Sunday, May 6, 2012

God is Love. Period.

Today was one of those Sundays where I was reminded why it is that I attend the worship service instead of lounging with my coffee and a crossword puzzle.

Our processional hymn--#379 "God is Love"-- spoke volumes to me as I continued to hold in my head and heart the people of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Ellicot City, MD, following the tragic events there on Thursday evening.   A portion of the lyrics:

God is Love; and though with blindness
sin afflicts all human life,
God’s eternal loving-kindness
guides us through our earthly strife.
Sin and death and hell shall never
o’er us final triumph gain;
God is Love, so Love for ever
o’er the universe must reign.

This sentiment, and the entirety of the processional anthem, put the emphasis where it needed to be: God is Love.  All the readings of the morning pointed to this same theme.  I have written more than once on the Ethiopian eunuch story from Acts. I am moved to tears when I hear the phrase from the eunuch, so eager to learn more about God, "Look, here is water. What is to prevent me from being baptized?"

Nothing, dear earnest eunuch soul.  Nothing prevents you from being baptized into the Trinity.  You are, have been, and always will be, part of the body.  And, unbeknownst to you, your story will become a touchstone in the 21st century for all those called "others" who have been wrongly told that they don't matter and there is no place for them in the kingdom.   As the First Letter of John said this morning:

Those who say, "I love God," and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. 
These are the words I shared with my EfM group the Monday after the horrible vote in Florida in 2008 when the voters placed marriage discrimination against the LGBT community into the state constitution.  This message from 1 John had been in the daily office and appeared in the rotation about three or four days after that election night.  God has a strange way of doing that to me.  Amidst my own personal hell and pain and feeling the insults of the world or the church (or both), something will draw me back to what is the truth, the way, and the life.  That truth can be summed up in the statement: God is love.  Period. Exclamation point.  Emphasis added.

All this love culminating in the Gospel message about being part of the vine, the image Jesus uses in John's Gospel.  That love is tended and cared for by the vine grower and that vine is coming up through the soil and feeding the branches so that they bear much fruit. The more fruit on the vine, the more people will come and taste of the fruit of that vine.   What if the vine grower didn't love and tend that vine?  What would happen to the branches of that vine?  No fruit.  And no fruit means nobody will ever know how good the fruit on the vine can be.

And this leads me back to my prayers for St. Peter's Episcopal Church.  At a time of such violence and death, it would be easy for people to allow their hurt and fears to spill over into hatred and mistrust of people who are like the shooter, Douglas Jones.  

The homeless can make one nervous.  I would be a liar if I said I wasn't made uncomfortable at times by someone approaching me on the street, especially someone holding a conversation with no one in particular. I've had plenty of encounters with people who were mentally ill in some way.  Still, more often than not, the homeless and those on the streets are victims of violence.  The mere fact that they are living on the streets is, in my opinion, a form of violence, or at least brokenness. And rather than assume that the homeless and mentally ill are guilty of being murderers until proven innocent, there needs to be more of an effort to tap into Love for those who need shelter, and adequate mental health services.  

The Diocese of Maryland recognized that in a resolution passed over the weekend at their annual convention.  Not only did they resolve to provide and care for the people of St. Peter's Episcopal, they resolved to look into ways to better protect priests and other workers in the church, and fight for the needs of the homeless, the mentally ill, and the victims of gun violence.   All things that are necessary.  All things that reflect the many multi-layers of Love in action.  All ways that honor the life and service of Brenda Brewington and Rev. Dr. Mary-Marguerite Kohn, who by all accounts, did all they could to provide care and comfort to those who came to the church in need.

The more I listened, the more I reflected on my connection in spirit to those in Maryland, the more I felt that God met me in this service in a way that I haven't felt for some weeks.  And for that I say, "Thanks be to God!"




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