The Jesus story has been hijacked. Now, I know: this isn’t news to you. For decades now, a particular version of the Jesus story has dominated, and I’ll spare you the retelling of it one more time. You might have grown up with this version of the Jesus story. For many of us, our pulse quickens as we hear it -- it’s the version where those who are lucky enough to get a pass through the pearly gates, and the rest of humanity is subject to eternal fire...
A few weeks ago, a few from a far wing of this fiery theology raised the heat even further. Christians around the world were sickened as we literally witnessed the horns of evil forcing its way into our nation’s capital, whipping Christian flags in the air, pumping signs bearing Jesus’ name, and even wearing apparel with phrases like, “God, Guns, and Trump.” We watched in horror that despicable scene and said to ourselves -
“These people don’t know the same Jesus story I know.
I know a story where Jesus commands us to love above all else.
I know a story that tells us that God is love.
And this is not what love does.
This is not what love does.”
On a gut level, what you and I were feeling was an innate sense of St. Augustine’s famous Rule of Love. St. Augustine articulates this rule in his first century writing, On Christian Doctrine, saying “So anyone who thinks he has understood the divine scriptures or any part of them, but cannot by his understanding build up a double love of God and neighbour, has not yet succeeded in understanding them.”
In other words, any interpretation of scripture -- or any theology -- that does not produce love of God and neighbor, simply cannot stand. This Rule of Love is the litmus test by which we can judge all our Biblical interpretation. If our theology leads us to shame our neighbor, it does not stand up to the Rule of Love. If our reading of scripture causes us to back away from God in dread, it does not stand up to the Rule of Love.
This week, our country inaugurated a new administration into the White House. It is my deepest prayer, no matter our political affiliation or opinions, that this administration follows this Rule of Love. I pray that these leaders might hold up their words, actions, and policies up to this litmus test: are we duly increasing our country’s love for God/Universe/Creation and for neighbor? Or are we instead increasing division, strife, and fear?
Please dear ones, pray for our country -- that it be filled with more love in the days ahead, and pray that this love begins with us.
The late Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Love is the most durable power in the world.” Love is “durable” you say? In our world today, love can often seem like a fragile thing. Couples break up, marriages end in divorce, friends fall out, church members leave, and family members no longer speak. An acquaintance of mine who works in the office that processes divorce filings in Houston says they are busier than ever -- one can only assume due to the stresses the pandemic and political unrest have layered onto marriages. More than ever, we long for a love that endures.
The Apostle Paul however, tells us that love, however, “never ends” (1 Cor 13:8). True love cannot possibly end because we know that God is love (1 Jn 4:8,16), and we also know that God is eternal. Think about these truths for a moment: God is love. God is eternal. If we believe these statements to be true -- if God is love -- then by the mathematical law of inverse operations, that means that love is God, and if God is also eternal, then love too must be eternal.
But what kind of wondrous love is this, that endures eternally? What love is this, that in King’s words is the “only force capable of turning an enemy into a friend,” of “driving out hate,” and “the very key to the problems of the world?”
This is the love that is God. It is not the kind of love that is a sweet, syrupy sentiment. This love is not a fuzzy feeling. It is not something you just “fall into.” True, divine love is something you choose. It is something you do. It is a strong, active verb. It is the hard work of deep listening, forgiving, showing up, speaking truth, giving, serving, thanking, apologizing, appreciating, letting go, sacrificing, and caring. This love is the very heartbeat of Creation.
And this love is the only path to real joy, yet is also the surest path to grief. So many of you, dearly beloved, are feeling grief right now. You grieve because you have loved someone or something you’ve lost. I know your hearts can’t seem to hold any more right now. If you’re like me, you may feel like you don’t have the heart to do a whole lot more loving right now.
So beginning this Sunday and for next 5 weeks, in our worship series “Love Does,” we will envelop ourselves in the active and divine love of God. Because what has the power to bind up our broken hearts? Love does. What has the ability to bring enemies together? Love does. What has the answers we need to the world’s problems? Love does.
Like you, I too am still in shock and disbelief over what we witnessed unfolding at the capitol building on Wednesday. Mobs of people destroying property; intimidating our Congressional leaders, their staff and other capitol employees; clashing with law enforcement officers; and waving flags that stand for hatred and the oppression, or even outright elimination, of others.
And although I appreciate the restraint of law enforcement during this volatile situation, I cannot deny the white privilege that was on full display given that more peaceful events by our Black friends and neighbors have been met with greater police action -- and in many cases, excessive action. I sat there and cried for our Black American siblings who were being told, yet again, through disproportionate responses that they are not as important as these White Americans. Being told that they don't matter.
Just as I sat and cried earlier this week after talking to several of our members who are nurses and my brother who works IT for one of the local hospital systems. Cried for these and other brave medical and medical support individuals who put their lives on the line everyday during this pandemic. Cried for what it must feel like to be told through the actions of others (like packing 6th street on New Years, not wearing masks and socially distancing, gathering outside of safe agreed upon bubbles) that your life doesn't matter. How that must feel like a slap in the face.
Friends, I don't pretend to have all the answers. In fact, most of the time I feel rather small and unimpactful. Sometimes I have no idea what to do other than to continue to come back to the well of Christ, the well of our faith. To come back and draw in love and hope, peace, and yes even joy. To try seek new and ever changing ways in which God's spirit is calling for action, calling for peace, calling for love. And trusting that any action, even small like the mustard seed parable, works ultimately towards the kin-dom of God.
As we approach Baptism of Christ Sunday, I invite you to have ready some water to play with as we take time to remember our baptisms and/or the meaning of baptism. I pray that we are able to do so in light of the events happening in our world today. And following the service, may we share together through our Holy Conversations our vision and dreams for United Christian Church.
Friends, until Sunday (and always), take care of yourself.
Happy New Year! This New Year comes with it a particular sparkle of hope as we say “goodbye” to a year of grief, and we spy the glimmer of hope on the horizon: the reality of a vaccine is setting in. Still, our hospitals are bursting at the seams, two of our dear elder members have now fallen ill -- we must stay vigilant as our city’s exhausted first responders work under stage 5 conditions. We spy the light of hope, but we are still living in dark times indeed.
You, my church family, have been that light to me. On Christmas Eve, I watched on gallery view as you held your candles to your cameras and sang “Silent Night,” and though I was alone in our sanctuary, I felt surrounded by God’s light and your love. Who would have ever thought Zoom could become such holy ground?
And we have an opportunity again to come together and heal our weary hearts. This Sunday our youth will be presenting an Epiphany drama, and together we will chalk our doors to welcome in the New Year, and hopefully, prepare to welcome more guests in person this year than the last. Chalk was distributed last month in blessing bags, and will be distributed tomorrow at the blessing bag dropoff between 11:30 and 1 as well, or you can just grab some chalk from your home. To learn more about the practice of chalking doors, go to uccaustin.org/epiphany.
And I’m so excited for our third and final Holy Conversation this month, which is the most fun conversation of all. It’s all about our dreams for the church. I encourage you in these conversations to not be limited by the bounds of practicality or feasibility, but to instead dream big audacious dreams, cast sweeping bold visions, and make inspiring wishes for the future of our family of faith. Questions will be posted soon at uccaustin.org/holyconversations. To see what comes next after Holy Conversations, go to uccaustin.org/road-map-of-interim-tasks.
Friends, I am praying for you always, and wishing you a New Year filled with more hugs, more big family dinners, more singing, and more nights of deep peaceful sleep.