How Does Jesus See Love?

This was the question addressed in Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen’s November 10, 2019, sermon at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church and in his reflections on his gathering four days earlier with  15 other U.S. and Cuban clergy and lay leaders on a rooftop in Havana.[1]

As previously noted in this blog, Westminster has had partnerships with the Presbyterian-Reformed Church of Cuba for nearly 19 years,[2] and the purpose of the recent gathering in Havana was to meet with the leaders of the Seminario de Evangelico de Teologia (SET) and learn about their vision for establishing a facility in Havana to supplement the offerings at its main facilities in the city of Matanzas on the north coast of the island east of Havana.[3]

According to Rev. Hart-Andersen, “It’s an exciting time for the church in Cuba, full of possibility. There’s a great awakening of spiritual hunger on the island as it emerges from decades of atheism and isolation. With its unique circumstances, Cuba offers the Church a living laboratory for spreading the faith.”

“Younger Cubans have virtually no experience of Christianity. They were raised in a system that rejected religion. As a result, for our Presbyterian sisters and brothers and other Christians on the island, it’s if they were starting the church all over.”

“Differing versions of the faith are rushing in to try to fill the void. Some cling to a traditional, conservative Roman Catholicism. Others mix African-traditions with Christianity. Some proclaim an imported, privatized, prosperity gospel designed to meet individual need. And others – including our Seminary partners – pursue a gospel that seeks justice and works to transform individuals and systems.”

“We have our own competing versions of Christianity . . . [in the U.S.] There’s little consensus among us in our land about what it means to be faithful. In our country today, religion is as divided as politics – and sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between the two.”

“Whether in Cuba or . . . [the U.S.], those seeking to live as God’s people are struggling with how to do that in our time. The old ways are not working; we need a refresher course in following Jesus. What do we do?”

The response to this question for us [in the U.S.] and for the church in Cuba comes from Jesus when He answered  the question, “What is the greatest commandment?” Jesus’ answer: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”[4]

How does Jesus see love? It has more than one dimension, and it moves in multiple directions. It starts with each individual human being, created in the image of God, each one of us a living expression of the love of God – and then moves outward, in visible ways to those near us and into our communities, and in invisible ways, to God who joins us in loving the world. It’s a trinity of love: God, neighbor, self. In choosing to follow Jesus, you and I wrestle with finding the right balance among the three – and oftentimes we find ourselves tilting in the direction of self. And we get into trouble when we do that.”

These thoughts occurred to Rev. Hart-Andersen as he and the others on a Havana rooftop sang this hymn:

“Open our eyes, Lord. Help us to see your face.

Open our eyes, Lord. Help us to see.

Open our ears, Lord. Help us to hear your voice.

Open our ears, Lord. Help us to hear.”

Said Rev. Hart-Andersen, “We looked out at the city [of Havana]  and saw its many-hued people, beginning to meet the challenges of another day in a difficult time and place. Help us to see.” We heard “the sounds of children and babies crying and car horns honking, laughter and shouts rose from the streets below to accompany our song. Help us to hear.”

“Our rooftop singing [of this song] placed the worship of God right where worship should be: in the midst of the world. We were no longer hidden and quiet behind walls. It was love of God meets love of neighbor.”

“The practice of Christianity requires a context as close to the real world as possible, and that was the real world. Love needs someone to love. A “neighbor” is not theoretical. We can’t love by staying inside these walls [of our church in Minneapolis or Havana]. . . . Loving our neighbor requires that we encounter our neighbor.”

From the Havana rooftop, “we looked into a city teeming with life, yet impoverished materially and spiritually. And as we looked, we caught a glimpse of the makings of the Beloved Community—people working together, hoping for a better future, refusing to be overwhelmed by their circumstance, wanting to be loved by one another.”

“That’s how Jesus sees love—as a community of people reconciled to God and reconciled to one another, eager to worship and ready to serve.” (Emphasis in original.)

 State Department’s Contrary Opinion of Cuban Religious Freedom[5]

This sermon also implicitly contradicts the U.S. State Department’s December 20th addition of Cuba to the Department’s  Special Watch List of countries engaging in or tolerating “severe violations of religious freedom” while not meeting all of the criteria for the worse status of Countries of Particular Concern.

The Department did not provide any purported factual basis for this action regarding Cuba even though only six  months earlier, on June 21, 2019,  the Department’s latest annual report on this subject for every country in the world had harsh, and unjustified, criticism of Cuba, but did not designate the island as a member of the “Special Watch List” or as a “Country of Particular Concern.’ [6]

Conclusion

Jesus’ reminder that we all are commanded to love God with all our heart, soul and mind and our neighbor as ourself should remind us that each of us and everyone else (and every country) often fail to meet these obligations and, therefore, need forgiveness. We need to be humble.

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[1] Westminster Presbyterian Church, Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen, Sermon: How Does Jesus See Love? (Nov. 10, 2019).

[2]  As its website says, SET is an ecumenical seminary that “was founded on October 1, 1946,” and that now “is governed by a Board of Directors, with representative, legislative, consultative and executive functions; composed of ten members of the Cuban founding Churches: Episcopal Church of Cuba (4), Presbyterian-Reformed in Cuba (4); and by a representative of the Fraternity of Baptist Churches of Cuba (1) and of the Los Amigos Church “Quakers” (1).” SET works “in the academic, ecumenical, ethical, moral and spiritual formation of those who feel called by God to exercise the ordained ministry, and other ministries in the Church, as well as in the training of the faithful who wish to serve in the work of the Lord through the broadest universal ministry of International believers, through regular and special courses, in permanent residence or through meetings, among others. We are also engaged in the development of an ethical, theological and biblical culture and, for this purpose, we are open to people who do not intend to enter the Christian ministry in any of its forms.”

[3] Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s Connections with Cuba, dwkcommentareis.com (Jan.13, 2015); Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church Celebrates U.S.-Cuba Reconciliation, (Jan. 4, 2015) dwkcommentaries. com (Jan. 4, 2015).

[4] Matthew 22: 34-40Mark 12: 28-31Luke 10: 25-28. This answer from Jesus quoted from the Hebrew Bible that would have been well known to the individuals asking this question: Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18.

[5]  State Dep’t, Press Statement: United States Takes Action Against Violators of Religious Freedom (Dec. 20, 2019).

[6] See State Dep’t, 2018 Report on International Religious Freedom (June 21, 2019); U.S. State Department Unfairly Criticizes Cuban Religious Freedom, dwkcommentaries.com (July 18, 2019); U.S. State Department’s Positive Assessment of Cuban Religious Freedom,  dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 19, 2017).

 

 

 

 

 

“What Do Our Hearts Treasure?”

Westminster Presbyterian Church

 

Rev. Dr. James Gertmenian

This was the title of the sermon by Rev. Dr. James Gertmenian of Minneapolis’ Plymouth Congregational Church at Westminster Presbyterian Church on September 16, 2012. A prior post examined the Processional Hymn that day–“O Holy One and Nameless”–which was written by Rev. Gertmenian. A video of this service is on the web.

The sermon was based upon two passages from the New Testament of the Holy Bible.

The first, Luke 10: 25-28, says: “Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.’Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ [Jesus] said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ [The lawyer] answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind’ and your neighbor as yourself.’ And [Jesus] said to [the lawyer], ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.'”

Rev. Gertmenian said the lawyer, at least on the surface, wanted to know how he might gain eternal life. “It is what we all want, I think, though we use different languages to describe it. Not length of life, really, not just simple persistence into some imagined future heaven, but something that endures by virtue of its depth, by virtue of a quality that transcends time. Our faith tells us that God, the eternal one, has somehow touched us with that quality, that the life spark in us means that we partake of or are connected to the enduring, the unquenchable, the forever.”

The second Scriptural text for the day, II Corinthinians 4: 16-18, states: “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this momentary slight affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”

Yes, said Gertmenian, ”but what are those unseen things? What lasts?”

He said, “Our lives . . .  are over in a flash; we burst forth, sparkle, glimmer, grow dim, and then are gone. In the cosmic scheme of things, flesh is practically as ephemeral and evanescent as vapor or gas; only rocks, ice, dust, and space endure.”

“What lasts? What do our hearts treasure? What is eternal? More specifically, what have been the eternal moments in your life? I don’t mean the big moments, or even the most memorable ones, but the deepest ones which, by virtue of their depth, make the passing of time – and even memory – irrelevant?”

Gertmenian offered two moments in his own life that upon reflection he regarded as eternal.

One was spending time with his eight-year-old daughter having ice cream after watching Halley’s Comet. “I know that for the momentary gift of [my daughter’s] hand in mine, for the frivolous pleasure of tasting ice cream, for this odd adventure on a warm evening, I will gladly, willingly, joyfully embrace the limits of my life: its brevity, its fragility, its impermanence. It is rich – this life – rich like found treasure and meant, I think, to be spent extravagantly and with exuberant gratitude to God.”

“Eternal life consists in this: in taking even one moment and living it so prodigally, with such abandon, that we do not grudge its going. One moment lived like that is eternal. One moment, lived like that, is heaven. Jesus draws this truth to its deepest level when he says: ‘Whoever seeks to save their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will save it.'” (Matthew 10:39.)

“Think about your own life, your own self. What lasts? What [does your heart] . . .  treasure? What is eternal?”

“Maybe you’ll take a few moments . . . to think about these things. And as you mull them, remember how Jesus replied to the man who wanted eternal life. Ultimately, he said, after obedience to the core commandments, the way to eternal life is in giving up what you have, in opening your hands and releasing the things you cling to. Not just possessions, but everything. Even time.”

I have pondered the question posed by Rev. Gertmenian and will share those reflections in a subsequent post.