Last week, Isaac preached about the dangers of coveting—of wanting to dominate the earth and its people, of craving mastery, and of being drawn in to a competition for possessions. He argued that such covetous competition objectified people and rendered them thoughtless and voiceless. The antidote to coveting, he said, was love. Love necessarily involves thinking about one another. Love says that both of us matter, not that my desire for dominion trumps your desire to be a person.
Then during the comments, Sandra mentioned that she needed prayer for how to treat family members who see the news about the separation of immigrant families differently than she does. She said that she wanted to convert their opinions, to dominate their minds with her higher, better truth. But maybe, she thought, she needed to love them more.
I’m guessing nearly all of us has been in this situation: we all know people spouting religious and political opinions that seem either like nonsense or evil, dangerous ideas, or both. Sometimes those people are related to us, and it hurts. How can they think such garbage?, we wonder. At first, we fight: when a hint of dangerous politics comes up at the table at thanksgiving, we throw our oar in, hoping to persuade, or at least to announce to the room that NOT everyone holds that dumb opinion. But over the years, we learn the hard way that speaking up just doesn’t work: it damages relationships and doesn’t manage to convince anyone. We decide to be quiet, silently fuming in righteous indignation when insidious and inane remarks are made over the mashed potatoes. We choose not to “cast our pearls before swine,” as the good book says. We take our action outside—we hold signs and march, we grumble on Facebook, we call congress occasionally. This is the broken world we live in.
Psalms 133 gives a different picture of what life could be. The short psalm tells us how good it is to live in unity. It is so good, that it is like oil poured on Aaron’s head that runs down through his beard onto his garments. Now, oil spilling through someone’s beard sounds kind of gross to me—it’s definitely not the metaphor I would have chosen, but let’s dig into the context a little. Before Aaron could perform as a high priest, he had to be anointed with this oil, a symbol of God’s holy love. He could not serve the community without it. Here, the oil, pungent with sweetness, understood as God’s love, was given with such embarrassing generosity that it spills over not only this guy’s gnarly beard, but onto his clothes. Imagine being the recipient of this—imagine smiling, being blessed to such a degree that you are utterly carefree in your surrender to this downpour of holy oil. And imagine people watching. Not in jealousy, but in joy and love. Imagine everyone smelling the sweetness of the oil as it permeates the air.
Now, I don’t know much about anointings, but I’d assume you can’t be anointed properly if you’re unwilling. This passage makes it sound like to me that Aaron wasn’t just willing, he was ALL IN. I mean, if you sit long enough to have oil drip through your beard and everywhere else, it’s safe to say that you’re at least more than complicit. He was not just open to being a conduit for God’s love—he abandoned himself to this embarrassing generosity. And this is where union in the community starts: with an abandonment to God’s embarrassing, overflowing love.
So let me ask you: do you believe in an embarrassingly generous love like this? Do you feel it in yourself? Are you open to feeling it for yourself? If the answer is no, why is that?
The first step to achieving unity in the community is to believe in an embarrassing generosity and then, to abandon yourself to it.
Jesus loved with an embarrassing generosity. Because of this, he was the master of surprise, never treating people as expected. He shamed the strong and important with his love and lifted up the weak and forgotten. He inverted power structures, spoke in parables, and turned the ordinary upside down. This is partly why so many of us are still talking about him, over 2,000 years later.
I think one of the most surprising, otherworldly things about him was that he shifted the status quo by just being with people. He did preach some, but more often than not, he seemed almost frustrated to have to explain with words the simple value of living out an embarrassing generosity. His disciples would often get caught up in legalities, and he’d retort, starting many replies with, “do you not know..?” as if wondering out loud how it was possible that they didn’t understand that heaven went about things differently than earth. He preferred speaking with actions.
And when he sat with tax collectors, the people everyone despised because they were known for cheating others, did he try to talk them out of their pig-headedness while eating mashed potatoes? Did he set them straight about their evil, dominating ways that trampled the weak? Did he harbor righteous indignation at their wicked ways? Or did he just eat with them? Did he just take the time to be among them, to listen to them, even while being judged by being seen with them? Did Jesus think that just engaging with different people was the simple secret to changing the world? And then–were the tax collectors changed? Did they all start on the straight and narrow after Jesus became buddies with them? We don’t know the full story.
But we do know that Jesus was smart like a fox. He invented judo moves—the act of using an opponent’s force against them. He knew that the gentle power of love was stronger than anything else, even if it doesn’t make sense. He knew that not trying to change people’s minds—just being with them, loving them as they want to be loved—was the best vehicle for actually changing their minds.
How do we live in this world that is so politically polarized and culturally fractured? How do we love with embarrassing generosity when evil is all around?
I’ll be the first to admit that if Donald Trump were floating in the ocean with his hands up I’d be tempted to toss him an anvil. And nothing puts me into a murderous rage faster than hearing about families being separated at the border, and then to hear this evil occurrence defended with scripture makes me postal. I cringe at bumper stickers, I harbor resentment in my heart and anger burns in me. This vitriol can poison relationships with family and friends and interactions with strangers.
In this world, I long to act as God of the Old Testament—I have no patience for pig-headed evil—I want to smite them all, burn them down to rubble and blow away the ashes. But Jesus comes as God’s big mea culpa, as a priceless lesson learned, as a diamond revealed after the fires of all that smiting raged in the Old Testament. Jesus said that we just can’t do things that way. It won’t work. Anvil-dropping only turns us dead inside, and isn’t befitting of people who believe in a God who walks on water and pulls undeserving people out of it.
What does it mean, today—now, to be the people we say we are, people of peace? Have we turned our words into daggers and our hearts into machine guns?
The only thing that will save us—all of us—is this stupid-simple but hard love. This love is local. So local, that it starts in yourself. You must submit to the joy of embarrassing generosity—the crazy belief that such a joy is possible–before you can spread it around. Only then, when you’ve abandoned yourself to this, can you be still with others, instead of trying to convert them or dominate them. And I think, if we know anything about Jesus from the Bible, it’s that loving our enemies is the surest course to true revolution.
So where do we go from here? It is still good to voice your opinion on Facebook and to march and hold signs and to call congress. We shouldn’t stop doing that. But what would happen if we all put a lot more time and effort into doing two things? 1) What if we tried to cultivate in ourselves an embarrassing generosity, one that is so open and embarrassing that we allow God’s love to drip down our beards onto our garments? What do you need to do to do this? Can you journal more? Pray more? Read encouraging books more? Be still in nature more? Can you talk to yourself with more kindness than before? Can you take more time to actively seek God out during your day? Finding this light in the darkness is possibly the most important thing you can do if you want a revolution, if you want to be smart like a fox and change things up. You have to change things inside first. Are you doing it?
2) What would happen if, after being equipped with this embarrassing generosity, we just went and hung out with those who don’t see the world as we do? What if, instead of voicing our frustration to the Facebook echo chamber, we went to Trump meetups and just listened? What if we went out to lunch with a friend who thinks differently? What if we wrote nice notes to the family members whose ideas and actions make us mad and sad?
What if we learned to be still with others, and let them speak? If we truly listened and didn’t speak? What if we passed the mashed potatoes instead of flinging them into eyes? Would the greatest power of all, which is also the most subtle, work for us like it worked for Jesus? What would happen if we could sit and not burn in righteous indignation but exude embarrassing generosity instead? Isn’t loving others what Jesus teaches us, and wasn’t he the master of revolution?