We've been praying a collect that talks of the reconciling love of Christ, and yet I have felt very little love for my neighbors in Mississippi or North Carolina. Or the Florida Governor's Mansion. Or even for some of my friends on Facebook during this political season. This has been a week of outrage and outrageousness.
Again, the LGBTQ+ community finds itself under attack by state legislators who suffer from "Trans panic" about who is going into which public restroom, and whether a hospital should be compelled to provide care to someone who is a member of the LGBTQ+ population. I realize it's more ridiculous to talk about denying a wedding cake to a gay or lesbian couple, but the more truly horrid part of the new Mississippi law is that a hospital surgeon could decide she doesn't want to treat a person because their orientation or gender identity or expression offends her religious beliefs. Our Governor walked into a Starbucks in Gainesville, a university city with a more liberal-leaning than its neighboring towns, and found himself face-to-face with a woman who had had enough of his anti-woman, anti-poor policies. Rather than sticking around to get his soy no water chai latte (I have it on good authority that this is his preferred drink order at Starbucks), the Governor walked off...and then had his PAC cut an ad lambasting this female citizen critic. And let's not even get started on the many flare-ups between friends on Facebook over Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton and which one is "qualified" to be President. Lord, make haste to help us!
In fact, God is providing for me a few hints in this Sunday's lectionary that, as always, Love is aware and pointing toward the possibility and rewards of reconciliation.
We hear the story from the Acts of the Apostles about the conversion of Saul (who will miraculously become Paul midway through that book). This is one of my favorites from Acts because it speaks so well to the tension of division and God's power to take two bitter enemies and convert their hearts to the oneness of being in relationship with the One and each other. Here's Paul, on his way to Damascus and all fired-up because he's going to get more of these followers of "The Way," stopped in his tracks and faced with the resurrected Christ saying, "Why, Saul? Why are you doing this to me?" He is blinded, led into Damascus to the home of a follower of "The Way" named Ananais, who is just a tad bit worried about having this hater in his home town. God assures Ananais that this will all be OK if he will please lay his hands on Saul and pray. Reluctantly, he does it, and Saul's eyes are opened...not only in the physical sense that he is no longer blind, but also the eyes of his heart are opened to a conversion to Christ as messiah. And a tremendous and important advocate for Christianity is born. And Ananais is, well, in awe. Thanks be to God! Now, let's hear that Gospel story again about fishing off the other side of the boat, and the discussion with Peter out on the beach.
Peter, feeling a little sheepish (yes, pun intended), is having an important one-on-one discussion with Jesus at the end of John's Gospel. It sounds a little like the song from "Fiddler on the Roof": "Do you love me?" "Do I what?!" Peter needs this moment with Jesus to undo the three times of denying knowing him before the crucifixion. Jesus needs this moment with Peter to convey the forgiveness of this wrong, and place a heavy burden upon Peter to now, for real, "follow me." And, once more, God has interjected God's self into strengthening the faith and the bond to open Peter's heart to become a tremendous and important advocate for the future of the Christian church. Peter and Paul had dual and important missions serving different pockets of people in the spreading of the Good News. And both were key figures in the story that would lead to a religion that would be subsumed at different times by the power structures of the day. Not always to the glory of God, but that's not the fault of either Peter or Paul. Their mission was to bring the transformative power of Love to the people. And, ultimately amidst all the hubbub and nastiness of the day, that's our job, too.
It is tremendously hard to keep that focus, at least it is for me, and I fall short of it often. But it is the point to which I must return if I am to remain able to be the light I wish to see in the world. And we need a whole lot more light because, as we've seen in the past week alone, the streets are still filled with too much darkness and there are those who keep attempting to shoot out the street lights to make it even darker. This is not some Pollyanna baloney I'm putting out there. This is my entreaty to those of us who call ourselves "Christian" to remember that when we fail to act out of our place of Love, we need to stop, think and return to that place because that IS our true power. As I so often pray, "Glory to God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. Glory to God from generation to generation in the church and in Christ Jesus. Amen." These are not just words; this prayer is the intent of my heart. In the face of opposition, and meanness, and rancor, we have the power to combine with others who are tapped into the Light to overcome the darkness of the world. Believe in it. Live into it.