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Step 3: believe love transforms

January 18, 2024
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Daily Scripture

Mark 15:33-39, 2 Corinthians 5:14-17

Mark 15
33 From noon until three in the afternoon the whole earth was dark. 34 At three, Jesus cried out with a loud shout, “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you left me?”
35 After hearing him, some standing there said, “Look! He’s calling Elijah!” 36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, and put it on a pole. He offered it to Jesus to drink, saying, “Let’s see if Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 But Jesus let out a loud cry and died.
38 The curtain of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. 39 When the centurion, who stood facing Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “This man was certainly God’s Son.”

2 Corinthians 5
14 The love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: one died for the sake of all; therefore, all died. 15 He died for the sake of all so that those who are alive should live not for themselves but for the one who died for them and was raised.
16 So then, from this point on we won’t recognize people by human standards. Even though we used to know Christ by human standards, that isn’t how we know him now. 17 So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!

Daily Reflection & Prayer

From a transcript of Dr. King’s sermon “Loving Your Enemies” (Nov. 17, 1957): “A final reason I think Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies’ is this: love has within it a redemptive power. There is a power there that eventually transforms individuals”…. I can see [Jesus] looking out at the Roman Empire with all of her fascinating and intricate military machinery…. I can hear him saying: ‘I will not use this method. Neither will I hate the Roman Empire. I am just going to use love as my ammunition.’” *
From Dr. King’s book Strength to Love (1963): “Third, we must not seek to defeat or humiliate the enemy but to win his friendship and understanding. At times we are able to humiliate our worst enemy. Inevitably, his weak moments come and we are able to thrust in his side the spear of defeat. But this we must not do.” **

About Mark’s account of Jesus’ death, scholar Craig Evans said, “The Roman centurion confesses… Caesar is not the ‘son of God’; Jesus the crucified Messiah is…. In calling Jesus the Son of God, the centurion has switched his allegiance from Caesar, the official ‘son of God,’ to Jesus, the real Son of God.” *** In 2 Corinthians the apostle Paul said humanity’s deepest spiritual issue is alienation from God. The good news, he said, is that God’s love in Christ can overcome our alienation.

  • Scholar N. T. Wright wrote, “A battle-hardened Roman thug, used to killing humans the way one might kill flies, stands before this dying young Jew and says something which, in Mark’s mind, sends a signal to the whole world…. The Roman centurion becomes the first sane human being in Mark’s gospel to call Jesus God’s son, and mean it.” **** What might have moved that centurion to see Jesus not as a Jewish enemy but God’s son? What moves you to believe and testify to that same truth?
  • The Message paraphrased 2 Corinthians 5:21 as “We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.” ***** Do you picture God as uninterested and distant, as angry and eager to punish, or as lovingly eager to bridge the distance to all human beings (including you)? How has your reconciliation with God made you “a new creature in Christ”? Who do you know who needs to hear that good news, quite possibly from you?
Prayer

Lord Jesus, keep my eyes open to see what the Roman centurion saw on that grim hillside outside Jerusalem. As I become more whole in your love, help me to see each person as your precious child. Amen.

GPS Insights

Janelle Gregory

Janelle Gregory

Janelle Gregory serves on the Resurrection staff as Human Resources Lead Director. Janelle finds that her heart is constantly wrestling with the truth that she needs a Savior, and the times when she's at her very best are when she's just too tired to put up a fight.

(In 2019, Janelle enlisted her husband Brandon to write a post for her. It’s a great fit for today’s reading as well.)
Suffering from a severe case of writer’s block, I asked my wise husband if he would write the insights for me. I would normally apologize to you for this. However, after you read his message below, you’ll understand why I feel the need to say, “You’re welcome.”

________________________________

I’m admittedly not big on social media, but I do follow Twitter quite closely. Why? Because I’ve followed a lot of people I look up to. One of the people I follow is a woman who is a web developer for a large tech company—but that’s not where she started. She was originally a high school dropout who got hooked on drugs and fell in with, shall we say, the wrong crowd. She found herself pregnant, single, and homeless. Using online resources and free wifi, she taught herself how to code and got her first job in tech years ago, and has steadily moved up since. Inspiring story, right? We all have our heroes, and they live as heroes in our brains. But our heroes are regular people too.

This woman I look up to witnessed and experienced discrimination in her big tech industry job. Rather than keep quiet about it, she went public, inspiring other victims of this tech company to do the same. And it caused some waves—big ones. They didn’t fire her, but they had other ways of ending her career there, and she she ended up resigning rather than deal with the daily blows to her mental health. Jobless again, she fell back on old habits. Though she had been sober for more than a decade, she fell back into drug use, overdosed, and almost died. She told the story on Twitter so that other people who struggled with addiction would know that there are people out there who still relapse from time to time.

As a collective church, Christianity has its doors open to everyone. But I’ve been to a lot of churches and talked to a lot of Christians for whom that door doesn’t stay open for everyone. Everyone gets a chance to come in, yes—but unless they change their lives to the satisfaction of the people holding the doors, those doors might slam in their faces the next time they try to come in. I’ve seen friends talk with a heavy heart about their friends who are “backsliding” and living the wrong way, and I’ve sadly seen some of my friends have those doors shut for them as they tried to figure things out.

We welcome stories of former drug addicts because they’re powerful stories. People who overcome that and find God are, rightly, heroes. But what happens when our heroes relapse and overdose? What happens when our heroes struggle with depression and check themselves into a psych ward to protect themselves from suicide? For many of us, people are only heroes as long as they live up to the hero name and expectations.

When Paul wrote about God no longer judging people by human standards or counting their sins against them, he wasn’t writing that as someone holy who had never struggled with anything real in his life. Quite the opposite of a drug addict, but more problematic, Paul was someone who had weaponized his faith and used it to persecute others. He didn’t write from a place of accepting others who changed their lives to his satisfaction; he wrote as someone who needed forgiveness and mercy more than many of the people he was writing to, and, in some sense, as an outsider still hoping for a place in the new Christian church.

Powerful conversion stories can be a really healthy part of our faith. But if we find ourselves playing the gatekeepers, holding the door for these sinners as long as they keep their lives together, ask yourself what happens when these sinners are still sinners. I’ve seen what happens to church-goers when the doors are closed to them. There have been times when I’ve been the sinner and have been worried about losing my place in the church too. Remember: we’re all the sinner sometimes. My heroes remain my heroes because of their struggle, not in spite of it.

© 2024 Resurrection: A United Methodist Church. All Rights Reserved.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
References

* https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/loving-your-enemies-sermon-delivered-dexter-avenue-baptist-church
** Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love (King Legacy) (p. 45). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.
*** Craig A. Evans and N. T. Wright, Jesus, the Final Days: What Really Happened, edited by Troy A. Miller. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009, p. 35.
**** N. T. Wright, Mark for Everyone. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004, p. 216.
***** Peterson, Eugene H. The Message Numbered Edition Hardback. Navpress. Kindle Edition.