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Apr21ThuAs people of the cross, with our own failures and weaknesses, yet forgiven, accepted and loved by God, we will give each others room to grow and mature in the grace of Christ. April 21, 2011 by Major Doreen Sturge
Recently I gave my friend a gift on which was written, “Friends are the family we choose.” What a wonderful gift is our circle of friends! We get to choose them but not family members. We are born into families and have to learn to live together. Sometimes this is painful. We may find it difficult to love Uncle Joe but there he is at the Thanksgiving table. He shows up at every family gathering. Wholesome families have learned to value each other in spite of personal idiosyncrasies and shortcomings.
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A Community Formed at the Cross
The Gospel of John says that “When Jesus saw his mother [at the cross] and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, 'Dear woman, here is your son', and to the disciple, 'Here is your mother'. From that time on, this disciple took her into his home” (John 19:26-27). Though experiencing excruciating pain, Jesus thought of the future well-being of his mother. He was the eldest son who needed to provide for her. He did not commit Mary to the care of his remaining brothers who had not believed in him as the Son of God (John 7:5) but to John, his beloved follower. And he gave John to Mary.
Commentators Richard Bauckham and Trevor Hart state the implication of Jesus' action: “Just as Jesus' mother and [John] would not otherwise have been related had not Jesus at his death brought them together and charged them with being mother and son to each other, so the Church is the community of people who would not otherwise be related, but whom the crucified Jesus brings together, forging new relationships through his death for us.” All followers of Jesus are brothers and sisters. This fellowship, forged by the blood of Jesus, sometimes results in relationships that are deeper and richer than those experienced by blood relations.
A Loving Community
Years later, John wrote to the wider church community, emphasizing that the cross of Jesus expresses sacrificial love (I John 4:17-21). It is the practical demonstration of Calvary love that builds authentic Christian community and brings others into the kingdom of God. Though we are the fellowship of God's redeemed people, self-interest can still be an obstacle to the loving unity necessary to be a winsome Christian fellowship that demonstrates the love of God. “God is love” (1 John 4:16). But what does that love look like? “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another” (3:16). Ouch! That might be a challenge even within our own homes, let alone in the Church. Yet, we are called to display the characteristics of our Father God by laying down our lives for each another.
Calvary love became a prominent theme in the correspondence sent to the various communities of the cross that sprung up after Jesus' resurrection: “… In Christ, we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others…. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:5, 10). “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.... Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each another. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 4:2, 32; 5:21).
Members of the community of the cross may need to let go of their wants, their dreams, their agendas. Stubbornness and pride, insisting on doing things “my way,” vying for position and being impatient with one another, speaking words that hurt—all reflect a need for God's family-building love. As people of the cross, with our own failures and weaknesses, yet forgiven, accepted and loved by God, we will give each others room to grow and mature in the grace of Christ.
An Embracing Community
In his book, Building People through a Caring, Sharing Fellowship, Pastor Don Bubna tells how he learned the supreme importance of Calvary love in church life. Bubna agreed to build a new Alliance Church in San Diego, California. George, a member of the church and a carpenter by trade who had been deeply hurt through the breakdown of his marriage, was asked to be the builder. George and Pastor Don worked side by side, sometimes praying together. George grew spiritually, was reconciled to his wife and they remarried. However, one evening, George informed Pastor Don that he and his wife were looking for a new church with a different slant to its preaching. “You teach right doctrine, but you don't emphasize the grace of God enough,” said George. The pastor felt devastated by this judgment, the loss of a hard worker and a close personal friend. Time passed. They would occasionally meet around town, but pastor Don put no pressure on George to return to the church.
One day, when the church had a guest speaker, George and his wife decided to attend. It was like a homecoming. They were hugged and warmly welcomed. Many told them how they were missed. They came back another time. Eventually George met the pastor for coffee and before they parted said, “Do you know what I think is most important in the church? Doctrine is important, but one thing more so—love. We feel loved by these people. We're coming back.”
If God loves all the peoples of the world (John 3:16), it follows that we who are his representatives in the world, must also be an embracing community. When trouble comes: sickness, death, job loss, and family disintegration; when people fail morally in making wrong choices—there is one place where they should be able to find people who will show love, compassion and the grace of God: in the community of the cross. May God help us to be that kind of church family.