I was asked to respond to a question this week about “lavish love.” Where have I seen it in my communities? How did it offer an example of God’s active redemption? Did it result in transformation, abundance, healing or justice?
I struggled with the question. Sure, there a ton of stories of love. But are they lavish?!
Lavish is defined both as a noun – sumptuously rich, elaborate, or luxurious – and a verb – to bestow something in generous or extravagant quantities. Both together define perfectly this gift of love God provides. God chooses, over and over again, to restore relationship with humanity; to love and redeem creation! Have I really witnessed anything which even begins to compare with this kind of lavish love?!
I ended up writing about my experience serving meals at a local homeless shelter. I’m struck by the sense of community, the hope and the thankfulness I both witness in others and experience for myself. These are men and women of all races, most dirty, unsure where they might sleep that night or if they’ll eat the next day. Yet they (for the most part) show kindness towards me and towards each other, and they speak words of hope. They pray, they give thanks to God. In a place with so many reasons to feel despair, there is love – and it is lavish! Jesus would feel at home amongst this community!
It was a lovely response. I would have been certain to get full marks for my submission! But then, in a moment of cynicism, I kept going. I wrote that I see lavish love exhibited less frequently in my own church. I wrote that our time spent in petty arguments about miniscule decisions, and our concerns about a financial statement overpower our ability to offer lavish love to one another. I was trying to make a point that the Christian church in North America needs a refocus – less time with the business operations of church and more time loving as God loves! The message pointed to my own congregation, but I meant it for all.
Unfortunately, as I read my classmate’s responses later that week, I think my point was lost. I was offered condolences for being in a church “like that.” It was suggested I leave a church more concerned with power struggles than worship. There was a list of ideas, proof there probably are missional actions at my church. (Duh – I know there are.) I had to get back online and redirect these comments, fearful that my cynical response presented my own church in an unfair light! We, like any church, have our problems. But there are most definitely acts of love! I see it through peer ministry, service in the community and abroad, prayer, youth programs, grief support – both by individuals and “church sponsored” groups. (I could go on…)
Given the problems in our world – economic imbalance, social injustice, suffering through depression and addiction – the actions from church seem woefully inadequate. Sometimes hassling with a budget or deciding when to replace a parking lot are easier than figuring out how to offer healing in a chaotic world.
But Jesus showed us how simple it is to love. Lavish love is given not only through suffering and sacrifice, but by eating a meal with a leper or talking to a woman at the well. Through his life and death, Jesus empowers zealous human action! Lavish love exists in all places, within and outside of the church institution. We must continue to encourage vibrant communities overflowing with lavish love!