Devotion Monday May 4
As we have seen, Cranmer would want Anglicans to concentrate on what God has saved them for. Because only by focusing on the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection will believers find the proper motivation and spiritual power to walk in what God has set aside for them (Eph. 2:10). Nevertheless, Cranmer recognized that what God has saved people from could rise up again and interfere with their new life in Christ. As a result, this week’s collect and readings encourage us to say “no” to those things that impede our fellowship with God and one another.
In the devotion for April 16, we discussed Karl Menninger’s insight that at its root, sin is a refusal of God’s love, a rebellion against being dependent on his affirmation. We prefer to define ourselves by the life we are trying to build. Consequently, we become addicted to self-love, which uses all our gifts and talents to try to prove to ourselves and others that we really are somebody who should be loved and valued.
So powerful is our addiction to approval-seeking, that today we often confuse unconditional love with unconditional affirmation. Unconditional affirmation is what you receive from your dog (but not your cat!). An owner can unexpectedly board the dog for weeks, and when the owner returns, the dog just jumps up and down with excitement. The dog’s joy at being with the owner never poses a challenge to the owner’s doing whatever the owner wants to do. Try that with your spouse! Unconditional affirmation seems so good because it never confronts human self-centeredness. We are completely affirmed as we are, even though our insecurity apart from God keeps us primarily focused on trying to meet our own needs and wants.
Unconditional love is just the opposite. Love, by its very nature, reaches out for union. For implicit within the gift of love is a calling of the receiver into relationship with the giver. Indeed, to accept the gift of love is admit into our heart a power from outside ourselves which tugs at our very self-centeredness. It works to wean our hearts off of self-focus, so we can find our true joy in giving ourselves away in love to the one who has loved us.
The gift of love, by its very nature, seeks for the recipient to reciprocate and return the love back. Yet, the price of this relationship is a dent in our self-sufficient autonomy. We can no longer be only concerned about our own needs and wants. For our love for others to thrive, our selfish ways have to die. Indeed, the greater the selflessness of the love we receive, the greater the loss of the right to live for ourselves alone. Perfect, unconditional love seeks to stir up in us an equally unreserved offering of all of ourselves to the giver. Of course, God’s handiwork will only fully accomplish this transformation in us in the age to come.
In the end, humanity’s greatest sense of affirmation is found in loving relationships, while the greatest threat to loving relationships is our persistent insecurities which keep us focused on ourselves. Sadly, unconditional affirmation never faces this issue, so it can offer nothing to really help us feel truly affirmed. In the final analysis, it just leaves us lonely, trapped into a life of constantly trying to appease a person we really don’t like-ourselves.
If the fruit of unconditional affirmation is so dire, why does it remain so popular today? Because it is the inevitable consequence of approval-earning. Broken by our failure ever to fix our flaws, we never can prove our worth. That on-going wound has left us only one option, to demand that no one has the right to say that we are wrong, even when deep down we know we are. But God’s unconditional love exposes this lie for what it is. God’s unconditional love at work in us will never stop until that glorious day when we love him and others as unconditionally as he has loved us.
Therefore, let us begin to return God’s unconditional love by praying Cranmer’s collect.
1552 Collect for the Third Sunday after Easter: Almighty God, which showest to all men that be in error the light of thy truth, to the intent that they may return into the way of righteousness; Grant unto all them that be admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s religion, that they may eschew those things that be contrary to their profession, and follow all such things as be agreeable to the same; through our Lorde Jesus Christ. Amen.