Monday, November 10, 2008
Agapē Care-The Way of Christian Love
Text: Luke 10: 25-37
Agapē caring or Christian caring is allowing God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit to care through us.
How do the way we care differs from the way others care? How is it distinct from the way, for example, a Buddhist cares for others?
Is there a distinctive Christian way of caring?
The Giving Tree, first published in 1964, is a children's book written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein.
The Giving Tree
By Shel Silverstein
Once there was a tree..... and she loved a little boy. And every day the boy would come and he would gather her leaves and make them into crowns and play king of the forest. He would climb up her trunk and swing from her branches and eat apples. And they would play hide-and-go-seek. And when he was tired, he would sleep in her shade. And the boy loved the tree.......very much. And the tree was happy.
But time went by. And the boy grew older. And the tree was often alone. Then one day the boy came to the tree and the tree said "Come, Boy, come and climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and eat apples and play in my shade and be happy"
"I am too big to climb and play", said the boy. "I want to buy things and have fun. I want some money. Can you give me some money?"
"I'm sorry," said the tree, "but I have no money, I have only leaves and apples. Take my apples, Boy, and sell them in the city. Then you will have money and you will be happy." And so the boy climbed up the tree and gathered her apples and carried them away. And the tree was happy.
But the boy stayed away for a long time... and the tree was sad. And then one day the boy came back and the tree shook with joy and she said, "Come, Boy, climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and be happy."
"I am too busy to climb trees," said the boy. "I want a house to keep me warm. I want a wife and I want children, and so I need a house. Can you give me a house?"
"I have no house," said the tree. "The forest is my house, but you may cut off my branches and build a house. Then you will be happy." And the boy cut off her branches and carried them away to build his house. And the tree was happy.
But the boy stayed away for a long time. And when he came back, the tree was so happy she could hardly speak. "Come, Boy," she whispered, "come and play."
“I am too old and sad to play," said the boy. "I want a boat that can take me far away from here. Can you give me a boat?"
"Cut down my trunk and make a boat," said the tree. "Then you can sail away...... and be happy." And so the boy cut down her trunk and made a boat and sailed away. And the tree was happy.... but not really. And after a long time the boy came back again.
"I am sorry, Boy," said the tree, "but I have nothing left to give you----" "My apples are gone."
"My teeth are too weak for apples," said the boy.
"My branches are gone," said the tree. "You cannot swing on them”
"I am too old to swing on branches," said the boy.
"My trunk is gone," said the tree. "You cannot climb"
"I am too tired to climb," said the boy.
"I am sorry," sighed the tree. "I wish that I could give you something------ but I have nothing left. I am just an old stump."
"I don't need very much now," said the boy. "just a quiet place to sit and rest. I am very tired."
"Well," said the tree, straightening herself up as much as she could, "Well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting. Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest." And the boy did. And the tree was happy.
© Shel Silverstein
This is a story of giving. Some may see it as an ungrateful boy and a codependency relationship with the tree. However there are a few points to note:
• Are we in many ways like the boy? Give me, give me, give me
• The tree is happiest when giving
• The tree longs for relationship, not just giving
• As we care for others; children, spouses, aging parents or as a services, how do we continue to give without burning out?
• The tree seems to have an infinite resource to draw on and is willing to give. Its sadness comes from when it has nothing to offer except compassion and a place to rest. That seems to be really what the boy needs- not just material things but also a rest for his emotional and spiritual being.
• Does this story remind you of the love of Jesus and the way Jesus cares for us?
Let us look at Jesus’ way of caring. Jesus way of caring is agapē caring. Agapē is the most commonly used Greek word for love in the New Testament. The other words are sturge, eros and philia.
Text: Luke 10:25-37
LK 10:25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
LK 10:26 "What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"
LK 10:27 He answered: " `Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind' ; and, `Love your neighbor as yourself.' "
LK 10:28 "You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."
LK 10:29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
LK 10:30 In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. `Look after him,' he said, `and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.'
LK 10:36 "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"
LK 10:37 The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him."
Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."
The parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10: 25-37)
In the parable, Jesus identifies 3 potential helpers for the robbed man
• A priest
• A Levite, an assistant to the priests who was a descendent of Levi but not Aaron
• The Samaritan, despised by the Jews because he is of mixed race being descended from Gentiles and the Israelites left behind when the Northern Kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians
Jesus’ point was to illustrate the application of the two greatest commandments is found in how we treat our neighbours.
"Go and do likewise."
• Jesus was more interested in the heart and action of the Samaritan than the probable right theology and orthodoxy of the priest and Levite.
o J.I.Packer once comments on God’s giving practical answers to theological questions: “You’re concern on who’s going to heavens? Good! So am I, go tell everyone about me!” This ends the useless debates about who is going to heaven and who will be saved.
• Jesus’ response to the lawyer is the same: “You want to know who your neighbour is? I’ll tell you-it is the person who is near you whose needs you have the ability to meet.” Period. Full-stop. Not an answer to “Who is my neighbour so I can figure out whose needs I may ignore.”
How are we to care for our neighbours as Jesus calls us to?
So how are we to go and do likewise- to care for our neighbours like him?
There are two main things we need to do if we are to care as Jesus calls us to care
(1) To empty ourselves
a. Emptying ourselves start with our attitude (Phil 2:5-8)
PHP 2:5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross!
We approach care from a superior attitude. Recently we were in Honolulu, Hawaii and we visited the Bishop Museum. The Bishop is the family name of a missionary who went to Hawaii to convert the native Hawaii. It may be difficult for us to judge their motives and approach. After all we have the hindsight which is ‘perfect’ vision. Becoming Christian means adopting not just the Christian religion but also European culture. The native Hawaiians who used to go about semi naked (but comfortable) have to wear Victorian clothes-women in dresses and men in suits. The book Hawaii by James Mitchener and the 1996 movie of the same name, based on the book gives us some idea on what happened during that period. It tells the story of a 1820s Yale University divinity student (Max von Sydow) who, along with his new bride (Julie Andrews), becomes a Calvinist missionary in the Hawaiian Islands.
b. It is when we accept our own inability to care in our own strength that we become useful to him
(Jn 15: 4-5)
4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing
(2 Cor 4:7)
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
The danger most of us face, especially those whom God has gifted us with various talents and spiritual gifts, is to run on our own strength.
c. Obedience. Latin word audire, meaning “to listen.” This means setting time aside to listen to God. Time aside for Bible study, contemplation, prayer, etc.
Connected to our attitude and self-dependence is the need for obedience. We must do what God asks us to do, not what we want to do. There is a strong tendency to decide what we want to do and then ask God for his blessings. Then we begin to look for signs, coincidences or supporting verses from the Bible.
I wonder when we go to heaven and are recounting our lives to God, telling him of our great sacrifice to ourselves in doing something for him, God will say, “I did not ask you to do that!” Listen and obey, do what God wants you to do.
d. Discarding our romantic ideas of what it means to serve God. This free us to go where and when we are called, on his terms
“We often think that service means to give something to others, to tell them how to speak, act, or behave; but now it appears that above all else, real , humble service is helping our neighbours discover that they possess great but often hidden talents than can enable them to do more than what we can do for them. By revealing the unique gifts of the other, we learn to empty ourselves. Self-emptying does not ask of us to engage in some form of self-castigation or self-scrutiny, but to pay attention to others in such a way that they begin to recognise their own value.” (McNeill, Morrison, and Nouwen 1982),80)
A compelling example of this the interaction of Jesus with the woman at the well in John chapter four. Their relationship began as he graciously acknowledged his own need and asked her, a social outcast, for a drink. In their candid interchange she saw her own life with blinding clarity but Jesus did not leave her desolate. She was the first person to whom he revealed that he was the Messiah, transforming her life into one of hope. We, too, can minister his grace, especially to those who are suffering, by emptying ourselves, going to meet them, staying with them in their pain, and never failing to offer hope.
(2) To allow him to fill us up
a. To saturate ourselves with Word of God
MT 4:4 Jesus answered, "It is written: `Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.' " (Matt 4:4)
16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. (Col 3:16)
Knowing the Bible well is important. Knowing and understanding the bible by studying it yourself is very important. You are all highly educated. Yet, many of you depended on someone’s processed teaching. How many of you actually look up the verses and verified the teachings you receive from preachers, pastors and other Christians? And check their words with other writings by other Christians? Why not? Because you are too busy? You have time to read the newspaper? If you have time to read the newspaper, then you will have time to read the bible. It is pure laziness on the part of Christians not to read the bible.
b. Be filled with the Holy Spirit
5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Rom 5:5)
17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. (Rom 14:17,18)
John Wesley said we have yet to see what a man can do if he is fully filled with the Holy Spirit. Reading the The Journal Once Lost-Extracts from the dairy of John Sung is very revealing. John Sung was a powerful evangelist who swept through Malaya, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan and Indonesia between Jun 1935 and December 1939. That he was a showman was no doubt. On one occasion during a sermon, he brought a coffin, placed it under the pulpit, and shouted, "Get rich, get rich, get the coffin!" (This was a play on words in the original Chinese, used to convey the idea that pursuing money will not bring you eternal life.) After exclaiming this statement, he then went and lay down in the coffin himself. However, there are records of thousands being saved, miracles being performed and many eyes opened. Sung was quoted as defining faith as "watching God work while on your knees".
c. Be in fellowship with the triune God (perichoresis)
1JN 4:19 We love because he first loved us (1 Jn 4:18)
EPH 6:23 Peace to the brothers, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love. (Eph 6:23, 24)
We can only love if we remain in the fellowship of the triune God. I like the Greek word perichoresis which is not found in the bible. It originates from the Greek orthodox tradition. Often we have problem describing the trinity; three persons, one essence. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. No, we do not believe in three gods. Perichoresis is a dance. The three persons are described as in a dance. In a dance, there is changing role as the dancers move in a fluid movement. Such is the triune God. We are invited into the dance. We can enter the fellowship because of the Holy Spirit within us.
Lessons for us
Is there a difference between Christian care and non Christian caring? Yes. While I do not want to denigrate the caring given by non-Christians to the poor, sick and destitute, I believe Christians can offer more. Christians give because of the overflow of the love of Jesus Christ in their lives.
• It is not out of a sense of duty
• It is not karma
• It is not for evangelism
• It is who we are
Agapē caring or Christian caring is allowing God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit to care through us. IN that sense, we can offer what others cannot. We can offer true faith, hope and love.
In that there will be an end to all pain and suffering.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." (Rev 21:4)
In that there is a God who cares and we will all be there in a better place.
3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. (Rev 21:3)
Is the way we care for one another. Not to (a) avoid death, or (b) to hasten death, but (c) as fellow sufferers along the way, caring for one another.
1CO 13:4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Cor 13:4-7)
If we care for others through Christ, we will not burn out because the resources of Christ are infinite. If we care out of our own resources, one day we will run dry.
Soli Deo Gloria