Conditional Love

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Here is the awkward truth of my life, and likely yours…

I talk a lot about the unconditional love of God, and showing it to others, but mostly the love I show is conditional.

This was recently pointed out to me in and through the writings of Thomas Merton. If you’ve never read him, I encourage you to do so. But, beware, it’s likely to challenge you. So, you’ve been warned.

He says this…

“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbours worthy.” – Thomas Merton

There is more depth in that one paragraph then in pretty much all I’ve ever written combined. Because, the truth is, when I reflect on it, I realize that when it comes to love, I far too often first assess whether or not someone is worthy of my love.

Before I give love, I try to see if the person meets my requirements or conditions first. Sometimes this doesn’t happen, and sometimes it happens in a split second, but this assessment of another’s worthiness does seem to happen way too much.

What I’m drawn to in Christianity, and in the quote by Merton, is that when Jesus died for all of us, He didn’t think about who was worthy or not. He didn’t just give His love to the ones who earned it. He didn’t just give His love to the ones who deserved it.

Jesus didn’t just give His love to others with conditions.

Rather, He gave His reckless, unconditional, everlasting love to the whole world. To ALL of us.

And, while I’m far from loving at that depth, that is the call upon me.

As I seek to follow Jesus, I want to learn to love like Jesus. To love without conditions. To love without first judging if someone is worthy, but rather to realize that in loving others truly, deeply, and from my heart and actions, I find the kind of worthy actions to which we are called.

Because, they are Jesus’ actions.
 
So, I write all this to remind myself of something I know, that might be the same for you. That often my love has too many limits and conditions.

But, as I learn to follow Jesus, I need to learn to love more like Him. Not first asking if someone is worthy, but first stepping out with love, being obedient and being changed in the process.

Worthiness is God’s business, not ours. Our business is to love.

And, I know I need that challenge, and that reminder.

Wandering Lost and Finally Finding Home

300px-Rembrandt_Harmensz_van_Rijn_-_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Google_Art_ProjectOn Sunday we explored the first of three sermons on the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). In this sermon we looked at the prodigal son and how we are often so much like him. How we too have left home, and left God in so many countless ways. What is remarkable is that it is God’s love that allows us to leave.

Henri Nouwen puts it this way: “The Father couldn’t’ compel his son to stay home. He couldn’t force his love on the Beloved. He had to let him go in freedom, even though he knew the pain it would cause both his son and himself. It was love itself that prevented him from keeping his son home at all cost. It was love itself that allowed him to let his son find his own life, even with the risk of losing it….Here the mystery of my life is unveiled. I am loved so much that I am left free to leave home.”

We are loved so much that we are free to leave. Sometimes the leaving is harsh and sudden, like in the story. Sometimes it’s slow and subtle. But it happens nonetheless.

Again Nouwen writes: “Anger, resentment, jealousy, desire for revenge, lust, greed, antagonisms, and rivalries are the obvious signs that I have left home”. This is true. These are all signs that we’ve left the home of the Father full of grace, acceptance, and love. We’ve left home for a distant land where we become used, abused, and neglected. This is what the prodigal son experiences and he comes to his senses. And decides to return home. This decision though is often so difficult because when we leave the Father’s side we walk into darkness and confusion. Nouwen again wisely writes: “The farther I run away from the place where God dwells the less I am able to hear the voice that calls me the Beloved, and the less I hear that voice, the more entangled I become in manipulative power games of the world.” This is true, the further we run from God the more difficult it is to hear his voice in a world of competing voices.

Yet the son does hear the Father’s voice. He remembers what it was like at home, whereas now he is left alone, struggling, and abused. He decides to walk home and seek to earn back his position not as a son but as a slave. A hired hand. Yet the Father sees the son while he was a long way off…because he was looking. The Father didn’t move on because he didn’t want to move on. He isn’t content till all those who have wandered find their way back home. So he runs to his son not caring that it isn’t dignified. He doesn’t care what other people think, he cares about his lost son. The son shares a speech but the father doesn’t care. Because the father isn’t about what can be earned, but what he can give, which is acceptance, hope, love, and assurance.

So on Sunday we ended by reflecting on how at so many times and places we have been like the prodigal son. That we drift, slide, and move away. On Sunday we ended asking a simple but profound question: will you let the Father accept you? We often say yes quickly but it’s not that easy. Because we need to give up all our speeches, our ways of fixing things (i.e. being a hired hand), our ways of earning love and instead to simply accept the gift before us.

So today I want to ask you the same thing. Will you accept the gift of God’s grace before you? Remember the Father’s focus isn’t on your past or what you’ve done, the Father’s focus is on you.

Sermon Notes:

Big Idea: Love and acceptance are found at “home”

Take Aways…

  • The son leaving is a sign of dying
  • You are loved so much you are free to leave home
  • The Father divides up his life for his sons
  • Away from home people use, abuse, and neglect you
  • “Anger, resentment, jealousy, desire for revenge, lust, greed, antagonisms, and rivalries are the obvious signs that I have left home”. Henri Nouwen
  • “The farther I run away from the place where God dwells the less I am able to heave the voice that calls me the Beloved, and the less I hear that voice, the more entangled I become in manipulative power games of the world” Henri Nouwen
  • The Father saw the son because he was looking
  • The Father hasn’t moved on, because he doesn’t want to move on.
  • The Father doesn’t care what other people think, he cares about his son
  • God isn’t about earning, gaining, or achieving. God is about giving.

Adult / Group Discussion Questions: What surprised you? What made you think? What did you take away? When have you “left home”? Is there any places where you have bee leaving home, slowly and subtly? How can having God’s assurance of love change who you are? How does it feel to be accepted by God? How might you share your thanks with him today?

Discussion Questions for Young Families: Take a moment and sit down with your kids and talk to them about today’s message. Share with them the story of the Father and the Son. If you can promise them the same type of love, that is modeled in this passage. Talk with them about how you love your kids in the same way with acceptance, forgiveness, and a willingness to reach out.

Challenge for this Week:

Receive the Father’s acceptance