Last week I shared a message for the church for the New Year calling the church to have courage to imagine who we must be as a new church, called to both serve and shape the new world we are now in.
Starting in February, I’ll be inviting other conversation partners from across the church to join me in these weekly conversations and I hope that you’ll join us as well.
January 18-25 is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. With the convergence of the MLK holiday and the presidential inauguration, I shared a homily which I was invited to write for the Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute, their journal Ecumenical Trends. You can find the homily on disciples.org, but here are some important thoughts I want to share from it.
In John 15:5, Jesus tells his disciples that only if they abide in him, are rooted and grounded in his presence and example, will they be able to bear the fruits of love.
And what are these fruits? Not, clearly, a promise to always like our neighbor or agree with our neighbor.
In fact, the human condition guarantees that we will have conflict, not least because we desire to identify with those who are most like us, and join ourselves with them, making our similarity the basis for allegiance.
If we abide in Jesus, however, we are rooting ourselves in something more powerful than these instincts.
When Dr. (Martin Luther) King makes his wonderful case for abiding in love and the nonviolence as the methodology that springs from love, it is not because that way is easy but because it is the only way to bear the fruit of reconciliation and beloved community.
Love keeps us properly oriented as followers of Jesus, insofar as it keeps us focused on our neighbor.
This is more crucial than ever because, in today’s society, today’s polarized society, it is hard for many of us even to comprehend how those with whom we disagree can believe and act as they do.
When we are so focused on our own immediate needs or preferences, failing to see and understand how systemic injustice continues to degrade our neighbor, we are not abiding in Jesus. And we are not loving as he loves.
To imagine God’s limitless love in action is to imagine a new world, where Jesus’s command to love one another can be realized and where our decisions are based and will help to manifest what will benefit all of us.
Christians must be grounded in the biblical and theological understanding of who Jesus is and how Jesus calls us to live. Jesus warns, “Apart from me you can do nothing. You can bear no fruit.”
Love must be a commitment to living in accordance with the value of our neighbor, not just a habit of speaking about this value. If we are abiding in Jesus, and he in us, the decisions we make every day are grounded by our neighbor’s priority of place in our lives. Otherwise we are not being accountable to the very essences of Jesus’s teaching.
And more importantly, we will not have the spiritual resources necessary to build the Beloved Community in our world.
As we pray for unity, we must remember that we will not be able to live in unity without grounding what we believe, who we are, and how we engage the world in that commandment to abide in the limitless love of God, revealed through Jesus Christ, to which Jesus commands us to be faithful.
Unity is a gift from God, yes, but it requires that we live into it, making space in ourselves for it. Unity is not a state of full agreement. Unity does not mean that we must stay silent to prevent disagreement. Unity means that we must love and honor each other’s humanity as a witness to the limitless love of God.
Our silence cannot be a witness. It can too often be complicit with injustice and silence can too often shroud the truth. If we believe in God we must acknowledge God’s limitless love for all beings, a love that defines who God is. We, as creatures of this loving God, cannot limit or define exceptions to that love without limiting God, which we simply have no right or authority to do.
And if we are truly abiding in the teachings and the love of Jesus Christ we will understand there are some roads that love simply cannot take. Love cannot take the road of racism, misogyny, homophobia or xenophobia. Love cannot turn a blind eye to poverty and the marginalized. It demands that we take the road where all have enough and where all can flourish as our Creator intended.
Love must be taken seriously, beyond platitudes. Love must act, insisting that our work together is dedicated to cultivating its fruit.
Dr. King spoke to us from a place of deep abiding, a place that he believed must ground all that Christians believe and do. The path of nonviolence, the work of reconciliation, the commitment to love, all begin with a deep commitment to understanding and obeying this commandment from Jesus. Such commitment will require that we continually ask ourselves, how we are valuing one another in ways that equip our society and the institutions of our society to value each one of us in tangible ways. Such commitment is the fruit of our abiding in Jesus. This commitment will ground us in the limitless love of God as reflected in Jesus Christ and it will hold us accountable to the work of justice and reconciliation as we build the Beloved Community.
Without this commitment, without our abiding, we can do nothing and we cannot bear the fruit that Jesus calls us to bear. But when we abide in love, we are equipped to walk the often bumpy road that leads us to
truth, healing, reconciliation, and justice.
Church, let us imagine together and live into God’s limitless love. We must begin with love in order to be the church we say we are.
God bless you.