ministry

The Way of Jesus: A Ministry of Love, Not Mere Grit

Today’s post comes from Sandy Richter, Savior’s Pastor of Adult Formation.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

(1 Corinthians 13:1-8, 13)

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Grit in psychology is a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual's perseverance of effort combined with the passion for a particular long-term goal or end state.

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Lately I am hearing more and more about the concept of grit. I see it on t-shirts, my kids’ teachers are touting its importance, it’s showing up in my Facebook feed and on my Goodreads recommendations. So needless to say, it caught my attention.

I suppose in this moment in history, it shouldn’t surprise me that this term is getting a lot of fanfare. When so many people’s underlying hurt and trauma are being played out in the larger political and social arenas of our nation, and when more and more victims are finding the freedom to share their experiences, we are forced to ask what this all means, and how, if so many have suffered, will they, or have they, learned to move on? Grit, it seems, is the popular answer. Somehow, with enough perseverance and passion--or grit--life’s obstacles can be overcome and dreams still realized.

And truly the human spirit is impressive in this regard. Every time I hear another victim’s story I am moved by their resilience, their strength, their courage to persevere.

But it has also left me wondering, is grit all there is? If so, where does that leave us when we don’t have the strength or courage to keep going? When we can’t summon any more grit?

Jesus presents to us a different way of being that Paul reflected on in this passage from 1 Corinthians 13. I will call this the way of love.

Because our society has romanticized love so thoroughly, it has taken on more sentimentality than substance in our modern parlance. Love is the stuff of movies and greeting cards, not anything powerful or real enough to make a difference in life.

But according to Jesus, love is actually the bedrock of reality. The reality of giving and receiving love is at the center of the universe--the Father loving the Son, the Son loving the Father, in the power and movement of the Holy Spirit--and contrary to popular belief, love is a force much stronger than any other, even stronger than grit. Love has the power to heal, to forgive, to reconcile, to mend. Knowing oneself as the beloved brings courage, hope, joy, and the freedom to love the other.

What does this have to do with us and the ministry of Church of the Savior?

Everything.

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When our founding members sat together to discuss what values and characteristics they wanted to embody as a new church, three simple and profound things came forth: Loving God, Loving Others, and Loving Life. Sure, that has a nice ring to it, but in a much deeper way these pioneers of our church established in the very DNA of our beginnings the outworking of the reality of belovedness. What resulted is what we enjoy today--a church truly grounded in this way of love, continually seeking to live life together and work together in the kind of ministry of love that Paul described to the Corinthian church.

I don’t know about you, but our family noticed the difference right away. Each Saturday night we visited, we were warmly welcomed. People remembered our names, asked about our lives, seemed to really care. We had three small kids then, including a nearly one-year-old whose bedtime fell right near the beginning of the Eucharist. Every single week someone came up to us after the service with reassuring encouragement that his not-so-little cries only added to their worship experience.

When I started working on staff at our church, I saw this way of love even more explicitly played out. I saw it in the interactions among staff members--people truly concerned with one another’s welfare, not just the tasks that needed completing. I saw it in the way we prayed together and spent time meditating on the Word of God’s love at the beginning of every staff meeting. I saw it in the way we talked about recruitment and our volunteers. Rather than tasks taking the front seat, we spent time brainstorming ways to lighten the load for those heavy burdened; we discussed what it would look like for people to find joy in serving. We talked about people as people, not as cogs working to make a system run smoothly.

This way of being, this value of Loving God, Loving Others, Loving Life, has infused the ministry of Church of the Savior since our beginnings and is still very evident today. It’s why so many of our new members talk about how quickly they felt ‘at home’ here. The love of God seen in the faces of our members, draws people in and invites them to come back.

The thing is, this ministry of love is not always easy to prioritize, even in a church. For one, we quickly get focused on the tasks of our ministry and lose sight of the bigger picture. The tyranny of the urgent, as it’s been called, is a real thing, and constantly calls to be heeded.

And then there is this value of grit, this idea that in order to achieve our goals, we need to dig deeper, try harder, and that in doing so we will get the real work of life accomplished. In my experience, the church has its own kind of grit mentality, framed in more spiritual terms. We teach and strive to believe that if we have enough faith, enough reliance on God, enough self-sacrifice, we can push through, buckle down, and get done what God wants us to do in the world.

But I would suggest that right now it is more imperative than ever that we strive to live out the way of love, rather than any forms of grit or similar self-reliance. Both for our own sakes, and for the sake of the world. We must strive to life as the beloved because as Paul reminds us, love is what endures. Everything else will pass away, but love will remain. Knowing ourselves as God’s dearly loved children is the beginning and end of everything.

Practically, that means that in our ministry together here at Savior, we must continue to attend to the things of love. We need to be honest about the state of our souls. We need to be cognizant of the souls of those around us. We honor one another, care for one another, forgive one another, and ask for forgiveness ourselves.

As we continue in this way of love, we make the habit of living counter-culturally and offer to the world another way. A way that allows for the grit to run dry, a way that offers hope in the God of the universe, in whose unconditional love true healing, hope, peace, and restoration can be found.

Brothers and sisters, let us continue in this way of love together, to the praise and glory of our most gracious God.