Saturday, May 5, 2018

Surrendering to his love

It was nine years ago that a neighbour who was not a believer, and certainly had no time for “organised religion”, asked me in the supermarket near where our church met in Brisbane, “What makes you lot tick?” She had noticed the wide variety of people who, after Mass each Sunday, would converge on a particular al fresco coffee shop for refreshments and a chat that often resulted in most of us staying for lunch.

I remember saying to her, “It’s simple, really; we have discovered for ourselves the unconditional, forgiving love of the risen Jesus, and that makes life seem always brand new. It also makes us brothers and sisters in him.”

In the short conversation that followed, I explained that like everyone else, we sometimes feel miserable, sometimes make really big mistakes, sometimes fail disastrously, and sometimes have enormous difficulties in our lives.

But, I said, the overwhelming love we have discovered nurtures within us a deep-seated joy that is there all the time, even when things are not going well, even when we feel as if we are being crushed by those around us or the circumstances we are in. So, this joy is not a flippant and superficial “cheesy” happiness! It a deep, underlying confidence in the reality of the love that has touched our lives. It enables us to persevere in times of real trouble. (Remember even in the Old Testament, Nehemiah, who had so many problems, could say, “The joy of the Lord is my strength” - Nehemiah 8:10)

That’s what makes us tick!

I said to my interrogator that sooner or later each one of us has to decide whether or not to surrender to the love of God. God himself has given us the terrible freedom to say “No!” and push him out of our lives, because in order to be a real response of love, our “Yes”, our surrender to him, must be freely given, just as Mary’s “Yes” was freely given when the angel came to her so long ago.

Many of us experience a real struggle at the heart of our being before we eventually give in. Charlotte Elliot (1789-1871) in her hymn, “Just as I am”, managed to express both the struggle and the joy of surrender in words that have resonated with so many since her time:

Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings within, and fears without,
O Lamb of God, I come.

Just as I am poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea all I need, in thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come.

Just as I am, thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve:
Because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

Just as I am (thy love unknown
Has broken every barrier down),
Now to be thine, yea thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come. 

Followers of Jesus don’t spend all their time looking back to this or that moment of surrender to God’s love, because we know that our being swept up in his love is an ongoing thing. As brothers and sisters together we surrender to God’s love each time we come to Mass, because it is in Holy Communion that he comes among us so completely, and we “feed on him in our hearts with thanksgiving.” We surrender to his love by praying and reading the Bible, by deepening our friendships in the church community, and by reaching out to the needy and distressed.

St Paul reminds us that it is because God pours his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5) we can “abound” in joy and hope.

And that brings us to the Gospel Reading for today, in which Jesus gives us his “new commandment” to love one another as he has loved us.

He goes on to say that the greatest manifestation of love is the sacrifice of one’s life for the sake of another. This was certainly the essence of his love for us. He died for us, “even death on the cross” (Philippians 2:8).

We know that ALL genuine love is sacrificial in one way or another.

Loving others as he has loved us not only involves staying open to the Holy Spirit. It means embracing the way of the cross, denying ourselves, learning to give in to God when HIS will crosses OUR will, such as when he challenges us to be loving towards someone who has deeply hurt us, or someone we don’t particularly like. We all know what a struggle that can be. But God has reserved special blessings for those so consumed by HIS love that they are determined to persevere in reaching out to others.

In what I think is one of the loveliest passages of the New Testament, Jesus says to those who will do this that he now calls them his “friends” rather than his “servants.”

When we really live according to the “new commandment” of love in relation to our families, our colleagues, our brothers and sisters in Christ and our enemies, the fruit we bear will last for eternity.


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