Listening And Loving As A Way To Hope And Healing
In this article, Rachel Conner (Executive Pastor at The Vineyard Church in Sugarland, TX) extends an invitation for us to participate in two kingdom-orienting practices that will help move us toward hope and healing.
Executive Pastor, The Vineyard Church (Sugarland, TX), Spiritual Director, & Author
What will we remember about 2020?
The year has been unrelenting in rapid fire devastation. We are in a pandemic. Thousands have died in the U.S. and millions around the world; and the future health of many is in uncertain. The effects of COVID-19 have closed down businesses, produced an even more volatile stock market, increased homelessness, poverty, and joblessness. There are wildfires out of control burning some of the most beautiful parts of California. Racial tension is high, violence against BIPOC* is troublesome and reminds me of living in the 50’s-70’s. White nationalism is rampant and the Church is not having as much influence as those of us who are Christ followers with a Kingdom-focus would hope.
We are experiencing a deficit of decency, love, and justice. These are the defining issues of the day and they are also the dividing issues of the day.
It is a year of extreme lament. But it is also a year of extreme hope.
We are nearing the end of Kingdomtide, a season of the Christian Liturgical Calendar that is observed from the last Sunday in August until the last Sunday in October. This is the season where we walk with Jesus as he does miracles, tells his parables, and feeds the hungry. It is the season of fulfillment and harvest.
As a Vineyard person, the Kingdom of God always draws me to prayer with every hope of being more and more transformed into the image of Christ.
I write this as an invitation for us to pay attention to two practices that are very kingdom-oriented: loving and listening.
We long to see, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” in the lives of people of every tribe, tongue, and nation as ONE. It is not something we wait for one day when the chaos is over, but we believe that the future reality of God’s Kingdom has invaded our present. So, we speak in the imperative mood as the text is written, and say, “Come, Your Kingdom!” We boldly and confidently pray that we, and others, will live in the Kingdom of grace, righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit until we are reunited with Christ.
This is a Kingdom that brings the good news of healing the sick, casting out demons, offering radical forgiveness, extending compassion, and delivering the oppressed. This is the Kingdom that Jesus ushered in. This is a Kingdom that stretches us and challenges us to unlearn some things as we see in Luke 11:38-42 and Luke 13:10-17. For example, cleanliness is from the inside and healing is a present possibility, even on the Sabbath. A human being should never be left to suffer needlessly. Jesus’ Kingdom breaks into our rigidity and lack of real love for people.
In Mark 4:1-20, Jesus tells the parable of the seed and the sower. He begins with the word, “Listen” and he ends with “he who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:9). Jesus invites us into history and HIS STORY and that is what brings health and healing to the brokenness of the world.
The ills in today’s society will only be addressed effectively when people decide to listen to each other without judgement and criticism.
We have made an enemy of everyone who is different than we are, who think and behave differently than we do. We are willing to sever relationships with long term friends because we now see them as the other. They lean right and we lean left. We happily follow the kings and rulers of this world while giving lip service to The King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
When Jesus was asked by his disciples in Matthew 22:36-40 what the greatest commandment was, he answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your soul.” And the second is like the first, “Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.” Showing unconditional love is what holds the Kingdom together. God’s love is undeniable and inescapable.
The vitriol, hatred, and fear we are bombarded with daily could be eradicated by a true love for God and one another. That’s the Gospel.
Brene Brown says she wants to “stay fueled by a gritty, dangerous, wide-eyed, radical, change-the-world, kinda love when disdain, judgement and contempt are so much easier and when fear is seducing her into staying quiet.” Jayson Bradley says, “Love is not some small minded ideal that we bypass on the way to weightier theological principles. LOVE IS PH-D LEVEL CHRISTIANITY. In our pursuit of Jesus, we will spend the rest of our lives learning to love more passionately, intimately, intentionally, and transformationally.”
I invite you to try listening and loving as a way to love God and love others in 2020 and beyond.
About Rachel Conner
Rachel Conner has been a part of the Sugar Land Vineyard since 2001, and, along with her husband Stephen, has been an active participant in the life and activities of the local church. She has served on the Senior Pastor’s Council for both Bert and Reagan Waggoner. Her family has been upwardly mobile so she has had opportunities to teach and lead prayer initiatives in the cities she has lived in, and the churches she has served.
Rachel retired from a successful career with AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals, Inc., in 2012, and is now firmly entrenched into the daily operations of the Sugar Land Vineyard, teaching, enjoying her practice as a spiritual director, working with the pastoral staff, writing for various blogs, and conducting workshops on the Intersectionality of Race and Gender.
Rachel and Stephen have three grown children that they spend down time with as well as traveling to beach locations to enjoy the sand.