So That

This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast I speak with Sarah Locke about the readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter [C] (Acts 16.16-34, Psalm 97, Revelation 22.12-14, 16-17, 20-21, John 17.20-26). Sarah is the pastor of Hickory UMC in Chesapeake, VA. Our conversation covers a range of topics including earthquakes, real prayers, freedom, hardhats, believing on Jesus, mountain melting, the idolatry of image, Christian hatred, the alphabet of faith, Between Two Ferns, unity, and love. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: So That

On Thinking Theologically

Psalm 23.4

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff – they comfort me.

In the 1990’s Jerry Falwell, bastion of theological conservatism, pleaded for funds for his “Save A Baby Homes.” The organization was designed to establish homes, all over the country, where a young woman who decides to continue in a difficult pregnancy could go and receive free, caring support all the way through pregnancy and birth.

And, rather notably, Falwell ended his plea by saying something to effect of, “If we do not give our resources, our money, to this venture, if Bible-believing Christians do not demonstrate through our gifts that we are willing to give to, and sacrifice for, and to support these women, then we have no right to tell them what they should, or shouldn’t, do with their bodies.”

It isn’t easy for ordinary people like us to do some of the extraordinary acts as Jesus commands. “Turning the other cheek” is a lot easier to preach than it is to practice. The same holds true for loving our neighbors as ourselves, particularly when it comes into contact with our theological understanding of reproductive rights.

On Monday evening a draft was leaked of a revision to the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that focuses on reproductive rights in the United States. In response, those in favor and those opposed to the draft have been celebrating/protesting in various parts of the country. 

Reproductive rights are often painted as a faith-based matter for a variety of reasons and there are a great myriad of theological positions with regard to the understanding of being bodily creatures. The United Methodist Church, in our Book of Resolutions, both affirms the sanctity of life for all persons born and unborn and, at the same time, we support those who choose the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures by certified medical providers. We are committed to ministering with those who have had an abortion, providing support and encouragement. (You can read more here: Social Principles)

The only time I can remember hearing about abortion in church, prior to becoming a pastor, was in a small group setting as a teenager when one of my peers asked the pastor how we should think theologically about abortion. His response has stayed with me ever since.

He said something to the effect of: “If a woman in our church becomes pregnant and chooses to carry the baby to term, then we have a responsibility to support her in any way that we can – meals, rides, prayers, etc. But the same holds true for the other side of the spectrum. If a woman in our church becomes pregnant and chooses not to carry to term, then we have a responsibility to support her in any way that we can – meals, rides, prayers, etc.” 

I remember thinking his answer was both deeply theological and faithful. I only realized, much later, that not every church feels and thinks that same way.

We do not talk of such things in the church today for a variety of reasons: we prioritize the privacy of the individual, we treat the church as a place to talk about churchy things and not worldly things, we are afraid of upsetting sensibilities, we don’t want to appear too political, etc. 

And yet, we, in large part, have fallen into a fallacy of believing that the most important things in the world are political and can only be handled in a political manner. We therefore worry and lose more sleep over who sits behind the desk in the oval office (or behind the rail in the Supreme Court) than we do over who sits at the throne of the universe (and who comes to be the Judged Judge in our place). 

The church is, and always will be, political but it is political on terms that run counter to the world. Put simply, the church does not exist to proclaim a list of do’s and dont’s, but rather to follow and point to the One who does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. 

Therefore, the most interesting, creative, and faithful solutions we (that is: Christians) have to offer our weary world are not new laws, new politicians, or new social programs (though we certainly can support such efforts). The most important thing we have to offer the world is the church. We best serve the world by showing the world what it is not: a place where God is forming a family out of strangers.

We, the church, exist to be present for others not to judge them or to damn them, but to love them and support them to the end. 

It isn’t easy – but nothing really important ever is.  

Flipped-Turned Upside Down

Acts 9.1-4

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

When I was in seminary I made myself available to friends who were serving churches if they ever needed someone to preach on a Sunday morning. I wish I could say the offer was purely altruistic, but it was mostly born out of a desire to get some experience before serving my own church one day. It was always exciting to arrive on a Sunday morning, to a church full of strangers, and stand up to preach the Word.

But it usually went poorly.

On one occasion I forgot to take up an offering and the congregation was more than happy to not pass around the plates. I preached at one church that had no bathrooms and I was encouraged to “use a tree out back” so I bounced back and forth behind the pulpit until the end of the service and quickly drove to the nearest gas station. And there was one particular Sunday when I got lost on my way to the church, and by the time I arrived they had already gone through two hymns and I was told they figured someone would show up to preach eventually.

But perhaps the most indelible memory took place one Sunday after worship during which a man in a handsome business suit approached me in the narthex and declared, “That Paul sure was in a heap of trouble. It’s a good thing Jesus was there to set him straight!” 

The conversion of Saul, the so-called Damascus Road Experience, has penetrated the thoughts and imaginations of Christians for centuries. It’s one thing to question Jesus’ decision to enlist the help of a bunch of (not even very good) fishermen to spread the Good News, it’s another thing entirely to consider the Lord choosing Saul, the persecutor of the faith, to become the chief evangelist for the faith.

I cherish that narthex comment about Paul because, up to that point, I always thought of Paul being good and fine until Jesus showed up to complicate his life. Which, to be fair, isn’t necessarily wrong. He had power and prestige, he even had a calling in his life, and then everything got flipped-turned upside down. It’s also true in our lives that things seem to be well and good until the Lord encounters us and we cannot remain the same.

But, as that man so wonderfully put it, Paul was in a heap of trouble until the Lord changed him. Things might have felt and looked good in life, but what kind of life is it to spend all of your time persecuting others? Jesus said, “I have come to give life, and to give it abundantly.” Whatever Paul’s life was before Damascus, it could not compare at all to what it was after.

And so it is with us. 

For some the Lord uses a bright wake up call to the life of faith. For others we know no other way because we’ve been part of the church for as long as we can remember. And for others it’s somewhere in between. But the Lord gets what the Lord wants. God is in the business of transformation. We, all of us, were in a heap of trouble until the Lord came to set us free. And now, like Paul, we live in the world turned upside down.

It’s Better Than You Think It Is

This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast I speak with Drew Colby about the readings for the Second Sunday of Easter [C] (Acts 5.27-32, Psalm 118.14-29, Revelation 1.4-9, John 20.19-31). Drew is the lead pastor of Grace UMC in Manassas, VA. Our conversation covers a range of topics including strange intros, short sermons, eating in Eastertide, Raymond Brown, good trouble, Stanley Hauerwas, codas, timelessness, the firstborn of the dead, real peace, and the gift of faith. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: It’s Better Than You Think It Is

Narding Out

This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast I speak with Alan Combs about the readings for the Fifth Sunday of Lent [C] (Isaiah 43.16-21, Psalm 126, Philippians 3.4b-14, John 12.1-8). Alan is the lead pastor of First UMC in Salem, VA. Our conversation covers a range of topics including record breakers, timelessness, keeping Easter in Lent, Makoto Fujimura, laughing in church, terrible testimonies, tremendous transformation, clarity (or the lack thereof), authorial soliloquies, and John Daker. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: Narding Out

Ambassadors

2 Corinthians 5.20

So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 

I love and loathe wearing my clergy collar when I’m out and about in public. I love the way it forces me to act like a Christian and the ways in which the faith breaks out from the walls of the church. And I loathe the awkward encounters it produces and the times in which I am compelled to defend the church from her detractors.

More often than not I don’t give much thought to what day I wear the collar or where I will be.

And sometimes I wish I was smarter about it.

When the time came for my second COVID vaccination shot I drove over to an abandoned department store and waited in line with hundreds of other people from the community. And it was only after I received the shot and sat socially distanced from the aforementioned crowds did I realize that I was wearing the collar.

And what made me realize my attire was the line that started to develop right in front of me of individuals who mistook me for a Catholic priest and asked if I would hear their confession.

Paul writes to the church in Corinth: “We are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us.” We, therefore, represent Christ and his church to those outside the church; we are strangers in a strange land.

And yet, with the privatization of faith, with faith often being something we do on Sundays and Sundays alone, there’s little reason to concern ourselves with ambassadorship. Unless we wear a cross around our necks, or a white collar around our throats, no one might ever know of our discipleship.

But then Paul has the nerve to remind us that some people will never see God except through us and the ways in which we exist in the world.

I have the benefit of representing the church not only because I am the pastor of one, but also because I walk around with my clergy collar. And when I dress that way I am forced to act like a Christian whether I want to or not. It is a constant and ever-ringing reminder that I am called to act, think, live, speak, and behave like a Christian.

And, though it pains me to admit, sometimes I need to wear the collar in order to live out my faith. 

Without it hanging around my neck it is all too easy to fade in among the crowd and pretend like I’m not an ambassador for anything but myself.

So when I sat in the post-apocalyptic department store and the line developed in front of me, I listened to each person rattle off their sins. I watched their eyes while they offered their pleas for pardon and assurance. I wanted to be like everyone else minding my own business. I wanted to flip through my phone for the required ten minutes of observation and then leave. But instead, I handed over the goods to each of my fellow Christians: “In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.”

Does that make me a better Christian than other Christians? Definitely not. “Reluctant” doesn’t do justice to the way I felt that day. And sadly, I know that, in large part, the only reason it happened and the only reason I responded was because of my outfit.

Which makes me wonder: What would it be like if all Christians in all places wore little white tabs around our necks? I mean, scripture does talk about “the priesthood of all believers.” Imagine how different the world would be if each and every Christian walked around knowing that everyone else had certain expectations about who we are and what we do.

It might just be the difference that makes all the difference. 

Crazy Love

Genesis 45.15

And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him. 

Last week I paced through the “seasonal” aisle at the grocery store looking for the right Valentines. Was I searching for the items that would perfectly convey my love for my wife? No. Instead, I was trying to find appropriate cards/items that my son could distribute during his celebration of the holiday in his kindergarten class.

Tucked away behind the heart shaped boxes of chocolate varieties was a solitary box of Mandalorian Valentines, and I knew that Elijah would delight in giving them to all his friends.

And this morning, as I walked him to school, I asked him if he knew why he was bringing Valentines to school and he said, “I’m sure it has something to do with Jesus.”

And he wasn’t wrong!

Valentine’s Day is a particularly striking holiday because of the juxtaposition from how it started to what it looks like today.

There were numerous Christians in the early church named Valentine and many of them were martyred for their faith. That is, their commitment to the kingdom of God was such that the powers and principalities believed the only way to stop them was to kill them.

But perhaps the most famous Valentine was Valentine the Bishop of Terni during the 3rd century. The story goes that he was put under house arrest by Judge Asterius for evangelizing and the two of them eventually struck up a conversation about Jesus. The judge wanted to put Valentine’s faith to the test and brought in his blind daughter and asked for her to be healed. If Valentine was successful, the judge agreed to do whatever he asked.

Valentine, then, placed his hands on the girl’s blind eyes and her vision was restored.

Overcome by the miracle, the judge agreed to get baptized and freed all of the Christian inmates under his authority.

Later, Valentine was arrested (again) for his continued attempts to share the Good News and was sent before the Roman Emperor Claudius II. Valentine attempted to convince the Claudius to convert to the faith, but then Valentine was condemned to death unless he renounced his own faith.

Valentine refused and was beheaded on… (wait for it)… February 14th, 269.

Later additions to the story proclaim that, shortly before his execution, Valentine wrote a letter to the young girl he once healed and he signed it, “from your Valentine” which is said to have inspire the holiday we now enjoy.

So, what does a beheaded Christian martyr have to do with boxes of chocolate and bouquets of roses?

The book of Genesis is full of family betrayals and deceits. Particularly dreadful is the story of Jacob being sold into slavery by his brothers because they couldn’t handle their own jealousy. Jacob makes a name for himself in Egypt and eventually reconciles with the very brothers who abandoned/betrayed him when they come looking for food to eat.

Jacob’s love for his brothers was such that, even though they ruined his life, he “kisses them and weeps upon them.” 

Love is awful like that. It can make us do crazy and bewildering things. At least, they are crazy and bewildering according to the world.

But consider what we do on Valentine’s Day: we throw away gobs of money on trivial and fleeting items. The flowers will eventually fade and the chocolate will expire.

But others will say that St. Valentine’s willingness to die for his faith, and Jacob’s willingness to forgives his brothers, is even crazier.

Love is a crazy thing.

It also happens to be how God feels about us.

God, in Christ, full of hope and grace and mercy mounts the hard wood of the cross to die for us. And then, three days later, God gives him back to us.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Woe and Woah

This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast I speak with Andrew Ware about the readings for the 5th Sunday After Epiphany [C] (Jeremiah 17.5-10, Psalm 1, 1 Corinthians 15.12-20, Luke 6.17-26). Andrew is the pastor of Beech Grove UMC in Suffolk, VA and he is the host of the Active Faith podcast. Our conversation covers a range of topics including active self-care, rooted trust, burnout, vital nutrition, vague preaching, contentedness, scripturally shaped imaginations, ecclesial axioms, blessed (re)assurance, and compliments. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: Woe and Woah

Hooked

Luke 5.8

But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

Jesus shows up by the lake of Gennesaret and crowds begin to gather to hear whatever it is he has to say. He starts teaching, if that’s what we want to call it – he tells stories, some of them make the folk scratch their heads, some of them make the people mad.

Talk of the first being last and the last being first always sounds like good news to those on the bottom rungs of life, but it sounds like unmitigated bad news to those with everything to lose.

Anyway, Jesus amasses such a crowd that, while standing by the seashore, the Lord decides to amplify his proclamations.

Down the way he stops a few boats and men who had been out all night fishing. They are busy cleaning their nets and Jesus decides to hop into one of their boats and says, “Hey, let’s get out on the water.”

And without giving it much thought, a nobody named Simon Peter pushes the boats out, and starts oaring the Lord back toward the crowds.

“Thanks Pete,” Jesus says, “This’ll do fine. Keep it steady will ya?”

And then Jesus teaches some more. Perhaps talk of fig trees and mustard seeds, maybe some more of that “all things being made new,” perhaps he ended with a particularly probing parable.

And then Jesus looks back to his conscripted fisherman and says, “Pete, since we’re out here already, what do you think about going deeper and let’s see if we can’t find ourselves some breakfast?”

“No offense, Lord,” Peter replies, “But I’ve been out all night fishing. You see, fishing is what I do. And there ain’t no fish to be caught. However, you seem to be on a roll today, so why not?”

15 minutes minutes pass and they catch more fish than they can safely bring aboard their aquatic vessel and they call out to the other fishermen to come help.

Pretty soon they have so many fish that the boats start sinking into the lake from which their plunder came.

Peter, with his arms burning from pulling in net after net, falls to the bottom of the boat and he says, “Get away from me Lord! I am not worthy of this!”

Jesus calmly replies, “No one is. But that’s the whole point. And you needn’t be afraid my friend, from now on you’ll be catching people.”

And Peter, along with his brother and their fishing partners, leave everything at the shore and they follow Jesus. 

I love this story.

Every time I enter the strange new world of the Bible to this little tale by the sea I am bombarded by Peter’s reaction to Jesus. He falls before the Lord with a feeling of complete unworthiness. He, somehow, understands that God is near in the person of Jesus in a way that is more tangible and palpable than he can comprehend. And it is in the presence of God that Peter feels his sin.

Does Jesus call Peter a sinner? Does Jesus list all of Peter’s faults and failures? No.

Instead, the experience of God’s wonderful presence leads Peter to a recognition of his unworthiness. And then, lo and behold, Jesus wants to have a sinner such a Peter in his service!

“C’mon Pete! It’s time to start catching people!”

It’s hard to know exactly when it happens, but somewhere along the line Jesus catches us. That’s what Jesus does, in the end. It’s not just the telling of tales, and the proclamations of parables, and the making of miracles. Jesus delights in gathering us, all of us, into the great net that, in the church, we call salvation.

And Jesus is very good at what he does.

Life, as we often perceive it, is little more than going through the motions and doing one thing after another. But Jesus doesn’t come to bring us more of the same. That’s the great witness and proclamation of the church – Jesus comes that we might have life and life abundant. Jesus shakes up the monotony of our daily existence, sets us free from the chains of sin and death, and invites us to the Supper of the Lamb that has no end.

Jesus’ divine fishing charter, his conscription of Peter, is not merely about gathering in whoever he can whenever he can – it’s about bringing us to a place we could never arrive on our own.

Hear the Good News, the very best news: The tall and the small, the good and the bad… Jesus’ net is wide enough for all of us.

How Can We Know The Way?

John 14.5-6

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

When I was in college there was one semester during which I sat in the front row of my class on “Hindu Traditions” every day. My professor was a practicing Hindu and regularly lectured from the front, pacing back and forth as we covered history, beliefs, sacred texts, and more. Dr. Mittal was remarkably passionate about the subject he had this incredible gift of making us excited class after class.

During our final class of the semester, shortly before our Final Exam, Dr. Mittal asked if there were any lingering questions. A few hands raised, most of them with queries about the exam itself. But there was one young woman, prominently displaying her “Campus Crusade For Christ” sweatshirt who asked a question that I will never forget. She said, “Dr. Mittal, if you know that you’re going to hell for being a Hindu, why wouldn’t you become a Christian to save yourself?”

The room was silent.

Dr. Mittal, having been cool as a cucumber throughout the semester, clenched his fists together and I saw his nostrils flare. “How dare you speak to me that way!” he shouted, “I am so tired of you young foolish Christians trying to tell me what to believe in. Get out of my class right now!”

The disciple Thomas, the doubter (but that’s later), ever concerned about what Jesus is really saying and really meaning, questions the Lord about the truth. And Jesus replies, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus does not know the way, or the truth, or the life; rather, he is all of those things. And he is not merely a way, but the way. Jesus is the unique and visible manifestation of God on earth.

Since the earliest days of the church this has been our proclamation: If you want to know what God is like, look no further than Jesus Christ – in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. And some of Jesus’ final words have been our rallying cry – Go therefore and baptize the nations in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Hence our propensity for evangelism.

It wasn’t long after the time of the Acts of the Apostles that the community of God came to understand that outside of the church, there is no salvation. That is, in order to experience the forgiving pardon of God you have to be taught the ways of the church, you have to engage in acts of piety and mercy, you have to be baptized in order to find out who you really are. And even after baptism, a life of faith means a living of the faith – presence in worship, daily prayers, tithing. 

I remember feeling so uncomfortable that day in class all those years ago because of what my fellow student said to our professor. In the moment I thought she merely wanted to frustrate him, or draw out some sort of reaction, which she certainly did. But over the years I’ve come to realize that maybe she said what she said because of her faith – I think she was genuinely concerned about his salvation, and wanted to know why he would insist on going down a path that would ultimately separate him from God forever.

After all, no one can come to the Father except through Jesus Christ. Amen

John 12.32

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.

Karl Barth, the dialectic theologian of the 20th century, was often vague regarding his understanding of the totality of salvation. In his lectures and in his writing there are plenty of examples when he almost affirms a universalist understanding of God’s redemptive work. That is: If God is the God of scripture, then God means all when God says all.

But Barth never outright claimed it as his theological understanding.

Once, after a series of lectures here in the US a young theologian bravely raised his hand to ask a question. “Professor Barth, I would like to know once and for all: are you or are you not a universalist?”

Barth crossed his arms and scratched his tousled hair, and then a sly smile stretched across his face before he replied, “That is a great question. Let me answer it this way: I will not be disappointed if heaven is crowded.”

The question of inter-religious connections, or how different faiths relate to one another has been around since the beginning. There are examples of it within the Bible again and again as the people Israel and the people called church discerned what it meant to interact with those outside the faith. 

For Christians it is also a question of who is included in the scope of salvation, at least according to the strange new world of the Bible.

We might think of the oft-quoted John 3.16 – For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. Or we might reflect on the great number of instances throughout scripture in which individuals outside the realm of Israel (such as Rahab from Jericho, Nebuchadnezzar from Babylon, or the centurion who proclaimed Jesus’ divinity at the moment of the cross) all of whom played integral roles in the story of God’s interaction with God’s people.

We might think of the proclamation that all of humankind was created in the image of God.

We might think of the many stories from Christ’s own ministry when he did not come for the religious elites, those who did all the things they were supposed to do, but instead came for the last, least, lost, little, and even the dead.

We might think about how heaven, whatever it is, is filled only and entirely with forgiven sinners because even the worst stinker in the world is someone for whom Christ died.

If we believe than nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, no anything else in all creation, then God mercy truly knows no bounds.

God’s love is therefore so magnificent and unconditional that it extends not only to all of us, but to all of creation. Jesus himself says, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.”

At the right time Christ died for the ungodly, God proves God love for us that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 

Which is all just another way of saying: I, too, won’t be disappointed if heaven is crowded. Amen.

John 13.34

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

On June 17th, 2015, a young white man named Dylann Roof walked into a Bible study at Mother Emmanuel AME church in Charleston, SC. For an hour the group sat together discussing scripture and praying. And then, at the end of their time, the young man stood up, pulled out a gun, and he started shooting. 

Nine members of the church were killed.

The next day, I was sitting in my church office in Staunton, VA and I called the pastor of the local AME church and asked him what we could do.

He said, “The only thing we can do: pray.”

So we hastily put together a community prayer vigil at his church, Allen Chapel AME, for that evening and we asked people to spread the word.

A few hours later the chapel was filled to the brim and people were spilling out onto the sidewalk. Dr. Scott walked up to the pulpit and the room became eerily quiet. And he said, “I can’t do this by myself, I need all the other clergy in the room to come stand with me.”

So I got up, and a few others did as well. But it wasn’t enough for Dr. Scott, because when he saw the local Rabbi and the local Imam, he beckoned them forward as well.

There we stood, representatives from various Christian denominations, in addition to the community mosque and synagogue, and we did the only thing we knew to do. We prayed. And we prayed and we prayed.

And we wept.

And then we prayed some more.

How do we relate to people of other faiths? That’s a question I’ve heard a lot in the time I’ve been a pastor in the UMC. Without a doubt, the existence of and interactions with other religions is, perhaps, among the most significant challenges and opportunities for the church today. 

Similarly, with the rise of the so called nones (those with no religious affiliation), the people called church are tasked with thinking about what it means to interact with those who do not believe, and those who do believe, and those who believe differently than we do.

So how should we relate? It’s complicated. We can take various verses from the Bible, for what’s it’s worth, all of the scriptures today come from the same gospel and they each paint a very different picture.

We can certainly spend time affirming the connectedness between the Abrahamic faiths, the fact that we share certain scriptures, but our beliefs are not the same, nor are our practices. 

And yet, at the end of the day, Jesus does tell us how to behave: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. I hope it has been true for you as it has been for me, that I have experienced the love of God through a great number of people, many of whom have nothing whatsoever to do with the church. 

What has been revealed for us through Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is that God desires us to be in relationship with others – weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who rejoice.

This means that we are called to be vulnerable with the very people we disagree with, those who believe differently than we do, just as much as we are called to be vulnerable with the people in our church. We are called to live lives of love just as God has loved us and loves us.

What we believe shapes how we behave. And if we believe that God in Christ really reveals the fullness of love, then we need not look further than that love to see how we are to be.

Therefore, in the great and somewhat adapted words of John Wesley, though we may not think alike, though our differences of opinion and religious understanding may vary considerably, though we may not agree even on what it means to believe, may we not love alike?

Without all doubt we may.

And perhaps we must. Amen.