On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of his dream. His dream was that people would be judged by the content of their character and not the colour of their skin. His dream was that there would be equality for all, that the ground would be level for everyone. His dream was that all would work together in peace and nonviolence until there is freedom for all.
What is our dream for a church that will carry us forward? Miroslav Volf, in Exclusion and Embrace, quotes Jürgen Moltmann in saying, “The ultimate goal of human beings is not the kingdom of freedom. Rather, the kingdom of freedom is a process toward the kingdom of God, which is the kingdom of love.” This is not to challenge Martin Luther King Jr., but to recognize that his dream of freedom is powered by love.
What does the church look like when love leads the way? It is a church that is guided by passages like John 17, I Corinthians 13 and I John 4. It is a church that is committed to believing the best of each other and to listening to each other for the purpose of understanding, and it is made up of people who are slow to judge. It is a church that is a people of reconciliation; it is about building bridges rather than walls of separation.
This kind of church is an upside-down kingdom that reflects Jesus’ way of empowering people rather than overpowering people: power under, to uplift, rather than power over, to dominate. I love the song, “The Power of Your Love”; it turns the “love of power” on its head with the “power of Jesus’ love.”
This kind of church relies on humility as an undergirding principle. The Apostle Paul singled out this characteristic of Jesus, who “emptied [humbled] himself” to become human (Philippians 2:7-8). Richard Rohr, in his Jan. 12 online meditation, said, “Transformation is found in one of God’s favourite and most effective hiding places: humility.” This is the picture of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12).
I Peter 1:22 calls us to “love one another deeply from the heart.” Whenever I am helping a pastor through challenging times in a congregation, I always say, “Above all else, love the people.” When the people know that you love them, grace abounds.
Garry Janzen is executive minister of Mennonite Church B.C.