he ability to love others for their own sake is a unique human freedom from self. It is true human freedom. We can gauge our ability to love, our inner freedom, by the markers that Jesus outlined for us.
To the degree that we are under the control of anger, self-deceit, envy, fear, greed, gluttony, lust, pride or sloth, loving others can only rise to a minimum level if at all. If we love only those who love us, we are still at a minimum level of ability.
If we love our neighbors, strangers and foreigners, we go up a level. If we continue to love and forgive those who have hurt us, we move up again. If we achieve the ability to love an enemy, to forgive and do good for an enemy, we are at an upper level. And if we achieve the ability to lay down our life for any of the above, we could not be more free. At that point we are truly the fullest image or expression of God that we can be. At that point we are fully human. We then love as God loves us. It follows that to love our neighbor IS to love ourselves IS to love God.
HOW DOES CHURCH FIT INTO THIS PICTURE?
Church is a happening. It happens when people love each other, when they reach to be their best selves by loving.
Jesus did not start a church. Jesus started a movement. At first it was called simply “The Way.” He wanted people to love each other.
The word church has come to have many applications: 1. As an institution (The Lutheran Church, The Catholic Church). 2. As prelates or leaders who define meanings (as in “The Church Says.”) 3. As a building. Church is none of these in its real meaning. Nor is church a juridical construct, a system of rules, or a collection of beliefs, a credal ID tag. Church is not people bound together by utility. What creates church is love. Church is the community that love puts together and holds together.
When a religious leadership puts itself ahead of Jesus’ purpose and portrays ‘membership’ or ‘loyalty’ as the true mark of being Christian, they have left Jesus by the wayside. If the Church community decides to insert a leadership, or useful buildings, or particular practices, those additions must all serve and promote the community by being in the service of love.
So, we can extend our list of simultaneous happenings. Love of neighbor IS love of self IS love of God IS to create Church. It’s that simple! But it is only a blueprint. Love still has to be lived, and we should not confuse simple with easy. The climb to the top of love’s freedom is laden with obstacles and difficulty. More on that next time.
Do you think that our bishops look upon the Church as described above?
Called to Freedom, by Stephen Boehrer