2 Systems – Love or Alienation…

One of my favourite U2 songs is, ‘When Love Comes to Town.’  It speaks of the before and after of the transformative experience of love.  It is a love that comes to us from beyond and bursts into our lives with power to transform.  Eyes, mind, hearts open to a new view of the world and life through the power of love.  The words are:

I was a sailor, I was lost at sea/I was under the waves/Before love rescued me
I was a fighter, I could turn on a thread/Now I stand accused of the things I’ve said

Love comes to town I’m gonna jump that train/
When love comes to town I’m gonna catch that flame
Maybe I was wrong to ever let you down/But I did what I did before love came to town

I used to make love under a red sunset/I was making promises I was soon to forget
She was pale as the lace of her wedding gown/
But I left her standing before love came to town

I ran into a juke joint when I heard a guitar scream/
The notes were turning blue, I was dazing in a dream
As the music played I saw my life turn around/That was the day before love came to town

When love comes to town I’m gonna jump that train/
When love comes to town I’m gonna catch that flame
Maybe I was wrong to ever let you down/But I did what I did before love came to town

I was there when they crucified my Lord/
I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword
I threw the dice when they pierced his side/But I’ve seen love conquer the great divide

When love comes to town I’m gonna catch that train/
When love comes to town I’m gonna catch that flame
Maybe I was wrong to ever let you down/But I did what I did before love came to town

When love comes to town…  Love has a transformative power to change us in ways that we can’t always imagine.  Love, whether romantic love that swirls through us breaking open our ego boundaries, or the overwhelming love we experience when we look into the eyes of a baby, realising the vulnerability, dependency and sheer wonder of this new life, transforms.  There is a love that surrounds us when we stand before absolute wonder and want to express our sense of awe and delight.  It is mysterious and wondrous.

There is love that we experience when we stand before another person sharing their pain or experience in vulnerability and we suddenly understand more deeply, something of this human being before us.  We feel the inspiring hope in a wonderful story that lifts us and carries us into another place, another world that seems and feels different.  It is this love that lies at the heart of Jesus’ words and actions and his invitation into deeper living, in the life of love itself, the Trinity of Love.  This is the experience that lies at the heart of Paul’s powerful and passionate words that echo through the New Testament.  He experienced the inbreaking apocalypse of love on the road to Damascus.  Paul (or Saul as he was then) breathed fire and brimstone, an agenda of persecution towards the Christians he saw as heretics that were bringing down the law, the holy and wondrous law that was the heart and soul of his life.  Saul was fanatical about the law given to Moses.  It was a belief system that held him tight and he sought to protect it with everything he was. 

On the road to Damascus to round up Christians and imprison them, love came to town for Saul.  A blinding light and a voice broke through him with apocalyptic intensity and turned hi life around.  The passionate defender of law was overwhelmed by love and grace and became the tireless missionary of love, grace and the way of Christ in the Reign of God.  He gave everything to this mission and his passion, hope, joy and journey into the depths of love ring through in his words and life.

This week I have been challenged by Paul’s words in Romans 6 (12-23), where we delve into the middle of a strenuous argument by Paul about the dangers of allowing sin free reign in our lives.  Much of his language jars in a modern world where the haranguing of fire and brimstone preachers and the like have made sin a word we avoid through deep misunderstanding.  Sin, as Paul recognises, is that which leads us into alienation with others, the world beyond, God and ourselves.  Commentator, Bill Loader says:

“It is in the light of entering this new life with its dynamic generation of love and goodness that Paul now declares: so don’t let yourself be ruled by the competing system which generates sin. Paul sees sins as the fruit of relationships with God which have gone wrong resulting in alienation from God, from others and from ourselves. When we enter the new life with its new possibilities the old patterns and systems do not shut down. The destructive ruts and routines are still there. Paul is saying: you don’t have to surrender to them because the new life can lift you beyond them. In 6:12 he identifies them as having their roots in our human bodies, in particular in our appetites. In this he shares the views of many of his time. For Paul the body is not evil; nor are its desires, but when we allow our lives to be determined by satisfying our cravings without any thought for the consequences for ourselves or others – whether that is as unsophisticated as sexual abuse or as sophisticated as ripping off the developing world through hogging wealth and resources – then we are caught up into a power network which produces destructive behaviour. Paul is thinking about two different systems: sin and death on the one side and goodness and love on the other.”

Paul speaks of 2 systems that are at work in our world.  One system is grounded in love and generosity and reflects the generosity and love of God.  It is characterised by forgiveness, mercy, compassion and justice.  It is inclusive and liberating, inviting us to look (and move!) beyond self into a world of wonder, beauty and life. The other system is characterised by sin and the ‘death’ that ensues when we are alienated.  There are signs of this all around us as people cling to their belief systems that are related to wealth, power, and celebrity.  The addictive strands of our lives that elevate ordinary things to idols we give ourselves to until they rule our lives and we find ourselves enslaved – gambling, perverted sex, lust for money and power, ideologies and politics that are hate-filled…

Paul speaks of being slaves – either to love in God or to sin and the alienation that ensues.  One is a liberating ‘slavery’ that finds liberation as we allow ourselves to be drawn into the depths of love.  The other path is desperate and often despairing as we find our lives out of balance and alienated from others, the earth and ourselves – and God.  This alienation is everywhere around us – suicide, climate change, racism and war.  Everywhere around, but often missed is the embrace of love and grace and the invitation to life!

By geoffstevenson

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