Tag Archives: Mother Teresa

Theological virtur #3: Love. Love is a Verb

given on Sunday, September 20, 2015–third and final of series

Scripture lesson:             Romans 13:8-14, NLT

Love Fulfills God’s Requirements

Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.”[a] These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] 10 Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.

11 This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living. 13 Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.

 

Reflection: Theological Virtue #3: Love. Love is a verb.

“But our choicest zeal should be reserved for love itself, which is at the very center of the concentric circles. There it “sits upon the throne which is erected in the inmost soul;” it is the love of God and humanity “which fills the whole heart, and reigns without a rival.” –John Wesley via Hal Knight’s article, “Zealous for What? The Choicest Zeal”

Two weeks ago, the weather was dripping-sweat hot, the fair was winding down and Labor Day promised a brief respite before the regular workweek resumed. That Sunday the sermon’s theme was the theological virtue faith and last Sunday it was hope. Today the virtue is love, the third and final one.

Love is a commonly used topic in sermons, so the challenge is how to identify the topic as a habit or a lasting attitude that defines a Christian. Remember, that is how the lectionary commentary defined virtue.  For Christians, love is a habit, but it is a habit of action not simply an emotion.

Love is a verb. Christians establish a relationship with God and can express that relationship as faith. Confessing one’s belief in God, though, is just the beginning of a Christian’s journey with God.

Once in a relationship, one hopes for a deeper relationship. Hope must become a purposeful effort to deepen one’s knowledge and practice of Christian principles. One must dare to hope, to study scripture, to worship in Christian community, and to live that faith daily deepens the relationship with God.

Being able to declare one’s faith and daring to deepen the relationship with God, leads Christians to the third virtue love. Love is the action that Christians demonstrate toward others. Love is a habit that moves the Christian off the sofa and into the community to serve as God’s agent.

Mother Teresa, now declared a saint by the Pope, provided a vivid example of the modern Christian. She demonstrated her faith by doing, by providing hope to the poorest, the sickest, and the lost through her loving actions.

“Faith in action is love—and love in action is service,” Mother Teresa said. Not only did she say it, she lived it. Faith, hope and love defined Mother Teresa throughout her servant life.

John Wesley certainly would agree with this saint. His focus in ministry became serving one another. He did not care who needed what, if he could find a way to provide it, he did.

Much less, Wesley developed the methods for Christians to use as they developed their relationship with God or faith; and continued to deepen the relationship be expecting accountability to a small group. These practices opened the hearts of the followers to serve one another; to love one another. Love is an action; love is a verb.

Love has one of the strongest meanings as a noun, but love as a verb must be a practice. Of course, love, the noun, certainly creates all types of images of human relationships, but love as a verb puts one’s faith into action.

Hal Knight studies Wesley and is an authority on him. The quote from his recent article in The Missouri Methodist shares Wesley’s viewpoint about being zealous for God: “But our choicest zeal should be reserved for love itself. . . “

Knight explains Wesley’s zeal using the image of concentric circles, like when the water’s surface becomes when a fish jumps or a stone is thrown in. He explains:

Wesley asks us to envision a number of concentric circles, each representing something deserving our Christian zeal. The closer to the center of the circle they are, the more they should elicit our zeal.

In the outmost circle is the church. Every Christian should be zealous “for the church universal, praying for it continually,” and especially for his or her own local church.

. . . Even more than the church, Christians should be zealous for praying, “for the Lord’s Supper, for reading, hearing and meditating on his work, and for the much neglected duty of fasting.”

But more than these, the Christian should be zealous for the works of mercy which constitute the next circle.

Any work of mercy is love in action. Love is a verb and Wesley placed the importance of serving in the center of the circles because without works of mercy, God is absent in the community. The UMC website identifies Wesley’s works of mercy:

Individual Practices – doing good works, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, and giving generously to the needs of others

Communal Practices – seeking justice, ending oppression and discrimination (for instance Wesley challenged Methodists to end slavery), and addressing the needs of the poor

Each decision we make personally and collectively as a church must answer to Wesley’s theology.   Faith in God is daring to hope deepen that relationship while loving one another.

Living one’s faith openly is challenging in this 21st century. As was explained by Jeremiah in Lamentations, we must examine our ways and test them. We must put our ways to the test so Saint Mother Teresa and John Wesley can see that our Christian faith is in action as we serve one another, as we want to be served.

Knowing whether one is living with God in the center of their life is challenging. The world around us seems to through roadblocks at us all the time, but we take courage in God, too. He loves us, as he wants to be loved. The more we practice, the better we become. Wesley does give us one more test to see whether or not love is a verb in our life:

“. . . our choicest zeal should be reserved for love itself . . .   it “sits upon the throne which is erected in the inmost soul;” it is the love of God and humanity “which fills the whole heart, and reigns without a rival.”

Faith in God is daring to hope deepen that relationship while loving one another. Stop and examine yourself. Is you relationship with God strong enough that it fills your whole heart and it overflows in loving one another. Is love a verb in your life?

Closing prayer:

Dear Omnipotent God,

Love is a verb that you demonstrate repeatedly.

We dare to hope others see your love through us.

May faith be more than a word but a relationship.

Let us work in community to serve one another.

Let us share our faith with all we meet.

Let us invite others to dare to hope, also.

Thank you for the wisdom of words

Not only in scripture but from others

Who love God enough to share with others.

May we be your love in action today. Amen

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Through the Eyes of a Gardener

given on Sunday, May 12, 2013

Scripture:  Psalm 145, the Message

Spring 2013 has been challenging to say the least.  We have broken so many norms of Missouri weather it just does not seem like the day on the calendar really matches the day we experience as we walk out our doors.  There is such a personal longing to find spring in our steps, but also to find spring outside our closed windows and doors.

Who would have ever thought that just a week ago we were watching the last clumps of snow melt!  This week, we watched clouds move in, drop buckets of rain, and then shuffle on—and I do mean shuffle as they move away so slowly.

I cannot help but connect my faith to God’s natural world.  And I admit that this slow transition from winter to spring with birds singing, warm breezes and beautiful colors has certainly slowed my pace, too.  During the weeks between Easter and Pentecost, I discovered an analogy that Teresa of Avila wrote in her autobiography.  She, too, connected theology to nature.

Teresa of Avila was a 1500s Spanish nun who is classified as a mystic theologian.  Understanding her style of theology is not difficult, though, as she explains faith in very concrete terms.  This is why I found the excerpt from her autobiography so appealing.  In Chapter 11, she uses the analogy of a gardener tending the plants as a way of understanding how one develops faith:

The beginner must think of himself as of one setting out to make a garden in which the Lord is to take His delight, yet in soil most unfruitful and full of weeds. His Majesty uproots the weeds and will set good plants in their stead. Let us suppose that this is already done — that a soul has resolved to practice prayer and has already begun to do so. We have now, by God‘s help, like good gardeners, to make these plants grow, and to water them carefully, so that they may not perish, but may produce flowers which shall send forth great fragrance to give refreshment to this Lord of ours, so that He may often come into the garden to take His pleasure and have His delight among these virtues.

 

Living in rural America, having planted a few gardens, Teresa’s words make so much sense to me.  We all know that when a new seed is placed in the soil, there is so much more nurturing and care needed to assure the success of that seed reaching maturity and producing quality fruit.

Let us now consider how this garden can be watered, so that we may know what we have to do, what labour it will cost us, if the gain will outweigh the labour and for how long this labour must be borne. It seems to me that the garden can be watered in four ways: by taking the water from a well, which costs us great labour; or by a water-wheel and buckets, when the water is drawn by a windlass (I have sometimes drawn it in this way: it is less laborious than the other and gives more water); or by a stream or a brook, which waters the ground much better, for it saturates it more thoroughly and there is less need to water it often, so that the gardener‘s labour is much less; or by heavy rain, when the Lord waters it with no labour of ours, a way incomparably better than any of those which have been described.

 

Tending one’s faith development is an individual’s job, but it is also the responsibility of the Christian family.  Just like seeds carefully planted in rich, black soil or seeds randomly dropped in gravel, new Christians need ‘gardening’ to produce the best fruits.  Teresa of Avila compares us to gardeners gifted with knowledge and skills to nurture the seeds of faith:

And now I come to my point, which is the application of these four methods of watering by which the garden is to be kept fertile, for if it has no water it will be ruined. It has seemed possible to me in this way to explain something about the four degrees of prayer to which the Lord, of His goodness, has occasionally brought my soul. May He also of His goodness grant me to speak in such a way as to be of some profit to one of the persons who commanded me to write this book,108 whom in four months the Lord has brought to a point far beyond that which I have reached in seventeen years. He prepared himself better than I, and thus his garden, without labour on his part, is watered by all these four means, though he is still receiving the last watering only drop by drop; such progress is his garden making that soon, by the Lord‘s help, it will be submerged. It will be a pleasure to me for him to laugh at my explanation if he thinks it foolish.

 

She continues metaphor of the gardener explaining how prayer is part of the gardening process. She sees prayer as the water that provides the most basic nourishment needed to sustain life.

. . . And God is so good that when, for reasons known to His Majesty, perhaps to our great advantage, He is pleased that the well should be dry, we, like good gardeners, do all that in us lies, and He keeps the flowers alive without water and makes the virtues grow. By water here I mean tears — or, if there be none of these, tenderness and an interior feeling of devotion.

 

As gardeners and farmers, we all can sense that ultimate joy as the harvest begins and the fruits are gathered.  We see the evidence of how well we did our job nurturing that first seed we dropped into the pillow-soft dirt.  Consider how God looks upon us as we continue to nurture our own faith.  He has watched as we faced all of life’s weeds and disasters.  Yet, he also guided us through those experiences by providing us the Holy Spirit to be with us at all times.

Teresa of Avila tended her garden of convents and Christian communities with the care provided by the Holy Spirit.  Her theology is mystical, which Wesley Wildman defines as “the mystical ascent of the soul to God,” but her work was earthly.

Mother Teresa, baptized Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, is one of those Holy Spirit filled gardeners of the 20th century. I found Mother Teresa’s poem “Do It Anyway” that includes advice for God’s gardeners today:

People are often unreasonable,
illogical and self-centered;
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind,
people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful,
you will win some false friends and true enemies;
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank,
people may cheat you;
Be honest anyway.

What you spend years building,
someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness,
they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today,
people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have,
and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis,
it is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway.

Today, Mothers Day 2013, let us follow the practice of mothers throughout time.  Let us be gardeners to all children in God’s garden.

Closing prayer:

Dear Master Gardener,

As we tend our own personal gardens,

let us serve to nurture others

who need to learn more about their faith.

As we continue to weed out the un-Christian

thoughts and practices in our lives,

guide us in help others keep their own lives weeded.

As we learn more about nurturing our faith,

provide us your guidance through the Holy Spirit

so the harvest of faithful followers exceeds expectations.

Amen.

[Citation note:  The excerpt from Teresa of Avila’s autobiography was accessed on May 11, 21013 at http://www.intratext.com/IXT/ENG0032/_PI.HTM. ]

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Rule No. 2: Do good. Based on Rueben P. Job’s Three Simple Rules

given on Sunday, September 16, 2012–the third sermon in a 4-sermon series.

Scripture reference:  Matthew 25:31-46

“Do good.”  These two little words seem so rational, so logical; yet these two words have completely propelled John Wesley’s theology to a worldwide movement of caring Christians for over four centuries.  Parents have long used a similar warning to children:  “Be good.”  Yet, the idea that is ‘rule no. 2’ rather gnaws at me.  Why is it the second and not the first rule?

Looking back at rule no. 1: “Do no harm.”  I returned to the Book of Discipline: 2008, paragraph 103Remember the list of what not to do?  The list is rather lengthy and incorporates almost every vice one could possibly have:

  • taking the name of God in vain;
  • profaning the day of the Lord, either by doing ordinary work. . .or by buying or selling;
  • slaveholding;
  • fighting, quarreling, brawling, brother going to law with brother, returning evil for evil, or railing for railing, the using of many words in buying or selling [does that mean false advertising];
  • buying or selling goods that have not paid the duty [taxes];
  • giving or taking things on usury, i.e., unlawful interest [pawn brokers, pay day loans, etc.];
  • uncharitable or unprofitable conversation. . .;
  • doing to others aw we would not they should do unto us;
  • doing what we know is not for the glory of God, as [and then the next list is listed equal to the above]:
  • putting on of gold and costly apparel;
  • taking such diversions as cannot be used in the name of the Lord Jesus [Does this mean methods of relaxing such as gambling, pornography, etc.—there is no defining explanation provided];
  • singing or reading. . .which do not tend to the knowledge or love of God;
  • softness and needless self-indulgence;
  • laying up treasure upon earth; and
  • borrowing . . . or taking . . . without probability of paying for them.

Such a list leaves very little left to say, doesn’t it?  Yet that is a list of what not to do because it causes harm—according on the standards of the 1700’s culture.  Does it apply to today’s culture, too?

This is where the switch from rule no. 1 to rule no. 2 seems to make the most sense for today’s society.  Many of us can look at that list and confirm that we are not doing harm, yet there are a few entries that I find make me squirm a bit.

For instance, the blue laws long prevented our society from buying on Sunday.  The blue laws kept not just a few items from being purchased, but all the stores were closed on Sunday because it truly was deemed the Lord’s Day.  Then the blue laws were repealed.  Stores began to open, first the grocery stores with all the liquor covered up.  Then the other stores began opening for a few hours, and now—now almost every store for every product is open for business as usual seven days a week.

I squirm because I lived through that change in our society.  I squirm because I shop on Sundays, too.  Am I doing harm?  Am I doing good?

Social standards can certainly challenge us in maintaining our own personal standards.  John Wesley ignored social standards and drove forward doing good.  We can hear his quote echoing in our head when just one phrase is heard:  do all the good you can.

Looking at the second rule’s explanation in the Book of Discipline, Wesley’s standards for his culture still can apply to our standards today:

By doing good; by being in every kind merciful after their power; as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all men:

The general notes continue outlining the various methods of doing good.  The words echo the scripture in Matthew 25:  . . .by giving food to the hungry, by clothing the naked, by visiting or helping them that are sick or in prison.  Compare them to the words from Matthew 25:35–

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

Wesley went straight to the words of Jesus to explain exactly what doing good is.  Then he went to the next phase of doing good.  He expanded on meeting the needs of the body to meeting the needs of the souls:  . . . instructing, reproving, or exhorting all we have any intercourse with [or interaction with]; trampling under foot that enthusiastic doctrine that “we are not to do good unless our hearts be free of it.”

Doing good also means teaching about how to do good.  Part of our responsibility is to continue teaching about God and the New Covenant.  We are to find ways of sharing with others how God’s grace is available for everybody.  We are to encourage the spreading of the Word.

I think the troubling phrase is that final clause:  trampling under foot that enthusiastic doctrine that “we are not to do good unless our hearts be free to it.”  I have struggled to understand that clause.  Remember these are words from the 18th century that Wesley wrote himself.  Language evolves continually.  Reading it over and over again, looking for better understanding, I finally caught it:  “we are not to do good unless our hearts be free to it.”

         Suddenly it made sense to me.  Wesley wants us to take self out of the equation.  If we do not feel, in our hearts, that a plea for doing something is not in line with what God taught us, then we are simply not to do it.

Doing good sometimes means not doing something, especially if it is not in God’s teachings.  If we do not find a doctrine to fit into God’s commandment to love one another, then we are to trample it under our feet.  We should speak out against it so others do no harm or are not harmed.

Yet Wesley did not stop.  He wanted us to consider different ways to do good and this is a challenge for us in the 21st global, technological, instant society.  He proposed that we do good by:

  • employing them [the faithful] preferably to others; buying [from the faithful]; and . . . helping each other in business;
  • By all possible diligence and frugality, that the gospel be not blamed.
  • By running with patience. . . ; denying themselves, and taking up their cross daily; submitting to bear the reproach of Christ . . . for the Lord’s sake.

Doing good takes discipline.  Doing good takes a strong set of shoulders to handle all the ridicule and put downs that others may throw at us.  Doing good takes practice until it becomes an automatic response, an internalized lifestyle.

Mother Teresa was certainly a living example of rule no. 2:  Do good.  While sitting at the Cowan Restaurant in Washington, MO, we discovered the words written up on the wall visible to all who entered the door:

“People are often unreasonable and self-centered.

     Forgive them anyway.


If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives.

     Be kind anyway.


If you are honest, people may cheat you.

     Be honest anyway.


If you find happiness, people may be jealous.

     Be happy anyway.


The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow.

     Do good anyway.


Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough.

     Give your best anyway.


For you see, in the end, it is between you and God.

It was never between you and them anyway.”

Consider how many individuals can see those words any one day, any one week, any one month, or even any one year.  A few words that demonstrate one’s solid belief system can simply be doing good, instructing others in God’s grace, in the Golden Rule, and in discipleship.

  • Doing good never grows old.
  • Doing good is easy—especially if not doing harm.
  • Doing good is a lifestyle.
  • Doing good is mirroring Christ.
  • Doing good is even a small, tiny task.
  • Doing good is in every hug, every greeting, every morsel we cook for others.
  • Doing good is recycling and caring for the land.
  • Doing good is hosting others in good, clean fun.
  • Doing good is as big as you want to make it or as small as one simple pat on the back.

Last week I shared how our director spoke with our students about how just doing a tiny bit of good somewhere, somehow meant we were doing our part.

In this 21st century society, doing good should be simple.  Doing good in our homes, our communities, our counties, our states, and our country is now doing good anywhere around this globe.  We do not exist in isolation any more.  We exist, shoulder to shoulder, with any one individual anywhere on this globe thanks to our instant communication.

As we depart today, take Jesus’ commission seriously.  Practice Wesley’s methods of doing no harm and doing good.  We must understand that these two rules are critical in every setting there is.  We must consciously practice them in order to transform the world.           The exciting thing is we know that we can do anything with God.  Paul knew it too:  Philippians 4:13—I can do everything through him who gives me strength.  (NRSV)   No matter how small or how seemingly unimportant one act is, with the power of the Holy Spirit, the potential for transformation is infinite.

Dear Omnipotent, All-knowing God,

You know our every action and thought. 

You know each one’s pain and sorrow.

Guide us to do good in any way that we can.

Guide us to see how doing good transforms.

Thank you for your grace, your love, and your forgiveness.

Thank you for sending your son Jesus Christ to show us the way.

Thank you for filling us up with the Holy Spirit so we can do good.

Thank you for your servant John Wesley who opened hearts, minds,

         and hands to do good.

Thank you, too, for Mother Teresa and others in this world today

         who simply do.  –Amen.

 

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