PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot the Rapids — Paul’s Resolution Still Rings True

2016 is a year a lot of people will be happy to have in the rear-view mirror.

With so many glad to see this year end, it seems a fitting time to quit looking back and start looking forward, and one of the ways I do that every year is through New Year’s resolutions.

I am a big believer in New Year’s resolutions. As a pastor, I promote them because I think they are very much in keeping with who and what Christians are about — using the beginning of a new year to have a clean slate, a fresh opportunity to start a new focus or to make a new commitment.

Of course, as a Christian, I know I don’t have to wait for New Year’s Day to make resolutions. I can do it each day as I make confession and find myself born anew daily in the water of forgiveness — my sin washed away and ready to start the new day with a clean slate — with a fresh opportunity to serve God and others.

Yes, Christians have that opportunity daily as children of God, but it always seems that the New Year is an especially good day to start with a clean slate — no mark on the day, the month or the year — a whole bunch of clean unblemished days lie before us, and it is good to make resolutions about how we want to live and who we want to be as children of God.

As I began my reflection and thought about the kind of person I want to be in the New Year, especially in the aftermath of 2016, a specific Bible passage kept coming into my mind. In the conclusion to his first letter to the church at Corinth, Apostle Paul wrote “Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Corinthians 16: 13-14)

Paul was writing to a divided group of people. They were fighting about everything, insulting each other, acting like some people were better than others based on wealth or knowledge and basically destroying the body of Christ by ripping other members of it apart.

Paul didn’t want them to ignore what was wrong — the needs of those who were forgotten, the call to reach out to those who felt abandoned or the arrogance of those who co-opted the message of Jesus to pursue their own agenda. He wanted them to be constantly vigilant and bravely focus on the healing, loving, inclusive message of our Lord, no matter what it cost them.  He wanted them to do the right thing.

But he also knew that the only way forward for them as a community was through love. Not with haughty arrogance and malevolent spite. But rather with humility and grace. When our actions are driven by love, people will hear them and respond more positively then if they are driven by self-righteousness or an air of superiority or as one filled with disdain.

There are a lot of people who enter this New Year rightly filled with fear and trepidation. There is so much uncertainty and what does seem certain is often unsettling.  And there is no shortage of reasons to be angry. But the Scripture reminds us that “perfect love casts out all fear.” (1 John 4:17). So love becomes our secret weapon in combating fear.

When we stand in the gap for last, the lost and the left behind, advocate for those whose voices may not be heard, and side with Jesus on behalf of the poor and the oppressed, and do it with love, then our voices and actions won’t repel or divide. Instead, we can be instruments of peace, provide the healing our nation — and our world — so desperately needs. Alert, aware, bold, but loving.

The Apostle Paul reminds us, just a few chapters before this verse, in his most famous of all chapters, 1 Corinthians 13, that if we act without love we are merely a clanging symbol or a noisy gong.  But when we respond to life with love — with kindness and patience, rejoicing in the truth — we will find a better way forward.

As I move into this New Year, I want to be a person who seeks to embody this verse from Corinthians. I want it embedded in my mind, in my conversations, in my relationships, and I want to see how it affects me as I interact with others.

Just imagine the life-giving energy it could produce as we ask God’s love to transform our hearts, our community, our nation and our world. To be alert, to be bold, to be courageous and to do it all with love. So that the message of inclusion and acceptance is heard and not just residual anger.

I know I won’t always do it perfectly — which is why I am glad that I am given a clean slate daily — but what a difference it would make if I could do it more often than not.  How much further will my voice echo and my actions reverberate if I simply drive forward in love?

And I invite you to join me this year in taking on this New Year’s resolution. Don’t turn a blind eye to the world or what is happening. Stand up and speak out. But do it with love. And if that happens, perhaps 2017 will be a year when love truly does trump hate.


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