Why are we here? For the sake of the other and for Christ’s sake.
This year something unusual happened for the first time at the Olympics, and I found it imaginative and moving. The International Olympic Committee, in response to the current realities faced by people displaced by war and without a homeland, created a team for “refugees.” What a representation of hope.
What struck me was that the crowds of spectators seemed to embrace these runners, swimmers, and judokas. Cheering for these landless athletes they added them seamlessly to their own national interest.
There’s something here for us to reflect on as believers. Although we are particular to place, a geography, a landscape and a people, we also are called to lift our eyes up, to see beyond our own interests and serve the interests of others. To mirror Jesus’ life and death so that all may know that Jesus is Lord because they experience Jesus’ self-same love for others at any cost reflected in us.
The Christian experience of being “in but not of” the world—of belonging but also longing for another homeland—is striking. In what way do we live out our faith in this increasingly globalized world of ours? How do we live out who we are as beloved children of God? How do we illustrate that our citizenship is beyond the borders of our own nations, recognizing that we are first God’s and only then from our own place of birth, or habitation?
We are an international church. What does it mean that we are conjoined in faith with sisters and brothers from around the world? What might it mean that we are part of a shared humanity of people who are not the same as us, but are nevertheless like us? Why might that seem important for Nazarenes?
God so loved the world
From the creation of the world: God loves. From the crafting of people from the earth and breathing life: God loves.
From the declaration that people are created in the image of God, we are reminded that God longs and yearns for people to be fully God’s. All people. And, from the first sending of people into the world God appears to be compelling, cajoling, and commanding people to be fruitful, to bear witness, to bless others, to live in such a way that the nations of the world can see who God is. So that God’s shalom—utter wholeness and peace—can be discovered in each person, each generation, across the globe.
Of course, this is God’s delight.
- From calling Abraham and Sarah to be the parents of nations
- To Jonah’s call to the Ninevites to return to their senses and repent
- From the prophets who pleaded on behalf of the oppressed
- To Jesus who went to Samaria
- To cemeteries and to the heart of the establishment with a counter-cultural message of freedom
- To Paul who reached out to the Gentiles with good news and, when starvation hit a community, relentlessly collected money internationally to supply its people with food.
All of this culminated in John’s vision from God in Revelation—where all nations are gathered before the throne: God seeks to demonstrate one truth.
God so loved the world.
And such seeking is matched by God’s relentless quest for people to have life in all its possible abundance.
In our globalized world, what does that mean? How does abundance of life address the starvation, thirst, war, famine, violence, pain, and suffering that march across our airwaves and Internet newsfeeds (and which we shy away from when we drive past homeless people in soiled clothes crouched with cardboard signs at traffic lights)?
Perhaps this abundant life means recognizing that we are called not to a distant compassion toward others but rather to a personal, embodied compassion. One that involves
- meeting eye-to-eye
- learning names
- hearing stories
- listening to need
- paying attention to one another
- sharing life together
- serving one another in the table community of Jesus that we know as church
Perhaps this compassion, this love, means not making people, created in the image of God, our enemies. Maybe it means that, in spite of the news cycles, politicians’ rhetoric, or our own experiences, we refuse to reject, label, despise or, worse, fear them. Possibly it means disciplining ourselves to mercy: refusing—even in the protected encasement of our own heads and souls—to look down on others for any reason and instead loving them as we would love ourselves.
It means speaking as advocates—prophets—declaring God’s judgment upon (for example) modern-day slavery (21 million people are enslaved today), or polluted water wells (one child dies every 21 seconds from water-related sanitation diseases), or starvation (about 21,000 people die daily of hunger).
I wonder if you spotted the problem with the previous paragraphs? Surely there can be no “maybe,” “possibly,” or “perhaps.” Instead, it must be that we begin to hear, recognize, and embody the reality that holiness and deep, hope-filled compassion are at the heart of who we are. We lift our eyes, we attune our ears, we allow Jesus’ pulse to beat in our veins and we open our hearts to the aching of the world around us.
Seeking the welfare of the city by aligning ourselves with others who passionately believe that building houses, straightening roads, growing harvests that feed the families and drinking water from clean wells is a gift God has wanted for people since the beginning of His story. Realizing that God’s deepest shalom is a blessing and a hope—for all people, all nations, all.
For the people called Nazarene, deep in our souls, our very essence as a people is that we hear God’s special calling to be open to those around us in need—here beside us, and in the (not-so-distant?) other lands.
The reality is, in the twenty-first century, such openness will be both local—in my street and yours—and global. We are interconnected, interwoven. The literal fabric of my clothes, the overabundance of my flesh, the water flushed down my drains, the food that I so easily reject as imperfect, somehow linked with the tailors of clothes, producers of food, underground aquifers and rivers that flow to the sea, growers for harvest—we are both global and local.
My life and yours are connected. Your life touches mine. How will it do that? For good, or for ill, for better, or for worse, we are called to be in covenant with the God who calls us to be in covenant with God for the sake of the world.
A blessing to the nations
What does that mean for our vision for justice, for our understanding of holiness, for our acts of mercy? We are stirred to cultivate an imagination beyond the doorsteps of our own lives. We are encouraged to acknowledge that the world beyond our borders matters—that its people are God’s: named, known, beloved, longed for, yearned for. We are motivated to realize that in countless small acts our lives touch those of others.
In countless small acts . . . our lives touch those of others.
God’s people are to be a blessing to the nations. God’s holy people are a holy-loving community that exists for the sake of the other, for the sake of the not-yet-us-but-nevertheless-beloved.
May we be a blessing, humble to hear from others, not acting on them, but hearing, discerning, and joining in with God’s called people, to declare over the world that Jesus is love.
Deirdre Brower Latz is principal and senior lecturer in pastoral and social theology at Nazarene Theological College in Manchester, England.