Loving Your Friends

       Nine times.  Jesus uses the word love nine times in this morning’s Gospel lesson.  Nine times is a lot of times.  If I were a biblical numerology guy, I’d tell you that nine is three times three, and three is a symbol of completeness, but I’m not a biblical numerology guy, so I won’t tell you that.[1]  What is clear is that love is important to Jesus.  It is so important that, in his final hours with his disciples on the night before he died, Jesus spent most of his time reminding them that love was the most important thing.  After he had washed their feet, Jesus gave his disciples a new commandment, that they love one another.  After he shared with them the promise of the Holy Spirit as their advocate and guide, Jesus told his disciples that love would be hallmark of their faithfulness.  In this morning’s lesson, we hear Jesus yet again reminding his disciples to abide in his love while also commanding them to love one another as he has loved them.

       Love is so important to Jesus that he raises the stakes as high as possible when he tells them that the greatest illustration of love is laying down one’s life for one’s friends.  This is, of course, foreshadowing what would happen the next day, as Jesus would hang from a cross and die as the fullest expression of God’s love for all of humanity, but it doesn’t seem as though Jesus means to suggest that only he would be able to offer that kind of love.  It seems like Jesus thinks that any disciple should, and perhaps could, one day be called upon to lay down their lives for their friends.  As such, what constitutes laying down one’s life and who or what we might consider friends seem to be questions worth considering.

       One of the gifts of the past fifteen months is how it has opened our eyes to what it means to lay down our lives for our friends and neighbors in a less than literal sense.  As American Christians, it is extremely unlikely that we will be called upon to lay down our lives as martyrs for the Gospel, and since none of us knows how we would respond in a situation where the decision to sacrifice our life for someone else became necessary, I find great solace in the realization that maybe the call here isn’t just to a literal laying down of my life, but to a figurative one as well.  Over the last 15 months, we’ve been asked to lay down parts of our life in the name of public health and the greater good.  Some sacrifices have been difficult: not seeing family members, not attending in-person worship, and working and schooling from home were all significant parts of our lives that we had to give up in order to keep others safe.  Other sacrifices were merely to lay down some of the conveniences of modern life: stop dining out, wear a mask, and keep your distance; but even these were a means by which we could live into Jesus’ invitation to self-sacrificial love.  For all of its inconveniences, COVID-19 has been an opportunity to lay down parts of our lives out of love for our friends and neighbors.

When a young lawyer asked Jesus, “who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan.  For that young lawyer, and really, just about everyone who would have been within earshot of Jesus, that story would have been scandalous.  Neighbor might mean the people in your sphere of influence.  It might even mean the people in your neighborhood, so long as they were considered faithful and clean.  At the extreme outside, loving your neighbor might mean everyone you encounter in the marketplace, but the idea that the commandment to love your neighbor might include a Samaritan, or that a Samaritan would love more fully than a priest or a Levite was beyond the pale.  Yet, Jesus stretched the boundaries of what it means to love your neighbor to include even your enemies and those who would do you harm.

As I prayed about what it means to lay down our lives for our friends, I found myself wondering just how far that commandment might stretch.  Friend seems like much more exclusive term than neighbor.  I can more easily define who is in and who is out when it comes to my friend group.  So, I might lay down my life for y’all, but probably not for someone in Des Moines, Iowa who I’ve never met before.  Then, as I continued to pray and study for this sermon, I ran across a story that pushed the boundaries on who or what we should consider friends.  It is the story of Homero Gómez González.  A man none of you have probably even heard of before, but who was, in some small way, a friend to all of us here at Christ Church.  Mr. González was born into a family of loggers in El Rosario, a small, unincorporated area in the mountains of central Mexico.  He joined the family business and was a skeptic of growing efforts to limit deforestation in Mexico, fearful that it would lead to the end of the industry his family had known for generations.  As he grew older, he studied Agricultural Engineering at a state-run agricultural university.  There, he began to understand the negative effects that rampant deforestation was having on the climate, on people and plants, and especially on the hundreds of millions of monarch butterflies who call the mountains of central Mexico home every winter.  Eventually, González dedicated his life to environmental and anti-logging activism.  He became the mayor of El Rosario and worked to outlaw logging in the region.  Later, he was named manager and spokesperson for the El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Preserve, one of several preserves that make up the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where 70% of the world’s monarch butterflies, including those that pass through our weigh station, spend their winters.[2]

Gómez González worked tirelessly to change the culture in his area of Mexico, and, as you might guess, he faced all kinds of push back.  In December 2019, he told the Washington Post, “it’s been a fight to maintain [the preserve], and it hasn’t been easy.”[3]  A month later, on January 13, 2020, González disappeared.  Two weeks later, he was found murdered in a well near the preserve.[4]  No one has been charged with his death, but his family and friends continue to fear that it was related to his efforts to end the lucrative logging industry in El Rosario.  It can be said, I believe, that Homero Gómez González laid down his life, both metaphorically before his death, and literally in it, for his friends, the monarch butterfly.  As a monarch butterfly weigh station, Christ Church should count Mr. González as a friend, and give thanks for the loved that he shared.

As we slowly emerge from our pandemic cocoons (I couldn’t help myself), new forms of self-sacrificial love will be called for.  As Mother Becca is quick to remind me, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed us all.  How will these changes continue to impact the ways in which we are called to love our friends, neighbors, siblings in Christ, and even our enemies and the wider world in 2021 and beyond?  Jesus used the word love nine times in our Gospel lesson today.  Eight of those times, he used it as a verb, and once, he promised that self-sacrificial love isn’t just the key to joy, but it unlocks fullness of joy.  In the days, weeks, and months to come, my hope is that we will each find ways to live out the commandment to love that Jesus offers us this morning, laying down pieces of ourselves for our friends and neighbors. May God give us the strength to love – friends, enemies, and strangers – as Christ commands so that we might come to experience the fullest form of joy.  Amen.


[1] https://bible.org/seriespage/3-use-three-bible

[2] https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1290/

[3] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/homero-gomez-gonzalez-mexicos-monarch-butterfly-defender-found-dead/2020/01/29/697d7c94-42ed-11ea-99c7-1dfd4241a2fe_story.html

[4] https://www.npr.org/2020/02/03/802359415/sadness-and-worry-after-2-men-connected-to-butterfly-sanctuary-are-found-dead

The Way of Love

       One of the things I’ve noticed as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, is that human beings seem to carry a six or seven month emotional and spiritual reservoir.  Most of us can go for quite a while with things being really out of whack, but at some point, all of us will run dry.  As a pastor who is connected with many people in all kinds of life situations – single adults, families with young children, empty nesters, widowers, you name it – I’ve watched, with sadness, as folks of all sorts have found their reserves completely run dry.

       All of us are tired, and this loooong week certainly didn’t help, but as I prayed through the challenging parable of the bridesmaids, I began to focus my attention on the things we can do to refill our flasks with oil.  Staying awake, in the metaphor of our parable, means that we are ready for the long haul – lamps trimmed and lit and with plenty of oil in reserve.  In the metaphor of our times, it means keeping our emotional and spiritual reservoirs from drying up, so that we are able to face the long and challenging days that continue to come our way.

       So, how do we replenish our oil?  How do we keep our lamps lit?  How do we keep something in reserve?  I think it all boils down to finding a rule of life: establishing patterns that feed us and deepen our relationship with God.  Some of you have heard me talk about this before, but I am increasingly aware that without intentional actions to stay in relationship with God and our neighbors, COVID and our divided political climate have the real possibility of sowing estrangement and damaging relationships over the long term. In response to that reality, I’ve been so happy over the past eight weeks, as about a dozen of us have gathered on Zoom to talk through Scott Gunn’s latest book, The Way of Love – A Practical Guide to Following Jesus.  This book builds on the Way of Love framework first set forth by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry at General Convention in 2015[1].  Rather than another curriculum or program, the Way of Love is an invitation to find a way of living out your faith in Jesus Christ through seven ancient practices of discipleship – Turn, Learn, Worship, Pray, Bless, Go, and Rest.  It is by way of some combination of these seven practices that I truly believe each of us can find oil to keep our lamps lit through the dark days of the COVID Winter.

       The first practice in the Way of Love is Turn.  Turning means to “pause, listen, and choose to follow Jesus,” and it might be the most important thing we can do these days.  There have never been more voices clamoring for our attention than there are right now.  There have never been more options on how to spend your time than there are right now.  It might even be true that there have never been more people or organizations trying to capitalize on your fears than there are right now.  To turn away from all of those things and intentionally choose to develop a deeper relationship with God and deeper love of neighbor by treating every person with respect, by smiling at a stranger, even if they can’t see it behind your mask, and to engage in kindness rather than contempt is imperative to refilling your spiritual reserves.

       The second practice in the Way of Love is Learn.  To learn means to reflect on scripture each day, and to focus especially on the life and teachings of Jesus.  This may be the easiest practice to maintain during the pandemic.  Here at Christ Church you can learn by joining the Conversations with Scripture class on Zoom or engaging in one of our ongoing racial healing book groups.  Daily Meditations can arrive in your inbox from Forward Movement or give us a call and we’ll happily send you a copy of Forward Day by Day.  Mother Becca, Deacon Kellie, and I are always eager to offer book suggestions, if you’d like, or, better yet, pull out your Bible, open it up to Matthew’s Gospel, and just start reading. Opportunities to learn are everywhere.

       Third is the practice of prayer – intentionally dwelling with God each day.  If learning is getting to know more about God, prayer is the practice of getting to know God as a Father or a friend.  Again, resources on prayer abound.  The nave remains available as a Good Place to Say your Prayers.  The Book of Common Prayer has several different formal prayer services you can say in the comfort of your own home.  Practices like Centering Prayer help quiet our hearts and minds so that there is space to listen for the still, small voice of God.  You don’t have to pray for hours at a time.  Start by setting aside 5 minutes, three times a day, then grow it to ten or fifteen.  As Mother Becca is wont to say, “prayer is never wasted.”

       The fourth practice in the Way of Love is the most difficult these days.  Worship, the act of gathering in community weekly to thank, praise, and dwell with God looks very different in 2020.  Unlike church closures during the 1918 flu epidemic or the polio outbreaks of the 1940s, we still have the ability to gather, around screens rather than in-person, to offer God thanks and praise.  Thanks to the herculean efforts of Linda and Rick Mitchell, the faithful service of Ken and Deb Stein and Brittany Whitlow, and the imaginative faithfulness of Deacon Kellie and Mother Becca, corporate worship remains a possibility, even when gathering as a community isn’t.  It certainly isn’t perfect, and we all long for the days when we will be able to come together in these pews once again, but I continue to be encouraged by how many of you are choosing to fill your spiritual wells by worshiping God from home.

       The fifth practice is Bless.  Blessing is the act of sharing one’s faith and unselfishly giving and serving our neighbors.  While the practice of blessing has also been hamstrung by the Coronavirus pandemic, it is by no means impossible.  We continue to bless and be blessed by our community by reaching out in loving service through City Shapers, MEALS INC, Churches United in Christ HELP Ministry, a modified Wednesday Community Lunch, and soon our annual Blessing Tree.  Christ Church is able to continue to bless the world by sharing the love of God through your financial gifts as well.  Without your generous blessing, we wouldn’t be able to provide resources to worship, learn, or bless.

       The sixth practice to fill your flask and keep your candle lit is to Go – to cross boundaries, listen deeply, and live like Jesus.  Being a follower means you can’t stay where you are.  Being a follower of Jesus, means that even in midst of a pandemic and in a deeply divided nation, we are called to take his ministry of healing into the world by being the face of kindness and encouragement.  To go in these times might mean to not share yet another article or meme that stokes division, but rather to reach out with a phone call, an email, or even a handwritten note to let someone know you’ve been thinking about them and praying for them.  You don’t have to physically go anywhere to reach out with the love of God.

       Finally, the seventh practice in the Way of Love is to rest.  Resting isn’t just not doing anything, but the intentional way in which we receive the gift of God’s grace, peace, and restoration. Rest is rejuvenating work that allows us to set aside the busyness that so often drains our spiritual reservoirs in order to be refilled by living water that never runs dry.  Eight months into this thing, rest may not seem that important, but I suspect most of us haven’t truly rested, even if we haven’t done much of anything.  Rest, like the six other practices, requires intention in order to be beneficial.

       Seven practices may feel overwhelming.  Instead of biting off more than you can chew, pick a couple and try them out for 30 days.  As you do so, pay careful attention to your flask of oil.  Is it beginning to fill back up?  Is your candle burning stronger than it was before?  Do you have enough to share with your family and friends?  These seven practices will keep you in the Way of Love even as we wait for what feels like forever for the bridegroom to return.  Remember, no matter how draining 2020 might be, the Way of Love will sustain you. Love never fails. Love always wins. Amen.


[1] For more on the Way of Love, check out episcopalchurch.org/way-of-love. Definitions of each practice are from this site.

Called to be better

At my ordination to the priesthood, I had to make several promises.  I declared before God, my bishop, and God’s people, that I felt called to a ministry that, among other things, requires me to “love and serve the people among whom I work, caring alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor.”  I vowed to “undertake to be a faithful pastor to all whom I am called to serve, laboring together with them and with my fellow ministers to build up the family of God” I try, to the best of my abilities and with God’s help, to help make the “reconciling love of Christ be known and received” in the world (1).  I take this work very seriously as I pastor a community that is very diverse theologically and politically.  It is my duty as a minister of the Gospel to offer the kind of care, compassion, and love to the members of my congregation who are stringent supporters of the President and his loudest critics.  It is my sincere hope that anyone you might ask here at Christ Church, Bowling Green or back at St. Paul’s in Foley, AL would tell you that I treated them with respect and compassion.

Of course, I have my own opinions on things, but I work hard to keep them to myself.  My political inclinations are based on both my own life experiences and my reading of the Scriptures, especially the words of Jesus who summed up the law in two commandments: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.  I don’t dare tell others how to vote, knowing that their life experiences and religious convictions will never be the same as mine.  I do, however, think that I am obliged as a minister of the Gospel to speak up anytime that the inherent dignity of any human being or group of people is being denied them.  I’ve done it before, at the death of Osama Bin Laden, after the Pulse nightclub shooting, and about certain draconian immigration reform policies.  I feel compelled to do it again as there seems to be a distinct uptick in the racist rhetoric of xenophobia, islamaphobia, and white supremacy spreading throughout our nation, beginning in Washington, DC.

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As a disciple of Jesus Christ, who believes that all are made in the image of God, and is called to be a faithful pastor to all I serve, it would be a violation of my ordination vows to be silent in the wake of language that denigrates whole communities of people from Somalia to Baltimore as being less than.  In line with the clergy at the Washington National Cathedral, I affirm that the language being used by our President and several of his supporters has no place in a country that likes to consider itself Christian.  God loves us just as we are, but God loves us too much to leave us there.  Instead, as disciples of Jesus, we are called to a higher calling, lifting up those in need, caring for the marginalized, and allowing the love which we have experienced in Christ Jesus flow out into the world.

In his letter to the Colossians that is appointed for this Sunday, Paul implores the community to follow the example of Christ by giving up their old ways of “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language.”  As the inheritors of that Christian tradition, all who claim to follow Jesus should endeavor to do the same.  So you, dear reader, whether a preacher, a dedicated lay person, or someone just dabbing into the waters of the Christian faith, I invite you to join in modeling for and expecting from our elected leaders a basic respect for all of our siblings in the human family.  We do not need to agree on everything to still love one another as Christ loves us.  Rather, in the renewal of our hearts and minds through the cleansing waters of baptism, all of us whether Republican or Democrat, recent refugee or Daughters of the American Revolution, Episcopalians, Baptists, and Roman Catholics are called to lives our lives following the example of Jesus Christ, who is all and in all, in the world that desperately needs the restoration and redemption that comes from God’s saving love.


(1) BCP, 531-2, emphasis mine.

Outdoing one another in showing honor in light of the #NashvilleStatement

Like many of my sisters and brothers in Christ, I have read with sadness the recently published Nashville Statement signed by more than 150 leaders in the Evangelical tradition.  As I read these words, I wondered aloud, again like many of my sisters and brothers in Christ, “Why now?  What purpose does this serve in a world where White Supremacists march the streets with impunity, where the threat of nuclear was is more real than ever in my lifetime, and where a hurricane has cost $23 billion of property damage and dozens of lives?”  I’ve struggled for the right words to say; how I might respond, not that the world needs to know my thoughts on the matter, but I do write a blog and bloggers always think people care about their opinions.

Of particular note, at least in my opinion, are Articles 7 and 10 of the Nashville Statement.  Article 7 is of interest because it seems to suggest that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice that is made.  Here is where our ability to have a conversation on this topic breaks down.  Beginning in the second half of the 19th century, that which would become Evangelicalism in the United States made a conscious decision to hold science at arms length and to trust in the inerrancy of Scripture.  This is why we have things like the Creation Museum, which seeks to discredit the scientific suggestion that world was not created in seven, twenty-four hour periods because one of the two Biblical accounts of creation says so.  Fast forward to 2017, and with no clear scientific study that says where homosexual attraction comes from, it is a no-brainer for the anti-scientific bias in evangelicalism to say, without hesitation, that homosexuality can be and “adopted self-conception.”  Without room for scientific exploration on the subject, there is no way sexual orientation will ever be seen as something other than a choice, and a sinful one at that.  There is no room in this mindset for conversation on the topic, even if the rest of the world still sees it as an open question.

Which leads me to Article 10, the much more destructive of the two.  I commend to you Carol Howard Merritt’s reflection for the Christian Century on this topic.  Because of the inherent danger in it, I will publish Article 10 in its entirety.

Article 10
WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.
WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.

Those of you who read this blog with regularity will know that my favorite word in the Church is “adiaphora,” which means “things indifferent.”  The idea of adiaphora within Christianity came into focus during the Protestant Reformation as debates between Roman Catholics and early Reformers tended to be based on fundamental disagreements over that which was a core doctrine of the faith.  By adopting Article 10, these Evangelical leaders have drawn a clear line in the sand.  Human sexuality and gender identity are, for them, matters of core doctrine, and one’s beliefs on these matters are a part of what it means to be redeemed in Christ.  It is Article 10 that brings me the most sadness because a friend of mine from high school whom I deeply respect for his faith, even if our theologies on topics like this don’t match up, is one of the original signatories of the Nashville Statement.  Article 10 seems to say that he does not see my faith as valid, and that the only clear path for me as a Christian who affirms God’s love for all God’s children, including the LGBT community, is the road to hell.  I have reached out to my friend and let him know that while I disagree with him on this issue, I will continue to pray for his ministry as I hope he will mine.

This, finally, leads me to the Bible, the topic which this blog purports to be about.  Sunday’s lesson from Romans 12 is a quick-hitting list of admonitions from Paul to the Christians in Rome.  As we hear them, they can make us feel good, but in such rapid succession, it might be hard to note how difficult these Godly admonitions are to live by. This is especially true at the end of verse 10 where he writes, “Outdo one another in showing honor.”  Another way to translate that might be “lead the way in showing respect.”  This is affirmed in the Baptismal Covenant of the Episcopal Church in which we vow, with God’s help, to respect the dignity of every human being.  We affirm that it can only be done “with God’s help” because, quite frankly, human beings can be hard to love.  Our ability to show respect at all times, is flawed, but it is by God’s grace that we are able to lead the way in showing respect.  With Paul’s words in mind and in light of current events, from Charlottesville to Pyongyang and from Washington DC to Nashville, I pray that I might have the grace and courage to lead the way in showing respect to everyone, even as I pray the same for you, dear reader.

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Facebook is for Murderers

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If we are really honest with ourselves, every disciple of Jesus subscribes to a smorgasbord theology of holy Scripture.   That is, we pick and choose what we like, and leave behind that which we don’t.  Both sides, if there is such a thing, accuse the other of this all the time.  The right says that the left chooses to ignore Scripture’s moral code.  The left says the right forgets about the love stuff.  The truth of the matter is that both are true.  None of us is perfect, and so all of us fall short of the ideal of living out God’s will in every facet of our lives.  This is playing out with blatant obviousness when one reads Jesus’ difficult words in Sunday’s third installment of the Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.

Compare these words with what you see on your social media news feed and it quickly becomes clear that there has been a whole lot of murdering by anger and insult of late.  This is not me be all judgey either.  This is something of a confession of my own behavior, even as I see many of my sisters and brothers doing the same thing.  There is something all together too safe and too easy about hurling insults on social media.  Yet, if we were taking Jesus’ words seriously, we would take pause.

Is what I’m about to say true?  Is it up-building?  Is it judgmental or angry or insulting?  Because if it is, I probably shouldn’t say it.  Is it something that I would say to my brother or sister’s face?  Because if it isn’t, I probably shouldn’t post it.  Maybe we should all take a breath, re-read this section of Matthew 5, and slow down a bit.  The world is already a pretty angry and hate-filled place, perhaps we shouldn’t add to it.  These words from Jesus are difficult to swallow, and I’m sure we’d all rather leave them on the buffet, but the truth of the matter is that we don’t get to choose what we want to leave behind.  The commandment to love is a call to moral impeccability.  We can’t accomplish it on our own, but through  Christ, perhaps we have a chance to stop being murders on social media. 

Do not be weary in doing what is right

Four years ago yesterday, I wrote my most popular blog post ever.  It was the day after President Obama won his re-election campaign against Mitt Romney and my sense around social media and in the real world was that people had lost perspective on the place of American politics in God’s larger plan of salvation.  “Why I’m Grieving Election Day” was read by more than 40,000 people in 24 hours.  It received 140 comments and was shared thousands of times on Facebook.  It struck a chord, to say the least.

That post is getting some retread this week as we once again go to the polls to elect a President for these United States.  Once again, my Newsfeed and conversations are filled with people who are praying that their candidate would be elected, and that the future of American depends upon it.  Mark Twain’s War Prayer would remind us that these prayers also includes the unsaid prayer that God would forsake the cause of the other side.  Prayer is a dangerous activity, and we would do well to consider what it is we are really praying for before we list our candidate and his or her platform.

Here’s the thing: come tomorrow, or whenever this national nightmare is over, the call of Christians will be the same whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton becomes the President-elect.  We are to, as the Apostle Paul wrote, “not be weary in doing what is right.”  As my friend Megan posted on a Facebook thread yesterday, “God’s still in charge no matter who wins tomorrow. But equally as important, our call to preach the gospel, free the captives, help the struggling continues no matter who wins too.”  Or, perhaps better yet, as the Apostle Paul told the Christians in Thessolonica, “Do not be weary in doing what is right.”  We can not let the world take away our impetus for love, which, I’m sorry to say, this election cycle has worked hard to do.

And so my word for today, both here and on my social media platforms is quite simple, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”  If we can get that part right, as the Diocese of Ohio bumpers sticker reminds it, we will change the world.

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The Challenge of Unity

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On the average Sunday at Saint Paul’s, there will be 150(+/-) people gathering in the same space to worship God, to hear the word read and proclaimed, and to receive nourishment in  Christ’s body and blood.  And while we all come to the same place, we are far from the vision of unity that is often lifted up as the hoped for fruit of Jesus’ high priestly prayer.  We are 7:30 and 10 o’clock.  We are young and old and somewhere in between.  We are deeply committed to our faith and not quite sure what it is all about.  We are apostles, disciples, seekers, and skeptics.  We are worship and doubt; joy and anxiety; intellect and feelz – some of us all at the same time.  Each person arrives on Sunday in need of something different.  Expand that out to include all 1.8m Episcopalians, the roughly 226m Christians in the US, and the maybe 2.2b Christians world wide, and it seems like we are falling woefully short of Jesus’ prayer that we all might be one.

Unity is a challenge because each of us comes to our faith through the lens of our own life experiences.  Some have been deeply rooted in the practices of Christianity since a young age.  They are deeply devoted to a life of prayer, corporate worship, and Bible study.  They listen for the Spirit at work in their lives.  And they come up with any number of different ways to live, vote, shop, and work for the Kingdom of God.  Others are relatively new to the faith.  They are learning the practices of Christianity maybe in fits and starts.  They are striving to hear the voice of God amid the cacophony of other voices.  And they come up with any number of different ways to live, vote, shop, and work for the Kingdom of God.  In America, in 2016, in the midst of one of the worst election seasons on record, with three of the four top candidates professing the Christian faith, it is clear that unity is still a long way off.  However, as disciples of Jesus, it seems foolish for us to not strive after the fulfillment of Jesus final words before his arrest.

How do we find unity amid such diversity?

Just as his prayer comes to an end, Jesus speaks a deep truth that we ought not miss in all the unity language.  “I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”  Even as we struggle to find unity with those in the pews around us; those who work in our offices; those who live in our neighborhoods; those who vote in our precincts; it is important to remember that the source of the unity for which Jesus prays is the love of God in us.  In order to acknowledge God’s love for me, I have to also be willing to acknowledge God’s love for my neighbor who votes the wrong way, drives the wrong vehicles, owns the wrong number of guns, and worships in the wrong church.  Across all the things of this world that would pull us toward disunity, the love of God serves as the great unifying force.  God’s love for each and every individual he has created is the underlying factor in every push toward unity in the church.  To recognize the love of God in another is to recognize their inherent dignity which serves as the starting point of unity.

Love Wins – a post about the word “the”

Jesus said to [Thomas], “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14.6a)

Several years ago now, Rob Bell wrote a book entitled, “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.”  The book raised the ire of many an Evangelical leader because of Bell’s seemingly Universalist stance (In the midst of the brouhaha that lead up to the launch of his book, Bell denied that he was a universalist).  None other than leading Evangelical John Piper tweeted what was essentially the 21st century version of an anathema, excommunicating Bell for modern Evangelicalism and forcing him into the Oprah speaking circuit, effectively ruining him as a theologian (a post for another day, perhaps).  Many [former] Mainline Christians received Bell’s book with no more than a yawn, noting that this is really nothing we hadn’t heard before.

One can read the Bible cover to cover and reasonably conclude one one hand, that everyone is saved by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus or on the other, that God has elected only a select few to be saved and will send the rest of the reprobate to eternal damnation, or on any number of other hands, some gradation in between.  So, I don’t presume to speak the definitive word on this subject, mostly because anybody who argues that there is a final word on it is either a heretic, a liar, or insane.

I bring this matter up because Sunday’s Gospel lesson gives us the line I’ve quoted at the beginning of this post, with that pesky word “the” included three times.  Attempts have been made to soften the blow of Jesus’ claim by suggesting a translation that reads, “I am a way, a truth, and the life” or some such thing, but the Greek of John’s Gospel very clearly a definite article before each of the key words: way, truth, and life.  It is unambiguous that Jesus is making a very exclusive claim, which is clarified in the next sentence, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”  It seems clear, at least in this oft cited portion of John’s Gospel (cf John 12.32), that Jesus is making a very narrow claim about the salvation of God.

Let me suggest another reading, however.  What if Jesus’ exclusive claim that he is the only way to the Father is actually very inclusive.  Radically inclusive, even.  What if love really wins?  It seems clear in the Scriptures and in our Creeds that there will be a final judgment “of both the living and the dead.”  A final judgment infers that there will be a time between now and the end.  What if, in that interim period, the overwhelming love of God continues to work on the souls of those who have departed this life?  What if, the gift of grace continues to be offered again and again and again?  Sure, there is a chance that some will reject it, flat out, no matter what, but more likely, in my opinion, is the possibility that love will prevail; that in the end all will come within the reach of Christ’s saving embrace.  It won’t be forced or coerced, it’ll be nurtured and cajoled.  What if Jesus really is the only way to the Father and that ultimately everybody finds that way?  What if there is a hell, but in the end, it’s empty?

Like I said, I don’t have all the answers, and surely something in here has made me a heretic, but this is what comes to mind every time John 14.6 comes up.  Love can win, even with the word “the.”