Friday, February 8, 2019

Lessons from Ireland: Useful

This picture is a recreation of a famous Chi Rho from the Book of Kells. The Book of Kells housed at Trinity College in Dublin was one of the incredible things we got to see in Ireland. It is thought to have been created by monks in around 800AD.  It was a labor of love to create it, and another labor of love to preserve it from the perils of Viking attacks and the exposure of time. These superbly crafted copies of the four Gospels tie us to a group of fellow Christians from many years ago. We may not understand all of the symbolism but we do know is that these Christians honored the name of Christ as we seek to do the same in our worship and in our life.

The word of God connects us to people from an age far older than 800AD. Scripture is how God speaks to us, and it nurtures our faith while teaching us how to live each day in a way that honors Him.This past Sunday our pastor shared a bit of Greek with us in connection to our Epistle reading in I Corinthians. The word he taught us was Chréstos, translated as kind in the following passage:

But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

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. I Corinthians 12:31 – 13:7

Pastor Will supplies his cell number at the beginning of the sermon encouraging us to text him. When he explained to us that the Greek word for kind in this passage could also be translated as useful, it made me look at the passage in a whole new way, and I got so excited I tried to text him. But, then it took me so long to type that I realized I was missing other good stuff and changed my mind. Texting during sermons is apparently for a different age demographic.

Why is “love is patient and useful” so much different than “love is patient and kind?” 

Kind is vague. We can be kind without any emotional commitment.   

Kind can be misunderstood. Sometimes when I think I am being kind, my words or actions are not received in the way they are intended. 

Kind can be wimpy. It doesn’t seem to be a characteristic that inspires strength or respect.

But useful. . . That is something altogether different. Useful has to be specific, empathetic, and strong, or the action does not live up to the name. If I help someone by doing something useful I have made a commitment to making their life a little bit better. If I want to be useful, I have to think about what the other person actually needs, rather than what I might be willing to do or say. If I am going to be useful, then I need to make more of an investment in my actions and words.

I really like this translation of Chréstos. “Love is patient and useful” is my new favorite verse.

Now, what I was thinking during the sermon -- the idea that I couldn’t text to Pastor because my thumbs type slower than my brain thinks -- was what if we applied this to social media posts?

When Christians are on social media, we have ample opportunity to show love. However, social media does not promote the patient side of love, nor the useful side. We too often quickly shoot off a reply or share a meme. Even if what we post is kind, is it useful?

So, what does it mean to show useful love on social media? It is probably easier to start by identifying what is not useful.

Even when we are passionate about an issue -- even when we are right to be passionate about an issue -- it is not useful to post something that is derogatory, simplistic, untrue, or mean.

It’s derogatory if it insults – even if that insult is deserved.

It is simplistic if it discusses a complicated issue and in so doing puts everyone on the other side of the issue in the worst possible light.

It is untrue if it assumes that a group (such as the far left, or the far right) is plotting to destroy all human morals.

It is mean if it speaks law and does not even consider grace. Law without grace is useless.

I know when I have posted things like the examples listed I was convinced that my passion and my “rightness” would magically persuade people to see my truth. I have come to realize that even when I am on the moral side of the issue -- even when scripture supports my view -- my passion is still steeped in sin.

I need grace and so do my social media contacts. We all need forgiveness.

So, how can our love be patient and useful? I suspect it has to do with action.

Instead of posting something derogatory about an opposing candidate, I can make sure I vote and encourage others to do the same.

Instead of posting something untrue, I can seek out information on the other side of the issue to learn more about the people who believe what I do not believe.

Instead of sharing a simplistic meme I can interact, face-to-face, with people who have different convictions than me.

Instead of thinking the ends justifies my meanness, I can step away from my computer (or phone) and do something helpful, something, patient, something kind.

God created preachers to help us understand His word, but He asks all of us to obey and live His word. Our words are nothing. Our actions, when motivated by the realization that we have been forgiven and brought into the family of God, are useful because God makes them so.

The Greek word Chréstos is close to the same word commonly used as the name for a slave. I am no longer a slave to the law. I am a servant of Jesus and my fellow humans. It would benefit me to remember that the chi that starts the word Chréstos connects me to the Chi Rho that is the symbol for Christ. My words, my tweets, my posts, shared memes, and especially my actions, all speak to my understanding of what it means to be connected to Christ. 

So now, faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. I Corinthians 13:13

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