Sharing the Love

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. . . And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (Excerpts from 1 Corinthians 13:4-13) If you were in worship on the 4th Sunday of Epiphany (January 31) you may have heard these familiar words attributed to the Apostle Paul. Most of us have heard these words shared at weddings, but Paul directed these words to a Christian community divided by haves and have nots, noble and slave, charismatic and non-charismatic, moral and immoral, self-important and self-despised. In this ethical section following his metaphor in Chapter 12 on all parts of the body having value, worth, and purpose, he zeroes in on the main reflection of Christ at work in and through a community of faith and it is the clear reflection of love. Love being shared through respect, generosity, perseverance, inclusion, truth-telling, forgiveness, and reconciliation. I shared in my assembly sermon this past June how this concept was displayed in Phoenix last year. Following last May's call to arms and bearing of U.S. flags for patriots of the U.S. to show up on a Friday afternoon outside a central Phoenix mosque to tell the Muslims to leave and that they are not welcome here, a countermovement was called for the next Monday. Under the banner of Love Conquers Hate were people of many faiths who filled that same mosque to capacity with a completely different message.

Love was shared in a variety of ways that night, but one of the most powerful witnesses came from the neighboring Nazarene pastor who shared how seven years before when the mosque was being built he reached out to the imam and they began a relationship. This pastor felt God called him to reach out and meet his neighbor, even though he was of a different faith. Over the course of years  of listening to each other, eating with each other, praying with each other, and bringing their communities together to serve the neighborhood, when the gathering of hate and prejudice outside his neighbor's house of prayer was publicized, this pastor called his friend the imam. He asked, "How can I or my community assist you and your community as you come under attack?" The imam said, "We are afraid.  My people are afraid to come to worship and pray. We are afraid someone may resort to violence.  Just pray for us." The pastor responded, "You already have that." Then the pastor rallied his community to do more than just pray, many from his congregation, men and women of all ages, chose to gather outside the mosque and provide a human shield. A shield that stood before the mouths spewing hate, and a shield that allowed their neighbors to pass behind them into the mosque for their regular Friday prayer service.

There are many people outside our congregations who have left the church in disgust or disillusionment or who simply see no relevance in being part of a faith community. Preoccupation with maintaining traditions, buildings, or gaining new members to perpetuate what was, reflects a deep contrast with any sense of understanding those outside the church have of Jesus and his commitment to the least, the last, the lost and the little.

What attracts and engages the individuals we are seeking to reach are acts of courage and engagement with those outside our walls where the sharing of love is without question.

Sharing the Love, Bishop Steve Talmage

P.S. Visit here for information on a great resource, My Neighbor is Muslim