When you hear the word submission, what comes to mind? Power over someone or something? Manipulating someone to do what you want? The Cambridge Dictionary defines submission as an act of allowing someone to have power over you. It is also defined as the act of accepting the power or authority of someone else. If we are honest with ourselves, people are not excited about someone else having power over them or having to accept the power or authority of someone else. Especially when that power or authority is oppressive and restrictive. This kind of submission usually comes with rules that can strip away your dignity, leaving you feeling defenseless with limited or no possibility of freedom.
But for this article, I want to talk to you about a different kind of submission. One of the nine Lifestyle Celebrations of Word Made Flesh is Submission. But here, the word submission is not an act of lording power over someone or something, but it is an act of celebration…the act of celebrating Jesus, each other and the poor.
So as I thought about what that kind of submission looks like it was Paul’s prayer to the Ephesians that came to mind. Paul’s prayer is an act that calls us to submit to love.
Submitting to love invites us to pray and love each other. When I was ordained into the ministry, I was told 13 words that I will never forget, for they continue to challenge and sustain me today. The words are, “Miriam, in ministry you cannot pick and choose whom you are going to love.” And let me tell you sometimes it will be and it has been challenging to love others and even to love yourself. Yet Jesus reminds us of the greatest commandment of all “to love God and love others.” We may find it difficult at times, but we must keep in mind one thing—that we are all created in God’s image. We need to allow ourselves to see God’s image in that brother or sister and to help you love even in those challenging and hurtful times. So when we pray we need to remember to pray for all of humanity, not simply those whom we feel comfortable with. We are called to pray for the rich and poor, male and female, young and old, of every race, tribe and culture, social status, economic status, and educational status, etc… And as we pray, God gives us the wisdom to go beyond our own interests or concerns of our own limited circle.
Submitting to love invites us to be rooted and grounded in love. “And I pray that you, being rooted and established—grounded— well founded in love (v. 17b). The apostle Paul uses two metaphors — agriculture and construction. Being rooted carries with it the ideal of life, sustenance and nurture. When a tree is severed from its roots it will die. It may look like it is alive, but after a while the leaves begin to turn brown, the branches turn gray and the tree begins to rot and eventually dies. A root system is essential to bring nutrients to a tree, to keep it healthy and strong. And just as a root system is essential to a tree so is the foundation essential to the building. In my brief research on foundations, I found this definition… “Foundations do not typically contribute to the architectural esthetics of the building. Yet without suitable foundations a building will not function effectively, it will be unsafe and its architectural merits will fade rapidly. The foundations are the most heavily loaded structural element of the building. They are constructed in largely un-seam conditions and their integrity is reliant on the quality of workmanship of constructions.”1
I am reminded of a story I read about a young man who was a member of a religious Order who came to Mother Teresa complaining about all the work that the Abbot of his community was demanding him to do. He felt that he was being diverted from his call. He said, “My call is to serve lepers —- I want to give my life to serving lepers,” and Mother Theresa looked at him with a smile and said to him, “your call is not to serve lepers— your call is to love Jesus.”
My friends, we can get caught up in the tasks and forget to love the One who called us! We must be attentive to the One who keeps asking us, “Do you love me?” In his book, In The Name of Jesus, Henri Nouwen reminds us that by asking this question, we can “keep ourselves from being pulled from one urgent issue to another and from becoming strangers to our own and God’s heart.”2 When we are called to love Jesus “it is not enough to be moral people, well trained people, eager to help others and have the ability to respond creatively to the burning issues of our time.”3 Yes, all of this is important. But the question we need to ask ourselves is, “are we people who have a desire to dwell in God’s presence, to listen to God’s voice, to look at God’s beauty, to touch God’s incarnate Word and to taste fully God’s infinite goodness?”4 Do you love me? Is not so much about what we have accomplished, but are you in love with Jesus? Do you love me? Remember, we were created from love, for love, to love.
Submitting to love enables us to work “together with all the saints.” It is in our nature to often feel that we need to control every situation and to take care of every task, and to fix all the problems. Remember, these words: “together with all the saints.” Our work is not to be done alone, but in community. Ministry is a communal and mutual experience — “together with all the saints.” Jesus sends the twelve out in pairs (Mark 6:7); “For where two or three meet in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18-19-20)
Over and over again, I have discovered how hard it is to be truly faithful to Jesus when I am alone. We need our sisters and brothers to pray with us, to speak with us about the spiritual task at hand, to challenge us to stay pure in mind, heart and body.
And it is there, “Together with all the saints, that we will learn to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love Christ and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Submitting to love is an invitation to trust and know the heart of God. Submitting to love is an invitation to trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own understanding/insight. Yes, we are to do our part, but we also must let God do God’s part! Trust God to fill us with all the riches and understanding that the situation warrants or requires. Submitting to love gives the opportunity to respond to conflicts, tensions and issues in a way that compels us to bring healing, reconciliation, hope and new life wherever we go.
Submitting to love is an invitation to know the heart of God. We are called to be people with a deep spiritual formation and transformation — formation in the mind of Christ, who did not cling to power but emptied himself, taking the form of slave — and transformation, nvolving the whole person, body, mind and heart so that we may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Remember we cannot do it alone. God, working through us will allow us to “accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.”
Submitting to love is an invitation to celebrate Jesus, each other and the poor. In his book, The Beloved Community, Charles Marsh states, “Behavior pleasing to God makes a simple claim: caring for the lonely and the poor and being a people attentive to the “fatherless and the widow in the affliction.” Let us throw ourselves into humdrum tasks and the ordinary work of mercy and justice.”5
Word Made Flesh has thrown itself to the work of mercy and justice by caring, serving and living among the poor and lonely, the fatherless and widow. May we continue to be strengthened by God for the ministry He has placed in our hands.
God has surprised Word Made Flesh in many ways. Let God continue to surprise us. Let God continue to guide us. Let God take complete residence in our hearts, minds, bodies and soul. May we be strengthened internally through the Holy Spirit. To God be the glory, in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever. The power comes from God and the glory belongs to God. Amen and Amen.
Reverend Miriam Méndez is the Executive Minister and Senior Regional Pastor – Elect of The American Baptist Churches of New Jersey (ABCNJ), a network that has 285 member churches and approximately 70,000 members. She is a preacher, teacher, administrator, church planter and an advocate for justice. Before her role with ABCNJ, she served for 15 years as adjunct faculty at George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Portland, Oregon in the areas of spiritual leadership, reconciliation and prayer.
Her educational training includes a B.S. in Business Administration from National Louis University, Lombard, IL, Masters of Divinity and Spiritual Director certificate from Portland Seminary, Portland, Oregon and a one year residency of Clinical Pastoral Education in a level one trauma hospital in Portland, Oregon.
2 Henri Nouwen, (1997). In the Name of Jesus. New York, NY: Crossroad Publishing Co., p. 28
3 Ibid., p. 29.
4 Ibid., p. 29.
5 Marsh, Charles. (2005). The Beloved Community. Cambridge, MA: Persius Books. p. 213