Reflection: Kristi Van Nostran
Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.
“Let mutual love continue” was our theme last weekend for World Communion Sunday. It was a beautiful way to frame the celebration of the unity that we are called to as Christian siblings around the globe. Mutual love sounds sweet, don’t you think? Love is always a good thing. Cue the singing animals, some sparkly stars, and warm fuzzy feelings. Until of course you are stuck on a never-ending zoom call with the person who drives you absolutely crazy, or the person who always complains but never steps up to fix the stuff they complain about, or that person you live with who just left their dishes inches from the dish washer for the 10th time this week, or the family member who knows exactly which of your buttons to push… And so the author of Hebrews goes on to describe what mutual love actually looks like. And unfortunately for Disney it doesn’t appear to include singing animals or star-crossed lovers. It is a choice, and often not an easy or comfortable one.
Mutual love is counterintuitive: it looks like congregations who are facing all the challenges of living in this difficult, in between, insecure, unclear and unsure moment welcoming strangers. Strangers who could be angels, but who are strangers all the same. Mutual love isn’t safe. It means empathizing with those in prison, so much so that you visit them, write to them, pray for them, advocate for them. Mutual love extends to those who we can easily love like family and those who are strangers, love means being in the skin of the person being tortured, practicing compassion so extreme that you experience the suffering of others yourself. Which is probably going to demand that you do something about that torture. Love changes you, love demands things of you; love is action. Love is making the choice to act for those who are in danger, who are powerless, who are other. Love is a risky choice that will change who we are at our core.
The reason is simple: we are made in the image of a God who is mutual love. God of course does it perfectly, the three diverse persons of the Trinity freely to act for one another, to make room for one another, to always choose the best for the Beloved, and in turn the same is done for them. Mutual love becomes perfect in that the One who made us got so in our skin and felt our struggle that God came to us having put on human flesh. It doesn’t get much more compassionate or more loving than that! God took on real risk to be with us, to experience our lives, to show us with God’s own hands a different way of living, a way of choosing to love. Even if it meant suffering, even if it meant conflict, even if it meant death.
The author of Hebrews is seeking to guide that congregation – and our congregations – to build wide and welcoming community where the vulnerable are cared for and safe, where those with privilege and power give of themselves for the good of all. And the key to all the author’s instructions is action that builds welcoming, mutual, loving community. Love is about our relationship with others, the actions that will draw us closer to others, that will knit together a community, that will bind individuals into relationship with each other, and with God.
Love is a choice, however. We are free to walk away from it. We are free to choose an easier way, probably a more comfortable way. That easy way lets us choose just the people we like to
surround us, and only do activities that we like, and resist any change that might crack us open to otherness, or newness. We do have that choice, but it won’t help us to pattern our lives after Christ’s way; not like consciously choosing love does.
To choose mutual love is to choose to act in a way that gives life to all. Sometimes that means welcoming the stranger who is in danger, afraid, hated by others. Sometimes that means allowing ourselves to be the stranger who is welcomed by others out of our suffering, to be raised up and cared for in a community of love.
We are called by God to choose to act toward others in ways that builds wholeness, promotes healing, provides welcome and wellness in ourselves and our communities. It is work we can only do together, with one another and with the God who made us. This is the hope to which we are called on World Communion Sunday, and every day: To be people who are formed by and who practice mutual love.