The Radical Love of Christ

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

This post was originally given as a Sacrament Meeting talk in early 2019. I'm sharing it here because 1. I'm very proud of it, and 2. almost a year after writing it, I'm still inspired by it.

Yes, its true. 
I'm big enough to admit that I'm often inspired by myself. #leslieknope

Now that you've heard my terrible opening joke, on to the real post! Enjoy.
...

In his October 2018 General Conference address, David A. Bednar teaches “The gospel of Jesus Christ provides the greatest perspective of truth and offers the richest blessings as we heed the admonition of Paul to ‘gather together in one all things in Christ’.”

When I think of Jesus Christ, many words pop into my mind.

love
service
forgiveness
example

But what I would like to share with you today is how my understanding and implementation of Paul’s admonition to “gather together all things into Christ” is shaped by the Savior’s example of radical love.

What makes the love of Christ so radical? I believe it is because of its unflinching availability to all.

If we look to the scriptures, we will find countless examples to explore.
Who did Jesus exclude from his love and forgiveness?

Not a blind man,
not an “unclean” woman with an issue of blood.
not a Samaritan woman at a well,
not a tax collector,
nor the fishermen who became some of his closest friends.
Not a woman with a thousand devils,
not even
the gentile woman 
begging for blessing-crumbs for her daughter.
Not the Savior’s sleeping companions
nor the Roman soldier with a missing ear come to take Him away.
Not even the fearful denials of a friend.

Christ commands us to both abide in and invite all into the experience of his love and forgiveness because he knows a fundamental truth of the origin of man. The countenance of the Divine is in every one of us. Author C.S. Lewis wrote, 

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship… There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.”



In essence, if we want to see the face of God, we need look no further than across our neighborhood streets, no further than the walls of this room. Indeed, look no further than even the faces sitting next to us now. We honor our shared divinity by first honoring it in ourselves. We do this by claiming the radical love of the Savior and the forgiveness from his atonement. We then honor it in others by proclaiming this good news to everyone we meet, much like the woman caught in adultery. For are we all not caught and accused in some way, at one time or another? That is what it means to be mortal. Let us then offer, time and time again, a drawing in the sand and a blessing on all we meet.

Conversion


When I speak of “gathering all things one into Christ”, of course I am talking about conversion. But conversion to what?

Jean A. Stevens, a prior first counselor in the Primary General Presidency, teaches “The gospel of Jesus Christ is not a checklist of things to do, rather, it lives in our hearts.”

We become converted not to “read our scriptures, pray, come to church, eat the bread, drink the water.” These communions are important, surely, but not because we do them. Conversion is about why. We are not converted to “get baptized, be confirmed, receive the endowment, and be sealed.” Again, these ceremonies and the covenants we partake in are important, but it is not because we do them. It is about why. These practices are empty offerings without our hearts, our mind, might, and soul. They are empty without conversion. Not conversion to the events in the Sacred Grove, not to the Plan of Salvation or “forever families.”



Conversion must be to the source these beautiful practices and beliefs originate from - 

the radical, ceaseless, unconditional love of our Heavenly Parents and their son Jesus Christ, who is one in purpose with them

Or else our checklists,
our social media fasts,
our Book of Mormon challenges
are for naught.

Or, as Elder Bednar says, “Only as we gather together all things one into Christ, with firm focus upon Him, can gospel truths... enable us to become what God desires us to become… Our only objectives are to facilitate continuing conversion to the Lord and to love more completely and serve more effectively our brothers and sisters.”

Unity


Last year, the Relief Society in my Phoenix ward held a discussion about unity. When asked what unity meant to them, one woman answered, “togetherness”.

When the discussion went deeper, our facilitator asked, “How do we develop unity with our ward and our community?”

One woman answered, “We practice unity each time we take the sacrament.”

She continued, saying that the sacrament is a unifying covenant in two ways. It unifies us with the Savior, binding us to him both with our re-birth into the fold bearing his name and with our promise to bear witness of him always. Secondly, it unifies us with our community because it reminds us every week of the promises we made at baptism to mourn with and comfort one another.

Every week we participate in renewing those promises, both to God and to each other.

Ministry


What does it mean to mourn? 

Using the story of God weeping in the story of Enoch, Terryl and Fiona Givens, religion professors and co-authors of the book “The God Who Weeps”, perfectly illustrate what godly mourning looks like.

“Enoch asks God... “how is it that thou canst weep?” The answer, it turns out is that God is not exempt from emotional pain… He weeps because He feels compassion. It is not wickedness… but “misery”, not disobedience, but “suffering” that elicits the God of Heaven’s tears… There could be nothing... more perfectly good, absolutely beautiful, worthy of adoration, and deserving of emulation than this God of love and kindness and vulnerability.”

Let us not become blind or numb to the pain and suffering of the mortal condition. Let us instead allow ourselves to be vulnerable, to be broken open and therefore become a conduit of divine love.



What does it mean to comfort?

Comfort is ministry. That is the example Christ gives to us, and I am happy to see an increased focus on ministering both in our wards and our non-member communities.

Colossians 3: 12 & 14 provides guidance for the kind of ministering we are called to do. I read it and was struck by the tone of the verses, which strongly reminded me of the wording of scriptures about the armor of God. How would our approach to ministering change if we were to dress ourselves as outlined? “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.”
Again, those articles of ministry, if you will, are:
bowels of mercies - not just a singular mercy, but many -
kindness, 
humbleness of mind, 
meekness
longsuffering
and above all else
charity, which is
the pure, radical love of Christ.

Unless we are willing 
to succor and serve, 
to comfort and rejoice with, and
without condition, 
feed every hungry soul that comes to the table, 

we are proverbial tares,
not wheat.



Each week the sacrament unites us in the body of Christ. It should also prick our conscience. Each time we partake, we invite self examination, asking ourselves, 

“Am I fulfilling my first estate?”

I’m gonna be honest with you guys, like 80% of the time, I’m really not doing a great job. ‘Cause people are scary, ya know? And I’m just a little woman staying at home raising her two young kids, no college degree, no fancy letters before or after her name. Just your everyday lady, with a buncha books and houseplants, an OCD diagnosis, and a big heart.

A nobody.

But God begs to differ, so I put on my snow boots and put my big heart on my sleeve and I go out into this big scary world and do exactly what the second sister in my old Relief Society advised:

Have love and appreciation for our shared sameness.

When we practice opening our eyes and hearts to those around us, we begin to see all we share with those who seem very different to us. When we put aside our judgements, our fears, and our prejudices, we quickly see we are all woven with and by Love itself.

This practice equips us with a great and necessary spiritual gift: meekness, which Elder Bednar defines in separate talk as: “spiritual receptivity to learning from both the Holy Ghost and from people who may seem less capable, experienced, or educated, who may not hold important positions, or who otherwise appear not to have much to contribute.” Blessed are they that obtain it, for they shall inherit the earth.

Again, those articles of ministry I spoke of earlier:
bowels of mercies
kindness, 
humbleness of mind, 
meekness
longsuffering
and above all else
charity

remind us

the only people excluded from the radical love of Christ
were those who excluded themselves 
on matters of pride with stony hearts

and even still

his arms are open to them

like they are open to all of us

because we are one flock
with one shepherd

all things gathered into Christ.

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