Grant, Almighty God, that your word only may be spoken, and Yours only received.
I was thinking about relationships this week while I thought about our readings. St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, and St. Mark’s account of Jesus commissioning the apostles both reminded me that “I can do it myself” is not a concept God seems very impressed with. This is probably for the best, as I usually follow that phrase with, “Could I please have a band-aid?”
Do you remember the last letter you received? I’m guessing it didn’t sound much like St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. How would you respond to such a letter? It’s filled with difficult ideas—beautiful ones, but sometimes abstract.
Maybe it would help to consider a re-working of the same letter:
Lovers of God and Laborers with Jesus,
God’s peace and love spread out over your lives.
I am overcome with thanks to God, who gives us everything we need and more so that we can be spiritually satisfied. His love for us makes us wonderful in his eyes, his love for us overshadows our struggles and failures.
We are family together in Jesus, because God has chosen to bring us home to Himself. We’ve been adopted—not born into a family by chance, we’re chosen and cherished. Jesus has paid our debts to one another by his incredible love for us all. God sent Christ so that everyone would have a way home. God’s enormous love is our shared inheritance. When you came to know that God’s way was full of truth, and that it was the right way for you, God welcomed you, and now His Holy Spirit is always with you.
I give thanks for God’s own overwhelming, generous love, and for you, my family in that love.
How do we respond to the epistle? Do we see ourselves as the writer sees us? Chosen? Lavishly gifted? Living together, even strangers, as family? Just as importantly, do we see others as the writer sees them?
If we’ve each been adopted by God as sons and daughters, we have to wrestle with one very difficult idea: not one of us gets to be an only child. There are traditions where it’s very common for Christians to call one another “brother” and “sister,” but it’s not something that comes naturally to most of us. When we work on committees together, are we working as we would with our brother? When we’re listening to new ideas that don’t fit well with the ones we already have, are we giving the respect we would give to our sister? My experience has been that Episcopalians are a very hospitable group—but this kind of familiarity and intimacy can be difficult for us.
In a different kind of way, the apostles didn’t get to be “only children” either—Jesus “Called the twelve and began to send them out, two by two.” When I read and re-read the gospel this week, the most striking point to me was that Jesus sent his apostles out in pairs. In a passage where men roam foreign cities for days on end without a dime or a sandwich, I was mostly startled by the fact that they got to have a partner. In a section where people cast out demons and healed the sick, I was amazed at the wisdom of a companion. Certainly they were safer that way, but I believe part of the point is that we’re just not meant to try to live into our faith alone. We have individual, personal relationships with God—those are precious, they are vital. But in some ways our faith is community property, too. I heard a pastor point out years ago that the Lord’s Prayer is said in the Plural—they are “our” trespasses and it is “our” daily bread—we share responsibility together, and we share gratitude.
What neither the gospel nor the epistle say is that we must always agree with each other, or always enjoy each other. In fact, German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer observed that “the man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself.” Rather than watching for God’s movement among us, it’s very easy for us to expect a type of community, and feel cheated by God when we don’t get it. It’s an easy arrogance to find in oneself, I think, to expect that the church function our way. A part of Bonhoeffer’s point is that we don’t open ourselves to God’s surprises when we chart out our perfect plans for group dynamics. We are following a perfect and loving God, but we find God’s grace in the midst of our own blunders and grudges, rather than in the absence of them.
We are family. When we enjoy each other, when we don’t. When we agree with each other, when we don’t. As I considered this morning’s passages, the debates about who or shouldn’t be a part of the Anglican communion, struck me as the tiniest bit absurd. Because at the end of the day, we’re all stuck together as God’s children.
We love God, we try to love each other, and we walk together because we have all been chosen together by God as sons and daughters.
Three Word Wednesday: We Are Friends
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