The only thing that matters is faith expressing itself in love. ~ Galatians 5:6
Jesus loved people, and they were not all pretty and neat.
He loved the woman at the well who had had five husbands and was living with a sixth man. Can you imagine the community gossip and malevolence directed towards her? Yet after she met and talked with Jesus she said, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!” (See John 3:29). Come and meet a man who knows everything about me, and he still loves me. Who knows everything about us, including our thoughts, and still loves us in our entirety?
Jesus loves the demon-possessed man, quite possibly considered mentally ill in today’s language. The homeless man lives “among the tombs, and no one could restrain him anymore, even with a chain; for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones” (see Mark 5:3-5).
Jesus asks the deranged man his name and he replies, “My name is Legion; for we are many” (Mark 5:9). Thank God that “they” live among the tombs on the outskirts of town where we do not hear them “howling” in pain and agony. Thank God “they” live behind Walmart hidden in the sagebrush and trash where we don’t see them. Thank God that “they” are usually invisible, so we don’t have to ask ourselves hard questions about our society and our role with the unhoused.
Yet, Jesus loves the demon-possessed man. Jesus casts out the man’s “unclean spirits” and we find the man “clothed in his right mind.”
How do we love the homeless, the mentally ill, the cutters, the addicts, those suffering with P.T.S.D. from the horrors of war that we send our young adults off to fight? We struggle to love them.
I light a candle in the morning and move into contemplative prayer. I gaze outside the window at the green and growing leaves. I see a sparrow nestled on a branch looking back at me. The sun reaches through the boughs of the tree and the shadows begin to disappear. I say silently, “God may I surrender to your way of Grace. May I love who you love, and may I forgive who you forgive.” Then the silence surrounds me and holds me. For me, prayer is the genesis of learning to love, and it’s painstakingly slow.
Father Richard Rohr writes, “Seminary training taught me how to obey and conform, but not how to love. I’m still trying to learn how to love every day of my life. To love as Jesus loves, we must be connected to the Source of love.” We need and crave solitude, silence, and contemplative prayer/meditation to settle our frantic, paranoid minds. We need Grace to rewire our minds from fear of the other to love of the other. We need to learn to build bridges and not walls that separate us. We need to see the light before we see the darkness. We need to see the image of the divine in our neighbors before we see their messy humanity. We need to have empathy before judgment. We need to accept and forgive our brokenness so that we may love other people in their imperfection. To love as God loves we realize that we are all “wounded healers” as Henri Nouwen says.
“The only thing that matters is faith expressing itself in love,” wrote Paul in Galatians. Brian McLaren reflects, “You might think that the primacy of love would be a settled matter in Christian faith; yet too often love waits out in the hallway, hoping to be invited in and taken more seriously.”
Just last week, I heard the front door to our fellowship hall open and heavy feet slowly shuffling towards my office. A slurred voice said, “Pastor, are you here? Pastor, are you here?” I wanted to say “no” or hide under my desk but one of God’s wounded children walked in and plopped down on my oversized cushioned chair with books on it. “Do you remember me?” the late middle-aged man asked. I did not. “I raked the church yard for you a few years back.” “Yeah, I remember now. What do you need?”
What if we, the church, made a commitment to love each person, including ourselves? What if the primary focus of our church was to love the poor, the marginalized, the forgotten? What if we got so close to one another we could feel the healing energy moving between us?
I did not fix, rescue, or save the man in my office. I could not. But I was able to give him a pop and a sandwich from Conoco, along with a ride into Cortez.
Maybe we learn to love in small steps with the Spirit moving through us. Maybe we stop slamming doors and start opening doors. Maybe we refrain from repeating damaging gossip. Maybe we use a gentle voice instead of a harsh voice when we get upset. Maybe we wait patiently in line. Maybe we silently bless people instead of cursing them.
Brain McLaren writes, “Could it be that now is the time, at long last, for the church to migrate to the vision shared by its original founder and his original followers?” May our church be a place where we learn to love and forgive all people and all of creation. May our church be a place where rumors of love abound.
Blessings and peace,