Listening Spirit 2006

Restoring Our First Love

When Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father, he showed his disciples the full extent of his love by washing their feet.  He also gave them a new command, which would guide their faith and lives after he left them: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35, NRSV).

What do I hear the Holy Spirit telling our church today?  The same thing Jesus said to his disciples. We need to be constantly reminded that Christ has given us the example of true love through his life and on the cross. It is here where his love explodes outward and draws women and men from all walks of life. We must remember that we too are called to embody a love that is Christlike. Through our love, people will see that an event that occurred 2,000 years ago has life- changing consequences today, and they will encounter the cross in a new way.

I think that the Holy Spirit wants to continue reminding us that we need to keep this love at the forefront of our lives, as a guide that energizes and helps us overcome the confusion we encounter in this changing world.

Because it is easy to forget about love in the context of all the changes and diversity that take place around us, we must as a community of God serve as reminders to each other of the common foundation of our lives—that is, love.

We can remind each other of the power of love. As we hear in the Song of Songs, “Love is as strong as death. . . . It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away” (8:6-7).  Don’t we all need it? 

Rev. Tong Park

Loving the Alien Among Us

On Pentecost we celebrate the amazing reality of the internationalization of the church of Christ. God made of a monoethnic church (Jewish people of the Old Testament) a multiethnic and multicultural church. By means of his death on the cross, Jesus the Messiah made peace between Jews and Gentiles, making of the two, one. He destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility. His purpose wasto create in himself one new humanity outof the two, thus making peace (Eph 2:14-15). This is a message we must celebrate, appropriate, and live every day.

Yet new walls of hostility are being built along the border between the United States and Mexico. If the U.S. Congress passes certain immigration laws under consideration, millions of people who work under the minimum wage and contribute in a substantial way to the U.S. economy will be considered criminals. Many are here for others, working to support wives and children back home.

You may not be aware of how much this new reality has affected our Hispanic churches. Many people have stopped coming to church for fear of being deported.

We need to start with a Word that we consider above any human laws—a Word that places the well-being of human beings above any human regulation, a Word that calls us to consider the moral responsibility we have before the legal issue.

The Law of God made provisions for those who could easily be abused because of their vulnerability before the laws of the land. The Torah made of aliens the touchstone and concrete demonstration of neighborly love (Ex. 22:21,  23:9; Lev. 19:33, 24:22; Num. 15:13-16; Deut 1:16-17,  10:18-19, 24:17-22; Ezek. 22:27-29). As Psalm 146:9 says, God “watches over the alien.”

He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt (Deut. 10:18-19).

Jesus opposes the attitude of his contemporaries (“Hate your enemy”). He summarizes the heart of the law: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 19:19). For Jesus, love must be indiscriminate, without boundaries, or it is not love at all.

Jesus identifies with the aliens: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt. 25:35-36). Jesus is the alien, and in loving the alien we love Jesus our Lord.

Should not the words of Jesus be a waking call to practice justice, compassion, and hospitality and thus live as Christians in this world?

Today, if we want to celebrate Pentecost in a way that really honors our Lord, we need to ask ourselves if we are under obligation to the law of God that calls us to love, protect, do justice, and practice hospitality to the millions whose great sin is to defend and dignify, even at the cost of their own lives, one of God’s highest gifts and core values: human life.

Rev. Mariano Avila

Reflecting the Heavenly Vision

At Pentecost, the Spirit empowered the disciples to miraculously communicate the gospel in different languages to a multicultural crowd. In a sense, Pentecost is about the reversal of the tower of Babel.

According to the story of Babel, the whole world used to speak a common language. However, in response to their prideful attempt to build a tower that would reach heaven, God scattered the people of the earth into different and often antagonistic linguistic groups. The coming of Jesus and the continuation of his presence in the Spirit, however, changes all that. Starting at Pentecost, the Spirit works to bring all of God’s people back together.

In John’s revelation, we see the heavenly culmination of the Spirit’s work. Gathered around the holy throne are “people from every nation, tribe, people, and language” of the earth. If heaven is a multicultural mosaic of worship, shouldn’t the church on earth reflect that? After all, we ask in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Our worship should be a rehearsal of that heavenly reality.

This kingdom reality of being a multi-ethnic place of worship has provided the vision for The Tapestry, a Christian Reformed congregation in Richmond, British Columbia. Like a rich, colorful tapestry, we aim to weave people of different colors, backgrounds, and nationalities into the fabric of a Christ-centered community. In our first Pentecost service, we read Scripture in six different languages, prayed in Dutch, heard a message in English, and worshiped at other points in Swahili. We had a wonderful time celebrating both the diversity and oneness of God’s people.

This vision is not confined to individual churches but applies to the entire denomination. As neighborhoods change, interracial marriages increase, and immigration continues, the kingdom vision found in Revelation 7:9 needs to be embraced by Christian Reformed churches across North America. As Pentecost shows us, despite differences in language, ethnicity, and backgrounds, we are one in Christ.

Rev. Albert Chu

For Discussion
  1. Rev. Park hears God’s Spirit calling us today “to embody a love that is Christlike.” What does that kind of love look like? What does it require from us? How will that help us to heal the deep divisions caused by racism?
  2. Rev. Avila has some strong words to say with respect to the treatment of illegal aliens: “We need to start with a Word that we consider above any human laws—a Word that places the well-being of human beings above any human regulation, a Word that calls us to consider the moral responsibility we have before the legal issue.” Do you agree? What does that mean for, say, the way the U.S. government should deal with illegal immigration from Mexico? What does it mean for immigration policy in Canada?
  3. If Jesus’ love requires churches to practice hospitality, how should we treat illegal aliens?
  4. Are there ways governments can be respectful of and hospitable to aliens and still protect the integrity of their countries’ borders? How? Should the church advocate for them?
  5. How is Pentecost like the reversal of Babel, as Pastor Chu observes?
  6. Rev. Chu contends that, as we welcome new people into our congregations, “the kingdom vision found in Revelation 7:9 needs to be embraced by Christian Reformed churches across North America.” What is that vision? How can we embrace it in our lives and in our church?

About the Authors

Rev. Mariano Avila is assistant professor of New Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Mich.

Rev. Tong Park is Regional Leader, Korean & California South, for Christian Reformed Home Missions.

Rev. Albert Chu is pastor of The Tapestry in Richmond, British Columbia.

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