MOMENTS WITH THE MINISTER: Love for the Long-haul

By Lander Bethel
Special to the Herald Democrat

“He liked falling in love,” someone said of Ernest Hemingway, in the recent series on PBS. And what an enticing time that is to fall in love with someone. Those days of fascination, curiosity, and surprise can be pretty wonderful. What was harder, apparently, for Hemingway was loving for the long haul.

Loving one another beyond the adventure of falling in love is more challenging. After a year of pandemic cooking at home, figuring out what to cook together may have its challenges. Cleaning up afterwards, taking out the garbage, finishing the day’s requirements before heading for bed may not have the sheen of romance. But finding adventure in doing the ordinary things can be fun. Finding joy in doing them is part of an enduring relationship.

Reading the stories of creation, I think God liked falling in love with us. The breath that brought creation into being, that animated the beings God had formed, the breath that continues to give life to all of creation – because God is not yet finished creating – brought satisfaction to God.

God seems to love being in love with creation. It’s not just a beginning, but the hard part of sustaining love when really awful things happen. That is showing us that love isn’t easy. It can be costly. The Easter story is about loving human beings when we can be at our worst. Then showing us that death is not the end of God’s loving relationship with us.

God seems to love loving us. God continues to love us in the hardest times. When we have doubts, when we’re uncertain, when we say no to the hard things, when we would rather have the blessings of God without the accountability of what God might have us do, God loves us still.

We’re at a tough point in time. Many of us are just now emerging from the cocoon of quarantine. We find ourselves emerging into division with more things politicized than we may have thought would even fit into those categories. While there may be leaders who find it to their advantage to divide us, God calls us together. We’re called together to do hard things like love people who are not like us, or cross racial boundaries that feel strange or threatening, or welcome poor people instead of blaming them. And God loves us still.

To hear that we are called to sacrifice for others, not just our people, can be a little frightening. But that’s how Jesus describes his ministry, and then tells his disciples they’re to do the same. Some of us may be as scared by hearing that it’s as if we’ve heard a ghost howling or seen a vision of some spirit telling us to do what’s impossible.

In Luke’s gospel, that’s about how the disciples reacted when Jesus showed up after his death and resurrection in chapter 24. They were astonished. Some thought they had seen a ghost. To allay their fears, Jesus asked them for some fish to eat. Disembodied spirits, or ghosts, may

not need anything to eat. But God incarnate, in the flesh, in a resurrected body needed to eat. It was part of assuring them that he was actually there with them.

Then he told them they were to be engaged in repentance and the forgiveness of sins – with all the world. Repentance and forgiveness are the elements of enduring, loving relationships. Jesus pointed them toward the hard things of loving other people, even when those other people might make it hard to do.

Hearing someone make a racist remark, knowing that challenging them may compromise a friendship; seeing someone commit a violent act against another because of the shape of their eyes (as happened recently on more than one sidewalk), deciding whether to intervene; seeing someone show off cell phone pictures of a person they thought of as a conquest, and deciding whether to laugh awkwardly or to tell them what they’ve done isn’t right or respectful; seeing a child show up on our border after walking 1200 miles without family because that is the best, desperate hope for survival, and determining what policy is to be used in the face of injustices; or closer to home, finding relationships that are torn by differences of opinion, and being called to practice repentance and forgiveness, those are not easy things. Repentance calls us to account, and forgiveness can make it possible to overcome barriers to reconciliation, the very things Jesus instructed us to do.

God calls us to do hard things – because that’s what makes for real love. And maybe God’s unrelenting love for us, God’s suffering love for us, is the very thing that makes it possible for us to fall in love with God in a way that is not fleeting or short-lived, but are the enduring elements of love for the whole world, starting with us, where we are for the long-haul.

Lander Bethel

Lander Bethel is the minister of Grand Avenue Presbyterian Church in Sherman and First Presbyterian Church in Denison. He earned a doctoral degree in ministry from McCormick Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Genna, live in Sherman. They have three sons. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.