Will there be church in heaven? We were doing my favorite thing, talking over a meal finished, lingering at table.
I don’t know, I replied, if there is, we wouldn’t be able to screw it up. Screwing up church is what we do here. But there will be Jesus.
Yeah, that’ll make the difference. She smiles.
Dining on Divine Love
I looked at her and realized that she’s a generational Christian, like me, like my mother before me. I grew up on the Word and she has, too. But, I think that though the ingredients set out in the feast may be the same, perhaps the preparation is different.
I was raised in a conservative Christian home, leaning fundamental, but not Baptist. I learned the Four Spiritual Laws, I had (thanks to Christian schools) numerous Love, Sex & Dating talks, I had opportunities to burn my books and music tapes (remember those?), I had many, many opportunities to repent, recommit. I memorized passages of scripture, I devised complicated lies about where I went on Friday nights, I signed up for mission projects, I French kissed boys at camp.
I was a cultural Christian if there ever was one. But I wonder now, as I’ve had years to disentangle myself from the conflicted thoughts wound round me, when did I begin to respond to perfect love? My world was crafted of many dos and don’ts, because that made things safe, made me good; my world was framed by John 3:16 and Ephesians 2:8-9 and 1 John 1:9; my world was driven on the parallel tracks of guilt and grace. (Let me say here that I treasure the instruction I received and understand that my parents, like me, are flawed but committed and caring.) And all this “right” got me terribly stuck. Being right always trumped relationship. I grew terrified of being wrong (think bad, stupid, misinformed) and craved righteousness.
And I wonder. When did I respond to perfect love? When did I choose to balance my life on the single rail of grace, stepping tentatively forward without guilt? When did I stop striving and raging and hitting the pillow, exhausted?
And have I fully? Am I partaking in the feast of love ever before me or do I nibble at guilt, the what-ifs and the woulds, coulds and shoulds, the maybes and the may nots?
To be honest, a feast of love seems too indulgent, too extravagant for this earth-bound girl’s palate. Shouldn’t I work, prove, strive, beg for crumbs?
And I hear the words spoken slowly, spreading like melted butter on a thick wedge of toast:
Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! (1 John 3:1)
Oh, what manner. Full-calorie, rich, dense, never-ending, complete.
I found perfect love when the right and wrong ceased to be the main course of my life and I found myself realizing I needed Jesus–and his love. Because sure, he taught revolutionary truth (Matthew 5-7), he healed and fed and died and rose again, but he loved in and all through every little thing he did.
No one will find Jesus in the church or out of the church
or in a debate or on the streets or in my home
unless they are first invited over for perfect love.
One scan of a HuffPost comment stream on Facebook will show you that the world is good at judging. Sometimes the remarks fatigue and appall me with anger and short-sightedness and their final gavel-like slams of condemnation. Do we want to add to that, Christian? How many souls are being reached with transformative love when we debate ecumenical issues? Do we really need to fling our opinions about and join the fray or can we just simply walk in love and grace, toward truth, toward the ever-inviting feast of love, welcoming others we meet along the way?
Not that we should be love-hippies, Jesus followers who drop the acid of the gospel to find a fix, gluttons at the feast. That’s not what I suggest. But what I gently offer is this: whatever big things or small things we have before us to do today, might we do them with great love?
Wiping that toddler’s boogie nose for the four-hundredth time, typing a proposal, waiting at the tire store, paying the bills—most of our lives are spent in the menial, mundane. But we can love large in the everyday menial moments. Perhaps your work takes you into greater spheres of influence: you teach, you lead, you surgically repair bodies, you save lives on the highway, you fly overseas to save children.
Is love the heartbeat of your work, your day, your everyday?
Can we, Christian I’m talking to us, the ones full to the hilt on the gospel, one church potluck away from spiritual gastritis, can we exist as Jesus did, loving God the Father loving others, walking, talking, listening lovers?
I cannot outsmart the scientist or philosophize the philosopher. I am only me: a woman who wants to love large and serve heaping plates of grace with a side of warm friendship at my table. It may seem insignificant; perhaps I settled for less than what I could have been.
But everyone needs to eat. Everyone needs a friend.
Everyone needs grace. Everyone needs love. My Father told me so. And if it wasn’t above his job description to love, then it certainly is good enough for me.
My daughter wonders about church, about her place in the church and the church’s place in the world, about the life that lays before her, vast and unplanned, an infinite plain of opportunity. She wonders. But then she turns to the task before her: college and those 28 textbooks she’ll be working through this semester.
I offer coffee and turn on the grinder, set the kettle on the burner and listen and talk and love. We’ll balance on the rail called grace and take tentative steps toward truth and we’ll eat love on the way.
That’s the meal. We can take it to go, box it up, serve it on fancy china but let’s make it be love, rich and satisfying and divine.
Can we remember it’s all cooked up, served up and gobbled up in love?
1Peter 1:3-9 (NLT)
By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence.
And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.
In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.
The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But those who fail to develop in this way are shortsighted or blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their old sins.