And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”–Mark 1:17

That is probably one of Jesus’s more famous quotes.  (Yes, I know, in some circles it’s quoted as “fishers of men”, but most of the time I try to be a politically correct Presbyterian who uses diverse language.  Even if for simplicity’s sake, I still refer to God as “He”.)

But–let’s be honest here–we would much rather just go fishing than heed Jesus’s call to discipleship. “I don’t know what to say.”  “I’m not comfortable talking about my faith.”  “I’m not going to go knock on doors like the Jehovah’s Witnesses.” (No offense to my JH friends.  I admire your guts.  I feel guilty when you show up because you’re doing it and I’m not.)  And, my personal favorite excuse on the responsibility of discipleship:  “That’s what we pay the preacher to do.”

So, here’s a few fishing analogies to think about:

andygriffith11.  True fishermen spend a lot of time studying their craft.  They read fishing magazines.  They talk to other fishermen.  They go to Cabela’s and look at all the new fishing equipment.

The disciples spent a good deal of time (pretty much most of the three years of his ministry) learning from Jesus.  When he did send them out, it was with a detailed list of instructions to follow.  (Matthew 10:5, Luke 10:1-20).  Sometimes they asked a lot of dumb questions or spouted off false assumptions, but that gave Jesus an opportunity to teach them even more.

2. Fishermen know the best places and conditions for fishing.  You can blow up a baby pool in your backyard and sit all day with a line in the water, but that doesn’t make you a fisherman.  Fishermen go to the fish.  They know the fish aren’t going to come to them.

Likewise, showing up in church on Sunday morning is beneficial for your spiritual growth, but except in a few lucky cases, it’s not a place where fish just jump into the boat on their own.  You gotta get out there where the fish are.  You’ve got to cast your net–invite the fish in.  (There really aren’t a lot of good analogies for the disciples pulling fish out of the water and leaving them flopping on the deck that relate to discipleship.  Unfortunately, that mental picture does relate to what we do sometimes in nurturing the spiritual life of fellow believers.  Ouch–that hurts to think about. But for now, we’ll just think about casting our nets in terms of inviting people in to learn about Jesus.)

You can talk about fishing.  You can pray about fishing.  You can learn about fishing.  But at some point in time, you gotta go fish.  

I have heard that fish bite best when there’s a storm brewing.  The same concept works for people.  Questions like “Why am I here?”  and “Does God really care what happens to me?” always loom the largest when life’s waters are choppy.

3. You don’t need fancy equipment to catch a fish.  You can outfit yourself with state of the art rods and comfortable boats, but likely you’re not impressing the fish.  Plenty of fish have been caught with simple equipment.  

Same holds true with the idea that you’re not qualified to go fish for people because you can’t rattle off long passages of Scripture from memory and can’t recite all the books of the Bible, in order.  (I can’t either.) Vast theological knowledge impresses people very little.  Most of them just need to know that God loves them and cares about them, and maybe the real-life situations that helped you figure out that God loves you and cares about you.

Study the Bible.  Perhaps judiciously use Scripture as bait. (It’s OK to look it up in the index and refer to the Table of Contents). Just be sure you don’t try to beat your fish over the head with it.  (I think clubbing fish may be illegal in most states. )

4. Fishermen are always thinking about fishing.  They don’t always get to fish.  But they’re always looking for unexpected opportunities to go fishing.  The tackle box is ready.  The pickup is packed. They’re reading “Fly Fishing Today” and “Bass Monthly” on their noon hours looking for new techniques to try.

Fishing for people is all about looking for  opportunities and being prepared to act on them.  There may not always be perfectly planned occasions to fish.

But when the time presents itself, go fish.

Presbyopia: Farsightedness caused by loss of elasticity in the eye, generally occurring in middle and old age. From Greek presbus “old man” and op “eye”.

I noted the poster on my optometrist’s wall with interest Friday.  It’s a little disconcerting to have your denomination’s name associated with a lack of vision.presbyopia1

Saturday, I attended our presbytery’s quarterly meeting. We voted on the dreaded “gay ordination” amendment, which, of course, says nothing about gay ordination but everyone knows that’s what we’re talking about. 

The amendment passed in our presbytery. (Polity wonk alert! This does not mean the amendment is passed for the PCUSA.  It must be approved by 2/3 of the presbyteries with in the US before it would go into affect for the denomination.) The amendment  in part eliminates the words added in 1997 that require officers of the church to live “either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness” and replaces it with wording that requires “Those who are called to ordained service in the church . . . pledge themselves to live lives obedient to Jesus Christ the Head of the Church, striving to follow where he leads through the witness of Scriptures . . . Each governing body  . . . establishes the candidate’s sincere efforts to adhere to these standards.”

Only time and history will tell whether our presbytery was “far sighted” in passing the amendment, or whether we’re suffering from vision problems.

What it does do, however, is place a responsibility squarely on the shoulders of local congregations and presbyteries to actually  pray and talk about what our standards are and should be.  Frankly, I’ve always been a little bothered that we bandy about the subject of homosexuality like it’s the only really bad sin worth talking about.  Anger, greed, malice, self-righteousness–and! Gasp! the growing acceptance of heterosexual people in the world not living in chastity in singleness or fidelity in marriage–we give those subjects only a passing wink, well, because, hey, nobody’s perfect.  If we’re going to have standards, then we’d better be prepared to be as judgmental about those sins as we are about homosexuality.

I wish the amendment would have left in one sentence: “Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sins shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.”  While the original intent of that statement may have been to target unrepentant homosexuals, I think it calls all of us to stop justifying our sins and honestly work at becoming more Christ-like each day.  

The concern was raised that the new amendment waters down our convictions as the Church.  My hope is that it forces us to raise our standards, by considering all aspects of sin in our lives, not just our sexuality.

Presbyterians know that “presbus” doesn’t just mean “old man”, it also means “elder”.  It’s time elders stood up and led prayer-filled discussions and study on Scripture. 

What bothers me most were the number of churches within our presbytery not represented among the voting delegates.  Like our national form of government, we have no business criticizing the outcomes if we refuse to participate in the process.


“We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote–Jesus of Nazareth . . . Come and see.”  –John 1:44-45

How often do we hear the words, “come and see”?  You know it’s shorthand for “This is so amazing I can’t describe it. Words don’t do it justice.   Come and see.”

My kids, especially when they were young, found everything fascinating.  “Come and see.”  “Come and see.” “Mom, come and see.”  “Right now. Come and see.”

Many of us flatlanders remember the first time we saw the Rocky Mountains.  I had seen photos of the mountains.  I had heard about other people’s vacations to the mountains.  But I didn’t understand how the sight of mountains can take your breath away until the peaks soared above me.rocky

I started out this week enthused about how easy John 1:35-50 makes evangelism.  “Come and see.”  No need for lengthy sermons, deep discussions about theology, or the right sequence of inspired words.  “Come and see.”  “Come and see for yourself.” 

Shorthand for “Come to church and see”.

But  now it is Friday, and I’m a little discouraged.  If I’m inviting people to come meet Jesus, what exactly will they see?  Churches, unfortunately, have scarred some people for life.  

Judgmental churches who convinced people they could never measure up.  “I’m not good enough for these people, so I for sure am not good enough for God.” (This could be an entire rant on the religious right.  I am religious, and I’m “right” in that I’m a political conservative as opposed to never wrong.  But for Pete’s sake, people, do you ever listen to how unhappy and hateful you sound?)

Boring churches that drain every bit of excitement out of following Christ.  “You’re only really worshipping when you sing `In the Garden’ and `Sweet Hour of Prayer’. Over. And over. And over.”

Confused churches, who try not to think a lot about why they show up every week.  “Out of habit, I guess. It’s my turn to usher.”

Churches that mostly resemble the local Chamber of Commerce meeting.  “Dress nice.  Sit quietly. Only speak when recognized by the chairman.”

What’s in our churches that anyone would want to come and see?  Don’t tell me “But Christ is there” unless you’re prepared to give concrete examples and explain what’s happening that’s so exciting. And a word of warning: I’m not impressed much by chaotic youth groups, perfectly tuned choirs, and nice buildings. I’m only interested in meeting the Jesus the disciples met.

If you’re fired up enough, words won’t do it justice.  I’ll want to come and see.

“The one who is ore powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.  I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”–Mark 1:7

A Presbyterian minister and a Baptist minister were talking about church finances. The Presbyterian minister was grousing about the pace of donations.  The Baptist minister replies, “You know what your problem is, don’t you?  When you baptize people, you just get their heads wet.  We Baptists make sure their wallets get wet, too!”

My apologies to the author of that story.  But it does beautifully illustrate the question of what baptism means to us: when we commit ourselves to Christ, do we get ALL wet, or just a little bit damp?

The story of Jesus’s baptism in Mark (as well as the other gospels) brings up a boatload of interesting questions.  Why was Jesus baptized?  Did Jesus need to receive the Holy Spirit?  Who exactly is God talking to when his says “You are my son, my Beloved, in you I am well pleased!”?  Did Jesus need a heads up about his true identity? 

Here’s a few thoughts:

1. Maybe Jesus really didn’t know who he was up to this point.  As far as we know, the first 30 years of his life were fairly uneventful. To fully live the human experience, isn’t it possible that Jesus was shielded from knowing his true identity until it was time for him to begin his public ministry?  Perhaps the revelation of the Holy Spirit was Jesus’s “aha” moment, a full understanding (fulfillment) of God’s kingdom and the law of Moses when seen through the lens of love, compassion and mercy.

What would that mean for us?  That through our faith in Christ, we too are God’s beloved sons and daughters, with whom he is well pleased. When God speaks to Christ, God speaks to us.  And maybe we don’t fully understand who we are as God’s children until we know who Jesus is.

2. By standing shoulder to shoulder with all the other sinners on the banks of the Jordan, Jesus identifies with us–sinners all.

No, Jesus did not need to be baptized to be washed of his own sins.  But when we Presbyterians confess our sins to God, we’re not only recounting our own failings, but those of society as well.  No, Jesus didn’t have anything personally to be sorry for–but we do plenty for him to feel sorry about.  So baptism didn’t cleanse Jesus of his sins–it cleansed him of our sins.

Jesus’s baptism marked the beginning of his ministry on earth–a ministry of spreading a new vision of God’s kingdom.  Not about the world as it was–a vision of the world as it could be. A vision of a place where people followed his example of being humble, servant leaders.

And that’s the meaning of Jesus’s baptism to us.  Not that a few sprinkles serves as our own personal hex against hell (which, by the way, would be a pretty easy way for us to secure our own salvation and bypass that whole “saved by grace alone” business, which is a lot harder to comprehend). If that’s all baptism means to us, then we’re just barely damp.

If we’re truly all wet in Christ, then we share his mission to spread the vision.  Despite popular belief,  Jesus’s version of being a humble, servant leader had nothing to do with being a doormat. (Maybe Jesus should have just tried harder to get along with people–and stop damaging their self-esteem.)  Spreading a vision involves risk, sacrifice, and change.  You have to be sold that what you’re doing is for the public good, and be willing to speak out even when people oppose you.  

You can’t just be a little bit damp.  You’ve got to be all wet.

“In the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”–Mark 1:1

This morning, for the third or fourth time, someone asked me if I heard about the New York Walmart employee trampled to death by crowds frantic to get the best bargains early Friday morning.

As a society, we are both appalled and fascinated by this story.  I wonder if anyone remembers him going down, stepping on him, tripping over something soft? News reports indicate that some in the crowds complained as distraught employees and police tried to shut down the store because they’d “suffered” outside all night waiting for the store to open. How dare this man’s death–and their part in it–stop commerce! How dare they try to take the ho-ho-ho out of the holiday!

For the record, I hate Walmart, (and I mean no offense to my friends who work there) but it’s really not Walmart’s fault.  The company thrives because people flock there, capitalizing on our primal urge to get the “best deal” (or a better deal than all those poor saps who pay a few dollars more), and our belief that bigger is always better. Trust me, no one will ever get trampled at the door of my hometown grocery, Cuba Cash Store.  (For a glimpse of my world, go to Cuba.)

Living in one of the rapidly declining rural population areas in America, I really hate it when news stories describe our location in terms related to the nearest Walmart.  (30+ miles, in case you’re wondering).  As if our level of sophistication is directly tied to our proximity to cheap underwear.  

I suppose some people might believe were I live is akin to wilderness.  But there’s something to be said for having fewer distractions (and traffic to fight) in your life.   

As we busily prepare our holiday shopping and to-do lists, supposedly celebrating the birth of Christ,  I envision John the Baptist’s face turning bright red and his hair standing on end– “The voice crying out in the wilderness:  “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” (Mark 1:3).

I wonder while the Baptizer was baptizing if he ever envisioned a day when the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ would be linked to Black Friday, CyberMonday, the economy, and herds of shoppers stampeding and killing each other for electronic devices designed to immerse people even deeper into the world of self.

 

“The Word became flesh . . . and moved into the neighborhood.”

—John 1:14 in The Message

 When my kids were small, the one television show I usually found myself watching along with them was “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood”.  Some people made fun of Mr. Roger’s sweaters and sneakers and simple sets and songs compared to today’s high-volume animation. But Mr. Rogers could tackle tough subjects like death, divorce and war in his calm, kind voice, offering children reassurance that there was much good to be found in people, despite a world that seems increasingly chaotic and self-centered.

Mr. Rogers

 One writer said of Mr. Rogers (who was also an ordained Presbyterian minister): “He never condescended, just invited us into his conversation. He spoke to us as the people we were, not as the people others wished we were.”

November 30 marks the beginning of a new Christian year.  We are familiar with making New Year’s promises to diets and exercise in January, but how many Christians make resolutions to shape up our spiritual life at Advent?  Although I usually stick to the more traditional translations of The Bible, I was struck by the wording of John 1:14 in The Message: “The Word became flesh . . . and moved into the neighborhood.”

How would our walk as Christians be different this year if Jesus moved into our neighborhood?  Would we work harder at getting to know Him?  Would His acceptance of us as who we are motivate us to be more accepting of others?  Would our neighborhood be a calmer, more peaceful place?  More laughter, less arguments? More time together, less stuff to distract us from what’s important?

Paul describes Christ’s kind of neighborhood in 1 Thessalonians 5:14-16, a place where we: “encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with all . . . do not repay evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all.  Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.”

Wouldn’t that make for a beautiful day in the neighborhood?

“. . . Master, I knew that you were harsh man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground.”  Matthew 25:24-25

One of the occupational hazards of working for a newspaper is having your mistakes on public view for thousands of people to see.  Even when you check and double check your facts, invariably, some mistakes occasionally slip through.  

The first time one of my mistakes made it to press, I approached my boss with fear and trembling, certain he would fire me on the spot.  Instead, he sat me down and said “Remember this: the only people who don’t make mistakes are the people who aren’t doing anything.”

As the years went on, I was shocked to discover how many people never make mistakes! 🙂 (If you don’t get that joke, you may be one of the people I’m talking about.)

As I was readIng Matthew 25:14-30 this week, The Parable of the Talents, a funny thought struck me.  In Jesus’ story, two slaves are rewarded for doubling the investment their master left with them, while one is punished for taking his master’s talent and burying it in the ground for safekeeping.  What would the outcome of this story be if the first slave, who doubled his master’s money from five talents to 10 talents, would have instead said, “Uh, boss . . . that money you gave me . . . I invested in a little company called Enron, and er, well, uh . . . it’s all gone.”

I think the answer to that question lies back a few chapters in Matthew, when a king forgave his slave a debt of 10,000 talents.  In Matthew 25, the fact that the slave hadn’t lost any of his master’s money is no consolation to the master.  The inference is that the master would have preferred the slave to risk everything and lose, than to not try at all.

I’ve recently had a number of conversations about effective church evangelism.  How do we invite people to church?  Will we offend them?  How do we approach someone who is sick, someone who is dying, someone who is bereaved, someone who just lost their job, their house, just went through a divorce or just came back from bailing a child out of jail?  We are so afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing, we don’t say or do anything at all.

The answer to those questions may lie in what we believe “a talent” in this parable represents.  From a strict historical perspective, a talent in Jesus’ day was an enormous amount of money–equal to three years worth of wages.  In modern times, we use a play on words and liken a talent to our own unique skills.  In both cases, this scripture becomes a parable for investing our money and our talents to furthering the kingdom of God.

I’m considering a third comparison to the talents–what about the enormous gift of forgiveness and grace and mercy we’ve been given by God?  Do we go out and “invest” that gift with others?  Or do we bury what we understand about God’s forgiveness and mercy deep within ourselves, out of fear that we might make a mistake, might say something wrong, that someone might take offense? Perhaps that we might have to admit to someone that our lives are messy and full of mistakes, and why we believe God loves us anyway?

There’s a lot of information this parable omits that I want to know.  The master returned “after a long time” (v. 19).  Were all the investments the first two slaves made smart and prudent?  Did the stock market crash in the middle of the master’s journey?  Did they endure setbacks with patience, trusting that they might not see immediate returns, but long-range gains?  Did they look at mistakes as opportunities to learn instead of reasons to never try again?

The other thought that strikes me about this parable is the phrase that the master divided the property among the slaves “to each according to his ability.”  Perhaps the first two slaves had proven their abilities to take calculated risks.  They studied and learned their business, basing their decisions on thoughtful planning. The third slave didn’t want to put that kind of time and effort into growing the talent the master had entrusted to him.  

Since many times we think of this parable in terms of stewardship, this is the question it raises in my mind: Are we good stewards of the mercy Christ has bestowed upon us?  Do we put in time and effort to continue to grow our understanding of God–in a way that we are prepared to take calculated risks to share the good news of Christ’s mercy with other people?

“Then Jesus said . . .”The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they touch you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.”

After my parents became disillusioned with the Catholic Church back in the 1960s, I mostly became a “home-schooled” Christian, sometimes with the help of distance learning technology: ie: the old clock radio sitting on the kitchen table.  (Remember when a new-fangled digital clock had little flip numbers?)

Anyway, my mom’s favorite radio show and our own “church service” on  Sunday morning was the Oral Roberts family. I can still hum tunes Richard and his first wife, Patty Roberts, sang . . . “Something Good is Going to Happen to You” and “Greater is He That is In Thee, Than He that is in the World.”  

As I grew older, it appeared to me the Roberts family was perhaps more interested in building their own kingdom on earth than the kingdom of God.  Yet, I can’t discount the role they played in nurturing my early interest in the faith.

Some people turn their back on Christianity, pointing to the holier than thou attitudes of Christians who can’t live up to their own preaching.  Being a healthy skeptic to anyone trying to exercise authority, the lesson I learned from the people on the radio on my parent’s kitchen table was to listen to, and evaluate, the message–but never, ever, worship the messenger.

I’m a bit cranky on this last day before the 2008 election at all the voices shouting at me about how I’ll vote if I’m a Christian.  (I’ve already voted, by the way, so save your breath.)  I’m increasingly troubled by the tendency for the average church-goer to soak up whatever doctrine the preacher or denomination spouts without searching and researching Scripture themselves to get God’s take on the world.  I’m also a little grumpy at the non-church-goers who reject Scripture based on man’s say-so instead of reading it for themselves.  (Or listening, if you want to make good use of commute time.  James Earl Jones does a great job of reading the Bible–the voice of Darth Vader as God, which really gives some punch to the judgment and condemnation passages in the Old Testament.)

Perhaps my biggest gripe about the conversations this election year is that Christians come off looking like terrified, racist, self-righteous radicals.  If we’re practicing what we preach in church, we look to Christ as our savior, not the president.  Jesus said, “Fear not”–so what are we so afraid of?  Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be preaching and practicing?

P.S. #1: The Internet Monk has written a great essay on the Bible at http://www.internetmonk.com/articles/B/bible.html. 

P.S.#2: Read the rest of Matthew 23:1-12 to explain why I am so adamant about NOT being referred by any Religious Title that starts with a Capital Letter. 

P.S. #3: Yes, I happen to be a woman who preaches in church every Sunday, which I know some people consider to be among the seven deadly sins.  (Note to self: find out what the other six deadly sins are, and why they are deadlier than any of the other thousands of sins we can commit.)  If this is bothersome to you, listen for Christ’s message, even if you aren’t so wild about the messenger. It ain’t about me.


“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”–Matthew 22:37-39

Okay, I have a very un-pastoral confession to make.  There have been people in my circle of family, acquaintances and co-workers through the years that I haven’t liked very much.  Some are self-centered, obnoxious bores. A few are catty, malicious, and negative in general.  A couple spout opinions I find bigoted or just plain wrong.

Only two things keep me from unloading on these people with both barrels.  The first is the commandment Jesus quotes from Leviticus: “love your neighbor as yourself.”  The second is a comment my mom made one day after dealing with a particularly trying relative: “Sometimes the unlovable need love the most.”

Religious people through the centuries have spent much time deliberating what Jesus meant by “neighbor”. I think he meant exactly what he said: Show love to those near you.  Most of the time that will mean your family and friends and co-workers, who, God knows, can be a handful at times.  (My dad’s favorite saying was “familiarity breeds contempt”.)

Jesus said to love your enemies.  Who knew we’d be related to so many of them?

Truthfully, it’s much easier to love strangers. That’s why we so eagerly send money to foreign missions, while passing judgment on our neighbor down the street on welfare. Or, carrying on a family grudge for decades.  Or, develop ulcers fretting about that co-worker we just can’t stand.

I hope the people I don’t like believe I’m their friend and someone they can count on.  Loving someone doesn’t mean you have to agree with them or their choices, or even like being around them.   Loving someone means you hope your actions on their behalf work for their benefit, to build them up.  Maybe even change a few of their bad attitudes.

But, if you want people to listen to you, first you have to show them you care about them.

Sometimes, I admit, there are people I can only love in close proximity for very, very short periods of time.  I find myself repeating the Apostle Paul like a mantra: Love is patient, love is kind.  It is not rude. It is not easily angered.  It keeps no record of wrong.  (God, I’d really like to keep just a little record of wrong.)

If love is an action verb, loving the unlovable is like the Olympics of Christian behavior.  We try.  We try to do better.  We practice.  We train.  Sometimes we earn the gold.  Sometimes we’re disqualified for unsportsmanlike behavior.

But we love, because God first loved us–and God knows, we’re all pretty unlovable at times.

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

(Jesus) said to him, `You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”–Matthew 22:36-38

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“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”–1 Corinthians 13:4-8

It has been a difficult week to feel loving.  Yesterday alone, 1) I received an email insisting I vote for a Christian candidate because the opponent “is an openly gay man”; 2) Had a conversation debating whether it’s a sin for a woman to proclaim Christ’s gospel; and 3) Made the mistake of watching the Saturday Night Live Weekend Update parody of the presidential candidates.  There have been other incidents as well: a story about a church that refused to host a nondenominational Thanksgiving service because women would be participating in leading worship;  attempts by friends to draw me into petty arguments;  people laying blame on others for their own bad behavior.

 

Lincoln's Tomb, Springfield IL

Lincoln

A few years ago when we visited the Abraham Lincoln museum in Springfield Ill., I was struck the most by an exhibit of newspaper articles, editorials and cartoons from the time.  Hateful drawings and diatribes against Lincoln, sharp criticism of the Emancipation Proclamation, and, as men started dying in the Civil War, quick turnarounds from people who were supportive of the end of slavery–but not if it meant they were required to make sacrifices for human beings that were of a lower class and intellect.  I find it most poignant that the people who were supposed to be standing up for the rights of the oppressed and those treated harshly–the Christians–were sharply divided over the question of slavery. 

 

In 2,000 years, we’ve learned little about loving our neighbors as ourselves.  We are particularly happy to ignore at least one of  Paul’s descriptions of true love: it does not insist on its own way.  We have done a great injustice to 1 Corinthians 13, shuffling it off as a nice little wedding scripture, but nothing that has to do with Christ’s commandment to love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.

What is love?  Love isn’t an emotional high, a warm fuzzy feeling of affection that goes away if someone doesn’t act or believe the same way we do. Love was never meant to be about us–it’s an action verb that describes how we’re to treat other people.

Love means respecting other people’s experiences and beliefs. Love means giving kindness without expecting anything in return. Sometimes love means allowing people to face the consequences of their actions without becoming irritable or resentful.  Love means believing and hoping for the best in others, and never writing them off as beyond God’s grace and mercy. Love means accepting that you’ll find yourself around people who may make you uncomfortable, but they are people who want understanding and respect and friendship, just like you.

God didn’t send Jesus because we deserved a Savior, but because He knew we could never earn salvation on our own.  If God loves us that much, even when we’re behaving badly, who are we to claim that we follow God–and then withhold love and respect and kindness from others?