There’s a story that I have shared in the nursing home services I have done over the last 3 weeks. It is about a father and daughter at home one night when a thunder storm blows up. The man is sitting downstairs when the first flashes of lightning light up the night and rolls of thunder echo through the house. He immediately thinks of his young daughter in bed and how she will be scared. He runs up the stairs to her bedroom expecting her to be anxious and afraid. He looks to her bed and it is empty. As lightning flares in the sky he realises that his daughter is standing on the window frame, spreadeagled across the glass pane. He shouts, ‘Jennifer, what are you doing?’ She excitedly glances over he shoulder and says, ‘I think God wants to take my photo.’
I think that this girl has a really healthy sense of who she is before God – loved and adored. For her to think that God wants to take her photo is for her to know God as one who loves unconditionally and generously. She has no doubts about how God loves her! I think this something quite profound and even unusual. I wonder if you and I have such a high view and understanding of God’s complete love for each of us, personally and individually, and as a people together.
I wonder, if we all had this sense of being so deeply and profoundly loved by the Love at the heart of the universe from which all else flowed; how would things change for us? How might we be and live differently? How would we hear the news of the day or engage with other people? Would we continue on in self-doubt or with those twinges of envy or even pessimism about life? Would we find ourselves stressed by the need to get ahead, achieve, be successful (however that is measured) or by a sense of competition with others?
Perhaps, in recognising we are so deeply and profoundly loved by God, there is nothing else we need because everything falls into place under that. Of course we need the fundamental things in life – food, water, shelter, relationships… In the broader reality of life, perhaps the recognition that we are God’s ‘beloved children’ might lead us into a new freedom that enables us to rise above our fears, our uncertainties and insecurities. It will deliver us from the need to compete or compare ourselves with others. I am me and you are you and we are both significant people, gifted by God and beautiful in our own right. I don’t need to dominate you and you don’t need to dominate me – if either of us tries, it will be like water off a duck’s back. But only if we have our own sense of security in place, where there is depth, truth and Love at its purest reality.
When we are released from the sense of having to prove ourselves – to ourselves or others – and can enjoy our sense of being we become more attuned to the world around and its beauty and wonder. We will be able to see and breathe and live amidst the beauty of God’s world and recognise the sacred and holy in our midst. In a world where commercial realities and material values dominate, the spiritual and larger reality of love is often subdued or rejected. We live as if the immediate and physical is all important and that results and success are vital to our well-being and the life of the world.
There is another reality, one we have explored through these reflections. Over the last few weeks we have explored parts of Matthew’s ‘Sermon of the Mount’. Surprisingly, this eloquent teaching of Jesus lifts us into a new place where virtues such as poverty of spirit, mercy, mourning, peacemaking, purity of heart, hunger for that which is just and right, humility and even persecution for doing the right thing are lifted as virtues that are blessed by God. The little ones of the world – salt of the earth people – are lifted up as examples of those who live in the way of God. Over and against the powerful, wealthy elites who are usually lauded and praised, the little, impoverished ones are those who display this new set of qualities that arise from the heart of God.
In this week’s continuation of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:38-48) invites us to live into a new and higher way than that which dominates (and has dominated) our world. Where violence and retaliation impose themselves in human life, Jesus invites us to rise above that way of being. Instead of living in the stressful, overwhelming and restraining state of bitterness and hatred, we are invited to love enemies and pray for those who hate us. In confusing earlier verses Jesus invites us into a way of standing up against injustice and those who would dominate but to do it through a non-violent stance that exposes the reality of the injustice. Turning the cheek, walking the extra mile and stripping naked are ways of exposing the bully – in first century culture. Turning the other cheek means that the bully will not be able to back hand you as an inferior with the right hand. An open-handed strike, which it invites means he is treating you as an equal. Being forced to carry a Roman soldier’s pack for a mile was allowed but further was not legal and he could get into trouble. If someone sued you to take the outer cloak used to keep warm at night, take off everything and make the claim they are taking all you own. To make another naked was shameful (see http://www.cpt.org/files/BN%20-%20Jesus’%20Third%20Way.pdf for more insight into these meanings).
Jesus concludes this section by inviting us to ‘be perfect, as God is perfect.’ This is not actually an injunction to perfection but to live into our God-given identity. Another translation reads: “You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity.” In other words, we are to recognise that we are created in God’s image and are profoundly loved by and embraced by God. This identity is a higher and deeper calling and a liberating way in a world of that seeks to reduce us to something smaller. Instead of being dominated by other expectations, discriminations and fears of failure or guilt, we are to lived lives grounded in love that sets us free.
We are free to love others, whether they are friend or foe because they have no power over us. We are free to see through the lies and deception of the powers and find ourselves alive in God.