Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Sheltering Tree
(Original Candle Drippings Title: "The Lord of Love")

As our years increase and grey hairs begin to invade the brown, our hearts turn to reflection.  About youth, love. Sunsets. Cool evenings.  Spring rains.  Age, joy, friendship, the ideals we once embraced.  Shortly before his death on July 25, 1834, Samuel Taylor Coleridge expressed his reflections in a poignant poem, Youth and Age.  In the middle of the poem, he wrote,

Flowers are lovely; Love is flower-like;
Friendship is a sheltering tree;
O! the joys, that came down shower-like,
Of Friendship, Love, and Liberty,
Ere I was old!

            I'm intrigued by the second line of this excerpt: "Friendship is a sheltering tree."  Friendship seemed to come hard for Coleridge.  All of his life he suffered from numerous physical ailments.  As a result, he frequently took heavy doses of laudanum---opium dissolved in alcohol until he became addicted to the drug.  Perhaps because of the influence of the drug, perhaps not, who can tell, he struggled with loneliness and the sense of isolation that often accompanies it.  But there were a few friends who took away some of the loneliness.  One of them,  William Wordsworth, was especially close.  From their first meeting right up to Coleridge's death, Wordsworth was to him a sheltering tree, bringing the ailing poet into the shade of comfort, encouragement, and support that often defines a true friend.

            I have a friend like that.  His name is Jesus.  And before He departed this world, He commanded His disciples to be that kind of friend to each other.  "A new commandment I give to you," He said, "that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another."  (John 13.34)  Here is one instance where we are specifically told to act like Jesus.  Love one another even as I have loved you.  The words even as mean "in just the same way."  We need to love each other in just the same way Jesus loved us.  Then we, too, can grow into a sheltering tree for one another in Christ.

            But how?  Jesus's love was unconditional, unselfish, unrestrained, and unending.  He loved willingly and sacrificially.  Friendship, the kind that loves like Jesus loves, actually begins with acceptance.  Have you ever thought how diffcult it is to accept some of our brothers with all their quirks and idiosyncracies?  They do one thing that rubs you the wrong way and you back off.  Even when they apologize and try to make things right, you only move in to  a "discreet distance," or maybe back off further refusing to restore friendship at all. Jesus says we must accept them for who they are in Christ, not because of anything they do.  Accept them because they are His.

            When He found us, Jesus accepted us just as we were.  Look again at those He hung around with.  Jesus was accused of befriending prostitutes, crooked tax agents, thieves, drunkards, and other sinners.  And check out those who became His innermost circle of companions.  Coarse fishermen, a questionable tax agent, a political zealot, to name a few.  Peter was so impetuous he constantly screwed up.  But Jesus said, "I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail."  (Luke 22.32)  John had a temper so intense it earned him the nickname "Son of Thunder."  But he earned the distinction of being the disciple whom Jesus loved.

            Furthermore, Jesus's love was other-centered.  His entire life and ministry expressed His love to others by serving them, pleasing them, lifting them up.  He told His disciples, "Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." (Matthew 20.28, italics mine)  To serve someone as Jesus did, you have to focus your attention on them, to look after their needs over and above your own.  "Have this attitude in yourselves," said the Apostle, "which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God..., emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant." (Philippians 2.5-7)  Immediately before that, he advised God's people to "do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others." (vs. 3-4)

How can we love as Jesus loved?  Accept one another because He has already accepted us (John 13.20), and look out for the needs of one another instead of concentrating on our own.  When we do, we begin to spread the leaves and branches of a sheltering tree over our brother or sister and show our obedience to and love for the Lord of Love.

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