God’s job is to love us. What is our job?
When marriage vows are taken, one person says to another, “I am going to love you no matter what.” The Book of Common Prayer has fancier wording but this is basically what is meant. Marriage is a covenant. It’s a promise, a unilateral commitment not dependent on the other. “I will,” is the response that is made to the question, “Will you have this person to be your spouse?” This kind of love is a decision, a matter of the will, a daily commitment. I am going to love you no matter what. Contracts are set in if/then language: if you deliver your end of the agreement, then I will deliver mine. Marriage is a covenant, not a contract. As such it models the way God loves.
But are there expectations in a covenant? The marriage vow is to “live together in the covenant of marriage.” It is the living together that tests the covenant. As couples live together in marriage, each one loving the other with no strings attached, there are times when one member of the couple may need to say to other: “I need something from you.” That something could be increased time for conversation, more help with family members, more emotional involvement, more attention to personal health, the willingness to deal with an addiction. It could be a number of things. Covenants are unilateral commitments which invite and help make possible returned commitment. Can there be expectations or the honest sharing of needs within a covenant or does that turn it into a contract?
Over the years I’ve heard spouses wonder what they could do to make their spouse love them more or change their behavior. “Maybe if I lost some weight, there’d be more interest in me.” “Maybe if I were nicer, the drinking would stop.” “Maybe if I was more exciting, the affair wouldn’t have happened.” A big problem can develop in marriage when a spouse abdicates responsibility. Another big problem, however, is taking on responsibility that belongs to the other.
God loves us no matter what. His love for us is expressed in a covenant, fully expressed in Jesus Christ. “Even if you murder my beloved Son, I will continue to love you.” God’s love is so healthy and full that it is transforming us wherever we are even if we don’t return God’s love. Does God’s covenant with us contain expectations? God has some hopes for us it would seem. God can see our fullness and is loving us into who we can be. It’s not just that God approves of continued unfaithfulness. But our unfaithfulness results in increased faithfulness on God’s part. Mystery unfathomable, this covenantal love of God. God loves us and expects nothing in return.
At this time of year, our staff is making extra effort to make your church more attractive to you so as to make it more inviting for you to respond to our invitations to participate. The maintenance staff is scurrying around, cleaning and painting, making those necessary repairs so that our facility looks good and will last a long time. The program staff has been working on classes and events which we know will inspire those who take advantage of them. The support staff rustles up communications so that you will be informed. The musicians are planning and practicing so as to present awe and wonder.
A question our staff regularly asks is, “What can we do to get more people to come?” We’re all pretty creative people and we’re highly invested in our ministries. And we keep coming up with solid content and lively presentation. I’ll confess that each one of us on staff asks ourselves, when our offerings are met with low attendance, “What could we have done differently to make them want to come?” There’s a healthy part of our desire to do all we can to make sure our parishioners are well fed spiritually. But sometimes it feels like we’re blaming ourselves for other people’s unfaithfulness.
Our job as a church staff is to live into the covenant to which we are called. Our job is to ground ourselves in the Gospel and use our talents to present Christ to every age group in creative ways. Our job is to invite and inspire more than it is to entertain you. Our job is to continue to do that without getting lost in our hopes or expectations of your response or your attendance. If we do get lost in those hopes or expectations, we’ve moved from covenant to contract and further away from the manner in which God works. We’re here to feed sheep not count sheep. But it does hurt to prepare the feast and be met with indifference.
A real challenge with covenants is that the people we commit ourselves to are invariably fickle. Other people will regularly let us down. The test of our covenants is what we do after someone lets us down. Do we continue to extend ourselves in the commitment or do we quit the relationship? How do we love others like God loves us and not allow ourselves to be taken advantage of or hurt? The answer is probably lies in the truth that we will be taken advantage of and hurt. The more our attention is focused on what others do, the more we will be hurt, in fact.
So what is your job with God and your church? What covenant are you called to embrace? Are you treating God and your church like Amazon.com, just browsing and buying what looks good at the time? God loves you no matter what you do or don’t do. Your church tries to reflect that love without manipulative threats of what might happen to you if you don’t show up. When I really know God loves me no matter what, I invest in the relationship. Until I know it, I’m just stuck in meaningless contracts.
God’s job is to love us. What is our job?
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.