the remnant

Cycle 30

Say hello to Cycle 30, the 30th class of interns at Sojourners: an eclectic mix of cultures, personalities and Meyers-Briggs profiles.

One month has passed since I was thrown into community with these nine young women and men. We live together, eat together, play together, work together… and laugh, A LOT, together. Even our next-door neighbor can hear our laughter through the walls at 7 in the morning. From the outset I have been surprised at how easily we get along, at least considering how different we  are from one another.

During our first week together, our director told us:

You are the remnant.

Translation: “You, Cycle 30, are the remnant, the legacy of the Sojourners community that served as the foundation of the organization’s work when it first formed in 1971.” Talk about an ego booster. =)

The Bible speaks of “the remnant” in various places. Isaiah, amidst his proclamations of judgment, tells of God preserving “the remnant of Israel,” who will return to the Lord and experience His favor (7:3; 10:20-23). Micah declares that God will “gather the remnant of Israel” even as they are in exile (2:12). Paul refers to the believing Jews in his day as “a remnant” (Rom 11:5). In each of these instances, the remnant exists when it shouldn’t have. Under normal circumstances the remnant would have been crushed, scattered and diminished alongside the others.

But when does God ever act “normal”? He brews wine out of water. He doodles in the sand in front of a bunch of Pharisees. He speaks from a burning bush, in a low whisper and out of an ass (literally). Materialism, oppression and legalism seek to suffocate, but grace breaks through with an unexpected breath of fresh air. By His grace the remnant lives on.

 

You are the remnant.

I think of the remnant of Israel in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Returning to Jerusalem as exiles and strangers, these Israelites faced a perplexing question: “How do you make yourself at home when you’re not even sure you belong there?” Day after day their enemies reinforced their remnant status with mockery, lies and even death threats.

But the Israelites themselves perpetuated their existential crisis: they took advantage of the poorer individuals in their midst, and even after rebuilding the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem, the tasks to which God had called them, they conducted business on the Sabbath and intermarried with peoples who didn’t follow Yahweh, undermining the very structures that were meant to sustain their identity as God’s beloved.

Perhaps the Israelites were forgetful. Perhaps they didn’t understand the significance of the Law or the implications of their decisions. Perhaps they just wanted to have fun. After all, living-in-community-in-distinction-from-mainstream-values-while-seeking-to-make-a-positive-impact-in-society is, well, daunting. The life of the remnant is, in a word, inconvenient. Whatever motivations the Israelites had for disobeying, it’s obvious they’d had enough of the remnant life.

And how often have I, too, arrived at this place?

 

You are the remnant.

I look at the photo above. A bunch of wide-eyed 20-somethings. How is it that we get to be here? How is it that we have entered an organization, a community, a legacy of women and men who have challenged the injustices of this world for over four decades? We can’t even agree on how to spend our food budget, let alone move people to care about the environment, immigration reform and SNAP. What are we doing here?

In the middle of the chaos and awkwardness
the Lord speaks:”You are My people. You have received mercy” (Hos 1:8).

The remnant exists because of grace. We get to be here because of grace. To be the remnant is to embrace everything that comes with it: friendship, responsibility, conflict, inconvenience… and grace. Because grace feels much more real when you have to weigh 10 different opinions for one decision. Because grace is what you give when dishes are left in the sink again, and grace is what you get when you take your stress out on the wrong person.

By His grace the remnant lives on.

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caught off guard by simplicity

All you need is love.
– John Lennon

As my dad and I slowed to a walk at the end of our run, our conversation morphed into a discussion of theology, as is often the case with our interactions. This time, the complexity of the doctrine of the Trinity vexed me. I said, “How in the world is a new believer or seeker supposed to understand this teaching?”

“They probably won’t,” my dad replied. “Which is why one enters into relationship with God through His love. Love is something people can relate to.”

His response caught me off guard. It was an obvious answer, yet my intellectual bent, strengthened by four years at a Christian liberal arts college, had become dissatisfied with the “simplicity” of God’s love.

To me, messages about God’s love seemed to always take the form of romantic clichés. I’ve started to tune out and even chuckle at phrases like “God is madly in love with you” and “It was love that held Jesus up on the Cross.” Pretty sure Jesus was held up (barely) by nails and his own fading strength.

Before I get written off as another heartless cynic … I hold nothing against feelings and warm fuzzies. Emotions are good and necessary for any healthy relationship. I have felt strong emotional connections to God before, experiences that have strengthened my understanding of His character and prompted greater commitment to Him.

But we often talk and sing about God’s love as merely something that makes us feel good, something that we all want.

Most days I don’t live like I want God’s love. I want His favor, His benefits, His nod of approval … in addition to the dozen other things I want that aren’t Him. Other days I feel so ashamed and trapped by my mistakes and shortcomings that I don’t want His love because it seems too generous to be real. Both my sense of self-sufficiency and my sense of unworthiness make me not really want God’s love.

But what if His love is something I need?

I think one reason I’ve become wary of “love that makes you feel good” is that God’s expressions of love don’t always make me feel good. If anything, they leave me confused, sad, ashamed. The greatest expression of love was Jesus Christ, who not only took on the body of an ordinary male but also took on the sins of humanity in a humiliating death fit for the worst criminals of his day. This knowledge does not make me feel good. It breaks my heart and angers me.

But it is precisely humankind’s inability to get right with God that reveals our need for divine intervention.

God draws people by His love because He created us for Him. It was love that propelled Him to make us in the first place, and it is love that transcends language and reasoning to settle into the depths of the heart and soul, into places are too real to ignore.

Like many other followers of Christ, I’ve gone through cycles of accepting, doubting and rejecting God’s love. I simply struggle to comprehend it. But I’m beginning to realize that regardless of what I’m feeling each day, I need God’s love. The world needs God’s love.  Not because it makes us feel good, but because it leads us to God Himself.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
– Jesus Christ (John 10:10 ESV)

By His love I am made clean.
By His love I am free from guilt and shame.
By His love I am confident to approach His throne of grace.
By His love I love my neighbors and my enemies.
By His love I make Him known.
By His love I take risks and accept mistakes, because He is my hope.
By His love I come to know the Creator of the Universe, the Almighty, the King of kings.
By His love I come to love the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.