection to the vine, those who are connected will invariably bear fruit. If you see any fruit in your life, then be encouraged you are connected to the vine. If you see fruit in others, they too are part of the same vine - even if they hold some very different ideas to you.

Likewise, if there is no fruit in your life at all (and why would you be reading this if there was not), you have to ask yourself some hard questions. I suspect this is more about asking them of yourself than of anyone else.

Finally - what does being in the vine look like, i.e. how does it happen? It is all about being a disciple (verse 8). This implies careful study of Jesus teaching, and even more so careful following of his commandments and his way of life. It is no accident that another day's reading - Jesus teaching on the new commandment to love each other - follows on from this.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Lent day 30 - never alone: the Trinity and the Christian

I love memes and thought this one relevant to John 14. Jesus is speaking cryptically and deeply about a great many things, but it is clearly meant to be understood in what we would now call Trinitarian language, even if we are not to jump straight into the Greek metaphysical categories that were to follow.

Jesus is 'going to the Father', and will prepare a place for his disciples. The word translated as rooms refers to temporary accommodation - this isn't about a disembodied future in heaven. Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in Jesus. They work as an intimate team, and Jesus describes himself as the sole way to the Father - hardly pluralistic or PC. The way to see the Father is to see Jesus. What Philip should have understood is now plainly visible to us.

Jesus 'going to the Father' is the beginning rather than the end. It is the true beginning of the church so that we might do even greater things than Jesus. It is of course, impossible to top what Jesus did on the cross, but in living out the reality of the cross; sharing the message and living in loving community, we bring this first century event throughout history.

All of this is enabled by the 'another advocate', another being one of the same type. Here, John is clearly claiming divine inspiration for his recounting of Jesus' life, and centuries of Christians have claimed his presence; bringing us inner confirmation of our standing in Christ, helping shed light on Scripture and so on.

And so the Spirit brings us into the divine communion, into the Trinitarian life of God. God is the God indeed who seeks to sum up all things into himself, not in a totalising way that destroys individuality, but in a way that affirms and transforms who were are.

Profound indeed. Deep. And beyond anything I can easily summarise in a few paragraphs.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Lent day 29 - looking ahead

We are all capable of treachery, of failure. The disciples were all so certain they would not deny Jesus, Peter in particular (Matthew 26:31-35). Jesus was the shepherd, and when he is struck, his sheep scatter. It wasn't unusual for Messiahs to appear, claiming to be king of Israel. It was also usual for the leaders to be executed and the movements to peter out afterward.

Jesus predicts the first part of this - that he would be struck down, and despite their claims, they would fail. And yet the end would be different, for Jesus would 'go ahead of you to Galilee'. This was all pretty real and raw for those who feared death, thought it was all over, and were then in for the biggest surprise in history.

For us today, while our faith is based on something we can look back at in history, and can be confirmed in our lives, there are times when it all falls apart, and it seems like Jesus has disappeared from our lives. Yet, he has promised to go ahead of us. And this we must hold on to.

Lent day 28 - it's a long way to the top, via the bottom

Anyone who has ever tried to work their way up in something knows that hard work is involved. You don't get promoted at work unless you work hard, and often playing the game. You don't improve at a sport without training hard. But no one thinks that the best way to advance is to fail all of the time.

We all like to be great at something, and there isn't anything wrong with wanting to excel. But how do you excel in a community? By pushing to the front? By being impressive or gifted? Certainly gifts are useful if used right, being impressive is a matter of opinion and pushing oneself is a delicate balance between self promotion and simply seeking to have your gifts made useful.

In Luke 22, the disciples argue about who is the greatest. This seems amazingly egotistical to us, but how often do we do this more subtly? Who is more righteous (by talking down others)? How often do we find ourselves saying 'I could do better'? While perhaps the answer might be yes, is that the best way to phrase the question?

Jesus compares such arguments to Roman culture, which was based on ego, social standing, and having power over others by being seen to be a benefactor (verse 25), i.e. no one gave money, time or aid for reasons of altruism but of self-promotion. Instead, Christians are to be like the young (less important compared to elders - shame that kind of respect is absent today) and like servants not leaders. In other words, don't play the game of using your social standing simply to further your social standing, to seek to indebt others to yourself and remind them of it.

We are to (as a friend never tires of saying) 'love and serve', and shouldn't be afraid of doing so in many different ways, although often it will be in accordance with our gifts. The key is less about the gift and more about what needs exist - though the two will often match.

The disciples were offered true greatness - judging the 12 tribes. Is this an end times judgment or more about their ministries of proclaiming the gospel? Either way, for Peter the path to such true greatness had to pass through his rejection of Jesus, and ultimately in rejecting his own self-reliance. May it be so with us.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Lent day 27 - all you need is love

[Day 26 was another choose your own text day, and with other things to do well.... I had a Sabbath rest ;) ]

If you were to ask someone from outside the church what they thought of Christians, I suspect you wouldn't be so thrilled with what they said. Hopefully a friend might have a better opinion since they knew you, but we are typically not known as a harmonious bunch. Do we argue about theology? Are those arguments public? Or what of the recent revelations of how someone seeking to be reconciled to the Catholic Church was treated for daring to raise what has happened to them?

In today's reading of John 13:18-38, I want to focus just on verses 31-35. Jesus knows he is soon about to die, and gives them a new commandment - to love each other. Surely though love does not have to be commanded? Isn't love all about feeling? Well anyone who's been a parent knows that they love their children, but being up all night with a spewing child or putting up with a tantrum shows us that love has to be expressed - it's a verb not just a noun.

Likewise, anyone who goes to church and knows anyone who isn't exactly like them knows that love has to be done, not talked about. It is hard. People are hard to love, and we'd rather be loved than love.

So we are told to love in the same way that Jesus loved us - to be precise Jesus tells his disciples that they should love each other in the same way he did, but it is understood this is to be the pattern for all Christians. Given Jesus did it in very obvious and culturally relevant ways, like foot washing, so we are to put ourselves below others to love them.

Notice that while doctrinal purity is important - we need to try and understand the bible as best we can - it is orthopraxy over orthodoxy here (or there are some important aspects in the background). People know we are Christians if we love each other despite of our differences, practicing a generous orthodoxy, forgiving each other our sins and pursuing the Christian life in community. Nit picky gatekeeping should be anathema. Guarding important truths is very important, but love comes first.

In a digital age, blogs, Facebook groups, online forums, etc are all places where hate and unforgiveness can easily be practiced. This is not to say critical reflection is out of place, but Christian charity is front and centre. So where ever you are - love and serve others

"I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”