Active Love


When my kids were little and we lived in Alabama, our Target store has those red balls out front.  Presumably, the are meant to keep a car from running into the glass front of the store, but in our world, they presented an opportunity.  Maybe today, we could make one of those big red balls move.  We would push and push and push, but never did we move them, even a millimeter.  In physics, the definition of work is force exerted over a distance.  No matter how much energy we might have put into pushing against those bright red spheres, there is no work done because nothing ever moved.

This is the image that came to mind as I read Jesus’ words to Judas (not Iscariot) this morning.  “Those who love me will keep my word,” Jesus says.  Love is verb.  Love, like work, requires action.  It requires movement.  No matter how many times we may say, “I love you,” it doesn’t really mean anything unless we actually show love in how we live our lives on a daily basis.

This week, I’m at the Absalom Jones Episcopal Center for Racial Healing in Atlanta, GA.  I’m here with 20 or so other clergy, one from every diocese in Province IV of The Episcopal Church, on a Justice Pilgrimage, seeking together ways to confront the sin of racism in our lives, our church, and our nation. Jesus says, “Those who love me will keep my word.”  It isn’t enough to say, “I love my neighbor,” but rather, we must find ways to actively show that love.  We must exert the force of that love in a direction.  We must see movement toward healing the deep wounds that slavery, Jim Crow, and the prison industrial complex continue to create.  There is plenty of force working toward division.  Our task, as monumental as it may seem, is to turn that tide and to begin to see progress in the right direction.

It is 6:45 on Tuesday morning.  This pilgrimage runs until 3pm on Friday.  My brain is already exhausted, but as a follower of Jesus, who, when push came to shove summed up the requirements of discipleship as “love God and love your neighbor as yourself,” I don’t have the option of giving up.  None of us who truly wish to follow Jesus and who pray “thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” have that option of just going through the motions, pretending to push that stone up hill.  Like my children out front of Target, we must continue to push, with every ounce of being, against what might feel like an immovable object, knowing that with God’s help, nothing is impossible.

The sin of racism won’t be healed quickly.  As we learned yesterday, it’ll be 2111 before Americans of African decent will have been free in this country as long as they were enslaved, but our call is not to finish the work necessarily.  Our call is simply to come alongside God and to use the power of love to move the needle, if only an imperceptibly small amount, toward reconciliation.

Metamorphosis we like… Change we don’t

My daughters love the Eric Carle classic, The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  For more than two generations, children have read the story of a tiny and very hungry caterpillar who, despite some unhealthy eating habits, eventually turns into a beautiful butterfly.  We have grown to love the idea of metamorphosis, but I’m afraid most of us are still not big on change: probably because we like the sound of Greek and Latin words more than the idea of real life changes, especially when the life being changed is ours.

Unfortunately for all of us, I think the Transfiguration, which in Greek is… you guess it, metamorphosis, is all about real life change.  I think that’s why it is the lesson, every year, for the last Sunday of Epiphany.  It serves as the transition point in the Gospel, in the Church, and in our own lives, from the revelation of Jesus to the realization that the cross of Christ compels us to change.  Real. Life. Change.

So what keeps from changing?  The more I think about it, the more I’m beginning to think that though we are wired to avoid change for change’s sake, we tend to do more than our fair share of work to avoid it.  Newton’s First Law of Motion, as we all learned in High School Physics, states that an object at rest tends to stay at rest until acted on by an outside force and an object in motion tends to stay in motion in a constant direction and velocity, until acted on by an outside force.  It is only natural, then, that we would tend to not want to change.  The problem comes when an outside force, i.e. God, acts on us and we resist.

Jesus, after telling his disciples about his impending arrest, torture, death, AND resurrection, realizes that they can’t or won’t hear his change in their plans.  They want Jesus to march into Jerusalem and restore the throne of David by power and might.  After six days of wrangling over it, he decides to show them, so he takes Peter, James, and John up a mountain were he is changed, transfigured, before their very eyes.  Things aren’t the way they seem and aren’t going to end up the way you think they should, this even says, but if you listen to the Beloved Son, you’ll see that it’ll all work out.  The Transfiguration tells us that change is coming whether we like it or not.  God is at work, acting upon us for the Kingdom of God.  The question is, will we listen and be transfigured or not?