For the past few weeks my wife, 9 month old daughter, and I have been on the road. Somehow or other it worked out that September was a month where we had several out of town engagements and we decided that rather than travel back and forth we’d make one month long trip of it, visiting friends along the way, and making a quick beach trip in between engagements. Traveling is one of those tricky things that depends on your perspective. On the one hand it can be an incredible experience of seeing new places, embracing the beauty of creation, and catching up with old friends. On the other it can be a painful disruption of sacred routines, full of stress filled hours finding ones way in unknown places with a crying baby and hours of hellish interstate. I alternate back and forth, but lately I’ve been on the grumpy side, missing the hard fought routine I’d carved out back home.
We’ve been at the beach for the last few days and while my wife and daughter relax by the ocean, I mostly sit in a coffee shop working—writing, catching up on emails, etc. The other night, after a day of trying to fit in my writing, feeling stressed over completing a task list without my regular routine, I went for a run on the beach. I was working hard, pounding out the miles for an upcoming race I’m training for. I felt tired, my body a little overworked and I started to mourn the bad eating I’d done earlier in the day. I didn’t feel as fast as I wanted and began to wonder whether I’d be able to really finish the race or achieve the respectable time I had my sights set on. When I got back to the beach where my wife and daughter were enjoying the wind and waves and sea gulls, my wife said, “God loves us! Look around at all of this,” she said pointing to the crashing waves, a gathering storm in the distance, the wind whipping across the shore, “We are small in all of this. God loves us!”
Reading the lectionary for this Sunday that is the phrase that keeps coming back to me—“God loves us!” It is the anecdote to the ambition that drives the disciples to find their way to Christ’s right hand. It is what makes revolutionary servitude possible. It is what protects us from the murderous greed that James is trying to root out of the church. “God loves us!”
“Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:1-2). Ambition and envy, the warring desires of the heart—all of these come from refusing to accept the love of God. From refusing to be in a community in which we all have enough. From refusing to be small in the vastness of creation and accept “God loves us!”
It may seem strange to be overwhelmed with this sense of God’s love when reading the Gospel for this Sunday. It is after all a passage about how to become great in the kingdom of God, which also means accepting the fact of crucifixion in our lives and accepting that if we want to be great in the kingdom we must become servants of all. Ambition and envy are out the door if we are servants of all, slaves to all. But we are able to do this, to serve all, to welcome the child and embrace the Son’s way of death and resurrection, only if we realize in our smallness that God loves us.
What would it mean for us to accept this fundamental reality so that we can live easily and openly, doing the work we do not from ambition toward greatness, but from the lowly view of service? What would it mean for us to live in communities like James was calling us to where everything we need is there for the asking—enough for our need, not for our greed? The answer is a hard, simple truth–we must live, in every moment with the understanding on our lips: we are God’s children, God loves us, we need nothing else. It may all seem like some bumper sticker version of salvation, but sometimes the truth is simpler than we make it.