God’s love the reason

The late Timothy Lull, who taught at our seminary in Berkeley, said somewhere that in Lutheran ethics, what we do in life may not be as important as why we do it. Are we doing this to earn favor and praise? Or does it flow out of the experience of knowing ourselves loved, “sharing the joy of faith in Jesus Christ,” as we say in our mission statement?

These questions are relevant, first, to what’s happening at church, with regard to our recent thinking about worship space. The book some of us read on this topic (“Place of Encounter” by D. Foy Christopherson) begins with these words: “The church has no building code, save proclaiming Christ crucified and risen … [Martin] Luther’s worship reforms were made in support neither of the old and traditional nor of the new and innovative, but rather in favor of what may be effective in communicating the gospel clearly and pastorally.”

It’s challenging, first, to even ask the question: “Does our space work to proclaim Christ clearly?” We may hope to stay with purely practical considerations, “how to make the altar area more accessible,” raising other questions (does communion need to be accessible in that way?) requiring a vision for worship and what the space is for. Isn’t it true that buildings can be powerful, inspiring or sad? That a clean and comfortable living room and table where everyone has a seat really matters to the quality of life?

So can space configuration really aid in communicating Christ? If we’ve been at St Luke for 30 years or grew up in a similar church, we may have powerful associations between our faith and the furnishings of the sanctuary. But people new to the church may not have those associations. Maybe they just find our sanctuary odd, beautiful, old-fashioned, or interesting. Is sharing the joy of faith in Jesus Christ our primary consideration as we think about the floor or placement of the musicians? Or preserving what seems traditional, or doing what seems new and trendy? Is God’s love for all people the bottom line?

These aren’t just questions relevant to worship space! On Sundays we’re hearing Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, where he says: “ I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (3:18-19)

I like that phrase, “to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” It’s not just knowing “about” God’s love, as a person might learn in seminary, but knowing ourselves loved – opened and vulnerable to God’s care and grace – a “power” that Paul prays for. It’s not just something individuals know, but a comprehension shared “with all the saints” – which is why it may be important for us to have forums together on important questions and in general, to help one another experience God’s love.

And the more we know this love “that surpasses knowledge,” the more we’re blown away by its “breadth and length and height and depth.” There’s no area of life – be it work or relationships or worship space redesign or politics – where God’s love is in any way irrelevant. To the questions “what shall I do and why,” God’s love is the guide and the reason.

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