It wasn’t an engaging instance of the genre called “sermon.” My Sweetie turned to me afterwards and said, “That was a lot like a philosophy lecture.” Well, yes, even at the outset he warned us of what was to come–Dr. Greenaway is, after all, a professor of philosophical theology. My father once inscribed on a flyleaf, “We are not what we do; we do what we are.” Dr. Greenaway is indisputably a philosopher.
So it’s unsurprising that he buried his lead. Or maybe not; maybe I’m the only person who heard science fiction lurking underneath the carefully delineated constructs. Maybe I’m the only one who jotted down, ‘A power not for us, not from us, but that has us for others.’
A power that has us. Reaches through us like hands in puppets, waving our arms and moving our mouths in ways that the power decrees.
While all the time we, silly humans that we are, think that we hold this power. That we choose how and where to distribute it. That we deploy it for our gain, so we can pile up more and more of it, so we can turn it into a pile of sandbags against…what? Pain? Isolation? Futility?
A power that has us for others. Moves us on behalf of not-us, to set others alight or in motion or both…
What kind of entity would do this? What does this entity want, that it manipulates us this way? And, get this, we don’t even notice? How awe-inspiring, in a fall-flat-on-the-face kind of way–
the power of God’s love in us as we love our neighbors. (Matthew 22:36-40)
I think it’s extra-hard for we poor English-speakers to get the hang of how God’s love works, since we make the word “love” do the work of at least four ideas. If we had the Greek nuance of agápe, éros, philía, and storgē we might not keep grasping love like a bunch of flowers that we can hand over or leave to wilt. If we thought in agápe, the love that builds care and community, or chesed, the Hebrew blessing-word of inexhaustible lovingkindness, maybe we would freely, constantly, stack bricks of love and concern and make dozens of agápe’s safe shelters–where anyone can come in and feel God’s love made real around them.
Because if God’s love is acting through us, it’s not our power–our energy–that we’re relying on. It’s no longer a question of our emotions, our moods, our approval or disapproval. Our arms and feet move via Another’s intent; our mouths launch words we didn’t have to figure out. Speaking as someone who’s practicing a discipline of just showing up to the writer’s page, there is a certain relief to not needing to be In Charge. If I’m responsible for being present, while God provides my agápe actions, I think we have a team that can work for the long haul. Which may well have been God’s intent all along-?
I don’t think Dr. Greenaway was thinking of robot armies when he later said, “Seized by love for them.” But maybe robot armies are an idea whose time has come, for Christ-followers who dread the addition of One More Thing To Do. We don’t have to love out of our own doing. We can be the loved-through front lines for a God who says, “Don’t worry. I’ve got enough love for all of us,
and then some.”