By love and for love

Pastors and churches and denominations are doing a fair bit of hand-wringing these days over "millenials" and "nones" and the greater realization that we are living in a generation where it is no longer a given that parents will have their children baptized, bring them up in faith, or feel any compunction whatsoever (faith-based or cultural) to become part of a faith community.

We once had the luxury of living in American Christendom, where Christianity was given a basic amount of privilege and benefit-of-the doubt, where church attendance was as much a matter of social inertia and pressure as it was an expression of faith, where Christian holidays were made national holidays.

These days are past. And so the shape of the church's outreach and individual evangelism is in a state of change, trying to figure out how to share the faith and hope that is in us with a world that no longer takes belief in God or the importance of faith structures as a given.

The philosophical and existential shift that I see happening around me, now that assumed-Christianity is no longer people's default state, is the shift away from the question, "How do I find the salvation for my broken, incomplete, or longing self?" and instead a shift toward the question, "How do I find meaning and a sense of purpose for my life?"

I look around and see a generation that has figured out, all on its own, how to be kind and gracious, how to value family and friends, how to feed their souls through art and nature, how to be charitable, how to be "good," and - most importantly - how to achieve a sense of wholeness, completeness, and peace.

And so people of faith are being forced to ask different questions, offer different answers, and, really, to reevaluate the deep reasons that we cling to this faith in the triune God.

It is certainly true that this faith to which I cling produces the fruits of kindness, relationships, soul-nourishment, healing and wholeness, even if those things can be achieved in some measure apart from faith. But this faith also gives me a sense of existential, eternal purpose that I'm not sure anything else in the natural world is able to offer.

Paul writes in Ephesians,
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

Our faith in God can offer some words of hope and life to those in our generation who are now asking the question, "What is my purpose? What is my meaning? What is my legacy?"

Simply put: We are rooted in the love of the God who created us, for the purpose of living out a calling to be love in the world.

If we are going to talk about God and faith with those who are not looking for salvation, but who are looking for meaning, then we might do well to focus on this incredible idea that we come from love, for the sake of love.

We need to talk about the groundedness of being created from the dust of the earth by a God who loved us from before we were born. We need to talk about the way that God's love is a grounding force, something stable, something foundational, something that brings us back to a measured, unshakable, beautiful reality check no matter what else is happening in our lives. We need to talk about the way that we were created purposefully, and not by chance or whim; the idea that we exist for a reason, borne out of a love that came before us and will exist far after us, the alpha and omega.

And then, we need to talk about how having our feet planted in eternal love gives us an eternal calling; that there is a sense of purpose to be found in our lives, and that purpose is to be active in love, reflecting the love out of which we were created. The calling toward love is a calling that will continue to empower us in humility, gentleness, peace, and unity; it will keep us eternally bound to one another and to all creation; it will drive us to live beyond ourselves, to approach our world with a weight or care and concern that might be unachievable otherwise.

Now maybe, maybe, I'm overselling things here. I'm sure that plenty of people will say to me, "I can love others and love the world without needing faith in God to make that happen."

Yes. I suppose that is true.

But perhaps what Paul has to offer, what I have to offer, what God has to offer is this: the assurance that every part of the world was created out of love, and for love, and that in Christ, we don't just know that love exists, but that it exists on purpose. And that there is never any moment in life when any one of us exists outside the scope of divine, eternal love.

And our faith in God-is-love, our lasting hope in this life and the next, is that we're never left to nothingness, for even when all else falls away, love never fails.

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