Saturday, July 16, 2016

Just as I have loved you

A few days ago, a friend was telling me a bit about the Wild Goose Festival. Jim Wallis of Sojourner fame told the group that our sole guide for racial and social justice is our Baptismal Covenant. I replied that our Baptismal Covenant should be our sole guide for every aspect of our lives.

There is one Body and one Spirit;
There is one hope in God’s call to us;
One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism;
One God and Father of all.

Were we to go no further in the Baptismal Covenant, this opening verse and response should tell us all we need to know.

We are a single unit, strands knitted together by God, the Father, God, the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit. We, all of us, are one united through our baptism.

Yet, there is more. We are called into accountability.

Will you be responsible for seeing that the child you present is brought up in the Christian faith and life?
Will you by your prayers and witness help this child to grow into the full stature of Christ?

Each child is brought into this oneness with a vow made by the parents and godparents – I will, with God’s help. This is a very serious promise. We enter into a covenant, with God, with that child, to bring that child up in the Christian faith and life and promise to help that child grow into the full stature of Christ. That is a very big deal. I wonder if we know what we are promising the first time we say it.

Personally, I failed miserably as a god parent. Twenty+ years ago, a young woman asked me to be a godparent to her two children. I barely knew the woman except for the fact that she lived near the parish and had been coming to church for a little while. I said yes. I should not have said yes. I made a vow and broke it in my ignorance. I did not understand the full nature of the promise. At the time, I had no idea as to the “full stature of Christ.” I am sure I continue to lack full knowledge of that phrase but I do know much more now than I did then.

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

I have always answered dutifully, “I will, with God’s help.” And I mean it, every time. I try to proclaim by example, if not always by word, the Good News of God in Christ; meaning, that I try to love God with all my heart, and soul, and mind, and love my neighbor as God loves me.

I am fairly good about these first two promises, at least, I am when I am at work. I am not always a shining example of God’s love, especially when my next door neighbors are shooting cannon firework off in front of my house on the sidewalk. Nor am I a very good example of God’s love when an unconcerned and seemingly selfish driver does something stupid and careless in front of me on the road. Nor do I do a very good job of loving my neighbor or being an example of that love when I read the ongoing fear-mongering on social media. 

Still, I try. I agree that Thomas Merton’s prayer “But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you” is what pleases God; just the simple fact that, indeed, I do try. Yet, the first of these two do not ask that we “try”; rather, that we “proclaim” and “seek and serve Christ in ALL persons” regardless.
The third one calls us into action, asking will we “strive for justice and peace” – among ALL people. And that further, we “respect the dignity” of EVERY human being.

Again, at work, I do strive diligently to do this. And actually, it is far easier to love people than we might first think. I do try at home too. Sometimes, it is difficult. Like when I come home from work and feel as though every ounce I had to give was given away. There seems to be no more. Yet, I am asked by word, thought, or deed, to do so. I get grouchy and resentful.

But I know in all of this, in all of my lack, in all of my more, I know I am trying. The more I try, the more I practice, the more real it becomes. I am a slow work of love.

I told a guy that I loved him. I saw his face change. It was the first time I had ever said it to him. He has been coming to the pantry and hot lunch for over a year. I remember when he first came, he was dirty, belligerent, smelly, and totally disrespectful. He is still. At first, I reacted to his behavior. If he was nice, so was I. If he wasn’t, I reacted in a negative way. 

I don’t think that tough love works very well.

Over the past few months, I came to the realization that he is often “acting out” just as a rebellious teen might do. He expects people to be irritated with him, to be repelled, to be shocked; therefore, he is irritating, shocking deliberately. He said he played the piano, so I had the piano returned to the parish hall. He doesn’t play. However, there is a certain rhythm to his tunes that lends a certain quality to the music. It sounds like music, only a piece no one has ever before heard. More than anything, it changes him when he plays. I think it calms him. I believe that he knows that it irritates some people but that I allow it. I think he respects that. He always tells me thank you.

When he asked me why I do the things that I do, I told him, “because I love you.” He cocked his head to one side and laughed but then he realized that I was sincere. It mattered.

Does my love cure him of whatever caused him to be homeless? No. Of course not. Does he trust me in all things and will never argue with me again, be belligerent or irritating? No. But it lets him know that he matters.

I take seriously the covenant I have made with God. It is the basis for all things. I realize that now, at this age, after all my life’s yearnings and earnings. I know this now. It feels natural, finally. I don’t always succeed but it lives before me, pulling me onward, teaching me new ways to love God and to love my neighbor as I am loved.

We are one in the Body. We are one in the Spirit. There is one hope in God’s call to us. There is One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism; One God and Father of all.

Striving for life in this oneness is what our Baptismal Covenant is all about. There would be no need to strive for justice, mercy or respect if we heard and lived into the two most important commandment: Love God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.

Sometimes our only job is to show other people how much they are loved. But first, we have to understand that we are, indeed, loved. Regardless. Steadfastly. Realizing that we are loved, that we are worthy of love, offers us the ability to share that love.

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ John 13:34

We can’t learn to love or fully understand how much we are loved unless we work at being in relationship with one another.

We have to practice love every day. If you don’t know how much you are loved, contact me. I will tell you. I need the practice.


Ella Chapman said...

A slow work of love? Me too. Aren't we all?

I love this piece!


Barbi Click said...

Thanks, Ellie. :-)