God and the Five Love Languages

In the last ten years, the concept of the Five Love Languages has exploded. Now you can find books on how to help your spouse, your teenager, your kids, your neighbors, all using the concept of the Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. Originally, Gary started working with the concept of the Five Love Languages as a way for his couples in counseling to communicate how and what they needed when it came to their love relationships. The Five Love Languages is a concept which gives easily understood and communicable language to one of the most difficult ideas for humans to understand: love.

The Five Love Languages are fairly easy: Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Acts of Service. In all of our relationships, aspects of each of these different love languages plays a part. The idea is that while relationships need all of these things, people tend to favor one or another love language in their own lives. People tend to understand love in one way easier than they understand love in another love language. Say for example, Mario and Sarah like each other, but Mario is all about giving gifts and Sarah wants words of affirmation. Neither will feel completely loved in the relationship until they learn how to express and share love in the other’s love language.

Naturally there are also other ways to understand and communicate love, but the patterns of love languages helps us see what could otherwise be missed. Interestingly, when you look at the scriptures, we can see throughout history that God has expressed love for humanity in all of these ways at different times. Through the scriptures and the prophets, God sends words of affirmation to all of God’s people, calling them, “treasured”, and “holy” (Deuteronomy 14:2) In chapter 49, Isaiah makes the comparison that God’s people are more precious than a child to a mother.

Through the person of Jesus, God shows love in physical touch by healing through touch, by crying with others, by allowing people to touch him. Jesus offers love and healing through touch to the Blind man in John, to the hemorrhaging woman, and to countless others. God gives bounteous gifts and receives numerous gifts from the people. The two biggest gifts given in the Bible are the gift of the Promised Land and the gift of the Messiah! Both gifts are given in love and for the redemption of the people. And those are just the biggest gifts! Throughout the Old Testament God is constantly serving the people of Israel as they wander through the desert by feeding them and giving them water, by saving them from their enemies, by sending prophets and judges to guide the people.

God loves us in so many different ways, and they are all evident in the scriptures. It is only when we step back to look and reflect can we see the overwhelming nature of God’s love for us. No matter what way you know and feel love, God is waiting to show love to you.

The Rev. Elizabeth Yale is Priest in Charge at St. John’s, Franklin. 

Coming to Center

In throwing a piece of pottery, the most essential element comes right at the beginning of the process: centering the clay. One has to take the ball of clay and get it perfectly centered on the spinning wheel if making any vessel is going to be possible. And centering, it’s not always easy. It can be tricky and one can think a ball is on center when it isn’t. As you begin to open the clay and pull up the sides, it becomes evident quite quickly that the piece is off center because the pot will be lopsided, with one side thicker or thinner than the others. When it happens, you can keep working for fun or practice, but it will get harder and harder, as the pot bounces and the lopsidedness grows more evident. Manipulating the pot becomes frustrating and eventually, it grows too unwieldy and beyond control.

When my life is un-centered, it has much in common with a bouncing, unwieldy ball of clay, spinning toward entropy not towards purpose. This most often occurs when I’ve forgotten where my true center lies. I get off kilter when I think that my value and worth derive from what others think, how well I guide or contribute to the organizations to which I belong, whether my work is successful. Being off center creates a certain spiritual thinness that leaves me vulnerable to outside voices and internal critique; it thickens the wall between my current emotional space and healthy behavior.

The only way to re-center is to stop the chaotic spinning, quiet all the voices, and sit still in the presence of God. When I lose center, it is because I forget that there is only One voice that actually matters and defines my worth. My faith journey is about coming to center in God’s love, trusting in my deepest place that I am God’s beloved, and knowing that nothing can change that truth. When I summon the trust required to fall into God’s love, it always catches me, always welcomes me back, and slowly, spins me back to center. Knowing I am loved beyond anything I can actually understand changes me and transforms every aspect of my life. No longer do other voices have power over me; no longer do the external things, like success or failure, define me. God has called me beloved, has adopted me as a child and heir, and longs for me to center peacefully in that truth.

And unlike an un-centered ball tending towards entropy, centeredness gives meaning and purpose. When I know who I am and whose I am, I can work in the world in life-giving ways. I do not need to control every outcome or give into anger when the world does not work my way. I can give of my time generously without demands and create spaces in which those around me are loved and accepted for who they are. Being centered means I know what is mine and what is not mine to do; I can work with a helpful detachment from outcome, trusting God is present. By trusting God’s love for me, I can freely give love and compassion to others in ways that foster healthy relationships and communities.

When I live in that centered space, certain of God’s love for me and for all the created order, everything is balanced. I’m not lopsided; I’m not coming unglued. I’m spinning in the right direction, a willing participant in what God is doing in my life and in the world. And there is no other way I want to live and no other place I want to be than right there, in the joyful center of God’s belovedness.

The Rev. Melinda Hall is vicar of Holy Trinity, Brookville, and Church of Our Saviour, DuBois. 

Different Kinds of Love

In today’s world, when love in the Bible is discussed, people typically want to know what word is used in the New Testament Greek. Many of us have heard about the different Greek words for love and their meanings. Eros, philia, storge, agape, ludus, pragma, philautia: sensual love, familial love, long term loyalty love, love for everyone and everything, playful love, practical love, and love of self. Knowing the differences between these words and how they are used in the New Testament helps us understand the scriptures better and deepen our relationship with God. Much less discussed though are the multiple words for love used in the Old Testament Hebrew. Knowing their meanings and usages can also be helpful in understanding the ways of Love between God and people. The four most commonly used words which end up being translated as love found in the Old Testament Hebrew are ahav, yada, raham, and hesed.

Ahav is typically the word used to describe relationships between people, such as between men and women, and parents and children. Ahav is used in Genesis multiple times to describe the relationships between Abraham and Isaac, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Joseph. It has an understanding of attraction and attachment, sometimes in a very mechanical or materialistic way. The relationships of children to their parents is not usually described with ahav. (The commandment to honor your mother and father uses the word kabad, which literally translates to something with weight or value.)

Yada means to know. It is used both in contexts of knowing something intellectually, and knowing someone intimately. In Hebrew you learned knowledge through the senses, through seeing, tasting, touching, smelling, and hearing. Knowing God was an intimate learning through the senses. Knowing someone else intimately, such as being in a sexual relationship with them, was understood as learning about them through the senses as well. Most of the marriages in the Old Testament are described in this manner; Jacob knew Rachel.

Raham is typically used in relationships with compassion or mercy involved. Isaiah uses it to describe the relationship of a mother to her baby, while the Psalms uses it to describe a father’s love for his son. In a number of passages, raham is used to describe God’s mercy to the people, God’s love for them, even when they didn’t follow the commandments.

Hesed is the Hebrew word most translated as lovingkindness in the King James Version of the Bible. Hesed is a steadfast loyalty kind of love, a relationship built on kindness and trust. Many of these relationships in the scriptures are formalized in some way, such as in a covenant. Marriages, the covenantal relationship between Abraham and God, or the relationship between God and the people are all formalized legal relationships described by using the word hesed.

Of course, there are other words which get used to describe love or loving relationships in the Old Testament Hebrew as well. These four, however, are the most common. Knowing the different kinds of love described can help us understand the relationships we read about in the scriptures. Love is an amazing aspect of human and divine life, in all its glorious facets.

The Rev. Elizabeth Yale is Priest in Charge at St. John’s, Franklin. 

Living the Way of Love

In the fall of 2018, I did a sermon series at Resurrection Church Called “The Way of Love: Practice for a Jesus-Centered Life.”  The series was based on Presiding Bishop Curry’s invitation to the Episcopal Church to explore various practices each day that would help us live a life of love as Jesus taught.  During that time, we also used the study for the basis of our “Food and Faith” conversation- a monthly gathering that takes place at the Panera Bread in Hermitage.

As part of the invitation to live the way of love, Bishop Curry used seven words and seven Scripture passages as the basis for the “Way of Love.”  The words are Learn, Pray, Worship, Bless, Go, Rest and Turn. Each one when lived out and practiced in daily life could help us live a life modeled on Jesus and embody the love that he brought to this world through his life, death and resurrection.

Each week during the sermon series, we looked at each word and a Scripture passage that connected with that word.  We asked the questions, how does the world connect us to God’s love and if lived out how can this practice help us live as Jesus lived and love as Jesus loves us?  I found the sermon series to be very powerful and practical. As we got further into the series, I saw my own life and the life of Resurrection Church being shaped by these words and by the daily practice that drew us closer to God’s love. The practical takeaways were amazing.

The more we learn about Jesus’ life the more we can live like him.  The stronger our prayer lives become, the more we can be filled with God’s love and in turn love others. As we turn away from our own sin, we can turn toward the life God has called us to live and to be an example of his love in the communities we live and work.

For those who are interested in trying out the way of love, I first recommend checking out “The Way of Love” material at the Episcopal Church website:

https://www.episcopalchurch.org/way-of-love

The site gives great information about the Way of Love and resources you can use to read, experience and live the practices each day.  What I encouraged Resurrection Church to do is to think about that week’s word each day and to read the Scripture passage throughout the week.  Let it become part of your devotional time or your daily prayer life. What does each appointed word mean for you in your life? How can that word draw you closer to God in a way that connects you to the love of God?  How can those words be turned into daily and weekly practices that help you experience God’s love and then live out that love in your community?

Give “The Way of Love” a try and see how the practices change your life and how God’s love becomes more real each and every day.

As Bishop Curry is famous for saying, “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God!”

The Rev. Jason Shank is the priest of Resurrection Church in Hermitage. 

Not Only Her Daughter-In-Law

This is the first installment in our Summer Gratitude series, a collection of posts from around the diocese focused on gratitude and thankfulness. It’s our hope that these stories will be uplifting, joyful, and a reminder to us all to count our blessings and experience gratitude even in times of hardship.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

I recently received an e-mail from Megin Sewak about my willingness to write an article for the Forward blog summer series. She said the series would be based on gratitude. The American Heritage dictionary definition of gratitude defines it as: The state of being grateful; thankfulness. Several ideas and individuals immediately came to mind about whom I could write about. After tossing around a few names in my head, I decided the person I would base this article on was my late mother-in-law, Marjorie Stanford. It wasn’t too long after I had been introduced to her by my then boyfriend, her son Rick, I found out she liked to be called by her nickname, which was “Pete”, so “Pete” was what I called her unless she slipped and called me by my given name “Norma” instead of my nickname “Noni”. If she called me Norma, then I called her Marjorie! Rick and I dated for several years before we got married. During those years of courtship with Rick, I had an opportunity to get to know my future mother-in-law and we became great friends. After Rick and I married, we lived the next house down from my in-laws, who lived in the family farmhouse which was built in 1819!

Now to the gratitude part of the story. Every spring when the trees burst out with a multitude of shades of green and flowers spring out of the ground, Pete comes to mind. She always had fabulous flower beds around her house. She spent many hours transplanting and relocating perennials in the early spring. I would help her and ask her questions about how did she know where to move plants and how did she know the species she was moving? She would smile and tell me after all the years of gardening she enjoyed the mystery of what would bloom and where it would bloom. We spent time in the pasture gathering dried “meadow muffins” to spread around the flower beds. Soon I found myself developing my own flower beds with plants or seeds she shared with me. When the spring/summer season turned to fall, we would prep the beds for winter. She not only tended to flower beds, she was also an active participant in the dairy farm business with her husband Rex. After the dairy business became too much for them, they sold the cows and began to raise beef cows. During the week, I worked at Edinboro University. However, on the weekends I helped with chores, first with the dairy herd and later with the beef cows. After chores, Rick and I would often go to Pete and Rex’s house for a wonderful breakfast made by no one other than Pete! She always made the most fabulous bread/toast and served it with the breakfast meals. I inquired about her bread recipe, and she offered to teach me how to make it. I remember spending a Saturday afternoon at her house making bread. After the bread was made, she told me to go home and make some bread. I did as I was told. After my bread was made, I called to tell her I did it! She asked me to bring her a sample, so I did. She smiled and told me it was just as good as hers. Then she informed me I could now take over making the bread.

As the years passed, my mother-in-law and father-in-law dealt with the death of both of their sons. I continued to live down the road from Pete and Rex after Rick’s tragic death. Often I would cook meals and share them with Pete and Rex. They continued to be an important part of my life. A few days before Pete’s death, she told me I was not only her daughter-in-law, but more importantly I was her friend. Rick died in 2002 and Pete and Rex both died in 2005.

Every spring, when I work in my flower beds, I think of Pete. Those memories continue to bring a smile to my face and I will be forever filled with gratitude for all Pete shared and taught me all those years ago.

Noni Stanford is a member and senior warden of St. James, Titusville. 

Episcopal Bishops Issue A Word to the Church for the World

[September 20, 2016] The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church has issued the following A Word to the Church for the World.

The video is available in English and Spanish here.
 

A Word to the Church for the World

Greetings from Detroit, a city determined to be revived.  Greetings also from the city of Flint, where we are reminded that the gift of water has for many of our brothers and sisters become contaminated.

Here we have been exhorted to set our sights beyond ourselves and to minister to the several nations where we serve and the wider world.

We lament the stark joylessness that marks our present time.  We decry angry political rhetoric which rages while fissures widen within society along racial, economic, educational, religious, cultural and generational lines.  We refuse to look away as poverty, cruelty and war force families to become migrants enduring statelessness and demonization.  We renounce the gun violence and drug addiction that steal lives and crush souls while others succumb to fear and cynicism, abandoning any sense of neighborliness.

Yet, in all this, “we do not despair” (2 Cor. 4:8.). We remember that God in Christ entered our earthly neighborhood during a time of political volatility and economic inequality.  To this current crisis we bring our faith in Jesus.  By God’s grace, we choose to see in this moment an urgent opportunity to follow Jesus into our fractured neighborhoods, the nation and the world.

Every member of the church has been “called for a time such as this.” (Esther 4:14) Let prophets tell the truth in love.  Let reconcilers move boldly into places of division and disagreement. Let evangelists inspire us to tell the story of Jesus in new and compelling ways.  Let leaders lead with courage and joy.

In the hope of the Resurrection let us all pray for God to work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish God’s purposes on earth.
 

Writing Committee
Bishop Tom Breidenthal of Southern Ohio
Bishop Mariann Budde of Washington
Bishop Diane Jardine Bruce of Los Angeles
Bishop Victor Scantlebury of Ecuador Central
Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves of El Camino Real
Bishop Alan Gates of Massachusetts
Bishop Wendell Gibbs Jr. of Michigan
Dr. Scott Bader-Saye
Bishop Prince Singh of Rochester
Bishop Robert Wright of Atlanta
Bishop Rob Hirschfield of New Hampshire

The Episcopal Church House of Bishops met September 15 to September 20 in Detroit MI (Diocese of Michigan).

Love Them

This is a post about the partnership between the Cathedral of St. Paul and Emerson-Gridley elementary in the City of Erie public school district.

I remember it very well, my first-grade classroom at Asbury Elementary in Millcreek Township. I loved everything about it. I was so excited to finally be able to go to school and could hardly wait for the first day. My mother made me a special new dress; my name was embroidered on it so my teacher would know my name at a glance. Our desks were in neat rows and I sat in the front of the room. I remember this because our music teacher would roll the piano into our room right in front of my desk. I would watch her fingers fly across the keys, sparking my interest in piano lessons and asking my parents for a piano.

Now fast forward to this past February when I was heading into a first-grade classroom at Emerson-Gridley to volunteer. I had all of the clearances and training required and was excited about this opportunity. Probably not as excited as anticipating my own first-grade experience, but excited about spending time in a classroom. I have always felt the pull of becoming a classroom teacher, either in music or general education. My degrees are in organ performance, choral conducting and church music, applied music, not music education. At many points in my education and career I have considered adding teacher certification to my credentials. When the Cathedral began its partnership with Emerson-Gridley and the call for volunteers in the school came along, I thought it was the perfect opportunity for me to give it a try.

IMG_3012 (3)So my first day began by meeting the school guidance counselor who took me on a tour of all the first grade rooms ending in Mrs. Steele’s classroom. This is where I would be volunteering. Mrs. Steele welcomed me and introduced me to the class. The walls in the room were brightly decorated. There was a “Word Wall” with columns of words under each letter of the alphabet that the students were learning every week. There was a list of the children’s names on one board. I could only pronounce a few without help. The desks were grouped into three or four sections, not rows, and there was a carpet on the floor for story time. She asked the students to read at their desks and then called on a few children and me to sit with her to read aloud. We worked together to help students sound out words and read sentences. Once she saw I was comfortable working with her students she asked me to work with several children who needed some extra help with reading. We made flashcards and played relay games and all sorts of things to help them recognize the difference in their “w” and “wh” words. I was hooked. I knew my Monday mornings from then on would be spent with Mrs. Steele’s class at Emerson-Gridley.

As that first morning progressed, one student left the room and came back with a box of snack bags for the children filled with cherry tomatoes. Every day the students are given a mid-morning snack of fresh vegetables. They look forward to it. If the designated child doesn’t remember to go for it, she is reminded by her classmates. She always offers me a snack, too. She and others in the room often express concern that I might be hungry, too. The students all receive a hot breakfast before class begins, a mid-morning snack and lunch. Many stay after school for another snack and some for dinner before going home. Monday morning is difficult for them. Many do not have regular meals at home and they are very hungry when they come to school after a weekend. It is not unusual for several of them to fall asleep with their head on their desk while I am there.  There are lots of red and watery eyes looking up from a book or paper as they struggle to stay awake and concentrate.

Now they and I are anticipating the end of the school year. I have been going weekly and have developed a good relationship with the class. Mrs. Steele has given me the freedom to prepare a music lesson each week. We are working on developing a steady beat, following directions, using body percussion, chanting poems using their rhyming words and recently added playing percussion instruments. They love to share their latest achievements with me, “Mrs. Downey, did you know that I….” Now I share their mid-morning snack with them. We chat and giggle about the fresh green pea pods or juicy tomatoes or squishy cucumbers. I love the big smile that comes across each face when I call them by name. I love it even more when they cheer when they see me come through their classroom door with my bag of instruments. I think about each child often. They are now in my prayers, not just as students at the school but as individuals with names, faces and feelings. Some days I leave in tears because so many were overly tired and out of sorts. But more often than not, I leave with a big smile on my face and a happy heart.

The City of Erie schools are stressed. The administrators and the teachers are stressed. And most importantly, the students are stressed. A volunteer’s job comes with little stress: just show up and spend an hour or two a week in a classroom with some amazing children. Learn their names. Talk to them. Smile at them. Read to them. Love them. And pray for them and everyone who works to care for and nurture them. You will be hooked. And you will never be the same again.

Sharon Downey, Canon Musician, The Cathedral of St. Paul, Erie, PA 

Downey1689 

Being A Priest

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Al Johnson and wife Vickie at his ordination in 1979

When I was lying on the cool tile floor of the Cathedral of St. James in Chicago on December 8, 1979 while the Litany for Ordinations was being beautifully chanted by a tenor voice resonating off the cathedral walls, my grasp of priesthood appeared significant.   Every year since Jesus has taught me that I had narrow vision. Henri Nouwen spoke at our commencement and told us that the worst had already happened in Jesus Christ. It was the worst of my life that had drawn me to priesthood in hopes that God might redeem life and teach what love was all about; love of God, love of others and love of self. In the process my prayer was that the experiences of my life to date in 1979 might be put to use in some way that allowed me to take them off the junk pile of shame and add them to the story of life and break me in the ways that only God knew I needed to be broken. That isn’t a criterion for all priests or for all people but it was a criterion for me. But it could be a necessity for finding and being found by God. When one thinks of an empty soul one need only look in my direction. Ironically while the only way to fill such emptiness is by God, and one would think that becoming a priest would assure that outcome; not so; I still had to hike my way through the landmines of my own denial to begin to see God’s redemption and the hope of love.

Seventeen years later while looking down on a circular stone altar at Tel Megiddo in Israel the musings of a call begun in early teens crystallized into the restorative experience of discovering that I was born to be a priest; that there has been, is, and always will be priests who’s calling is to be with people in the in-between places of human existence; in a liminal space between the divine and the human; that priests have been a part of cultures since before our heritage as Jews and Christians; and there always will be priests because our calling not only grows from the heart of God and our own hearts, but grows from the hearts of people who seek something beyond themselves that we Christians call God. And my job as a priest is to enter into that space with people. The gift of priesthood has no greater value in God’s economy than any other such gift as nurse, teacher, garbage collector, flight attendant, banker, hedge-fund investor, bishop, deacon or any other vocation one can imagine. As St. Paul writes, “the left hand cannot tell the right food; ‘I don’t need you.’” We are all in this soup together.

Like many, I thought ordination was a finish line only to discover that the race of a lifetime was about to unfold filled with rough places, high mountains, crooked roads, and deep valleys. Wouldn’t ordination protect me from the pains of life? On the contrary, ordination threw me into those pains in the lives of others and myself.

And yes, it seems like yesterday that I was lying on that floor full of confidence, hope, and altruism. None of that is different today except I’m hoping Jesus will take me kneeling or sitting because getting up off the cold floor can be a challenge, and perhaps more humility today than confidence unless by confidence one mean’s trust in God.

The Rev. Al Johnson, Canon for Congregational Vitality and Innovation

Imitation Is The Sincerest Form of Flattery

Sermon by The Rev. Sabeth Fitzgibbons from October 18, 2015 reprinted from the blog Pulpit Ponderings

408475371f2248ee_castIt has been said that “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”  We can all probably think of examples in our own lives and culture where this is true.  When we see a fashionable outfit or a hairstyle we think is particularly attractive or that communicates a message we want, we work to re-create it for ourselves.  Thinking back a decade or two, remember the ‘power tie’ for men or the ‘red power suit’ for women?  We saw those fashions on people we perceived as having power and influence, and we thought to ourselves, ‘If I just wear that, I can garner that kind of respect and power, too.”

We see this dynamic happening in the gospel today with James and John as they ask Jesus for coveted seats of power in glory, the seats at his immediate right and left hands.  If we can’t sit in the seat of power, we should sit right next to it.  Those sons of Zebedee know there is something special about Jesus, and they want to get some of it for themselves.  Even though they’ve been following Jesus around – they have been listening to his teaching, watching him heal people and cast out demons – and they do believe that he is the promised Messiah, they still think he’s going to be a military ruler. The kind of king who wields armies and fear.  And that power looks mighty appealing to these humble men, who have been fishermen and disciples of an itinerant teacher.  ‘Come on, Jesus, you’re going to kick this dusty road and sit in glory.  Just let us sit right next to you and share that glory.’

Jesus on the other hand, has no illusion about what the road to his ‘glory’ will be.  And he asks them, quite pointedly, if they really understand what they are asking for, “Do you really think you can drink from my cup, that you can be baptized with my baptism?” In their ignorance and arrogance, they say, “We are able.”  ‘I’ll take a sip of that cup of power.’

And their friends find out!  And those other ten guys, they are mad.  Mark doesn’t say why the other disciples are angry.  I wonder if it’s because they didn’t think to make this overt move to imitate Jesus’ perceived power themselves.  Nonetheless, Jesus calms the angry disciples.  The explanation Jesus gives completely debunks James’ and John’s assumptions about what his power really is.  Instead he talks about what power in the kingdom of God really looks like.

James and John, they think greatness comes from status, the kind of power over wielded by tyrants and oppressors.  In response, Jesus does what Jesus does all the time.  He turns power completely on its head and he says that power comes from serving other people.  Not from oppressing them with fear, but from serving them.  We will either willingly and joyfully serve others, or we will become enslaved to our illusions that we can be free and secure through status and power. In our culture, we might say through having a respectable job and the right friends.

Jesus asks, who will we serve?  Will we serve the voices of the culture that say that we can (and must) be free on our own and at any cost?  Or will we hear and heed the voice of Jesus?  Will we find our freedom and our true selves through serving our neighbor?

Why do we have a God who is always asking us to serve our neighbor?  Always pushing us to consider the needs of someone else before ourselves?  It goes very much against our culture, and even went against the culture of Jesus’ time, to put the needs of someone else before our own.

God delights in our relationships.  God delights in God’s relationship with us, and God delights in our relationships with other people.  Whether they are at home, at school or work, or with people, strangers in our community.  It is through our relationships with other people that we discover ourselves inextricably linked – “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh” – linked with those around us.  We cannot deny that when we open ourselves to know someone else, we are they and they are we.  There is some bit of us, some bit of God, reflected back in the face of the other.

Jesus’ description of his life as giving himself “as a ransom for many” reflects that same priority on loving the other before self.  Jesus does not buy us back from God or the devil, but instead pays himself out in order to rescue us from ourselves.  To rescue us from our delusion that we are somehow self-sufficient and independent, self-made men and women.  Perhaps in this world we can make that claim, but not in God’s.  From this point in Jesus’ story to the end, his whole life and death challenge our assumptions about power.  As we watch the story unfold, we learn that even as we give ourselves in service to others we find ourselves living more fully than ever before.

Our power derives from our imitation of Jesus’ service to us.  That power which is rooted in our status as beloved children of a merciful and gracious God. Being loved unconditionally by God, regardless of our power or position in this world, helps us all to realize that we are blessed.  We know that blessing first in our baptism, when we emerge from the water as Jesus did and we hear God say, This is my child, my beloved. We return that blessing to God, by returning our lives to God.  Our stewardship flows from this same font of blessing, blessing all others through serving them in God’s love.

Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery?  Maybe in this world.  When it comes to God, I don’t think so.  God doesn’t ask for or need our flattery or kind intentions.  God asks for even more: God asks for our whole selves.  Our whole selves, given to God in imitation of what God gives to us:  his whole self.  God gives to us generously, completely, with no strings, no time limits, no expectations.  Whether we realize or reciprocate God’s love or not, God’s love is still there, as big and bold and available as ever. God gives to us with love, so that we can grow in that love.

In our imitation of our great God, we are asked to give of ourselves, of our time and our passions and our money, with love and generosity, without condition, without expectation of return, so that God’s love can continue to grow in us and in the world around us.  So that the kingdom of God can come near – to us and to everyone else who needs to hear that word of hope.  Thanks be to God.

The Rev. Sabeth Fitzgibbons, St. Stephan’s, Fairview

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God Loves All Unconditionally (From Bishop Sean’s Article in this Saturday’s Erie Times News)

Reposted from GoErie.com: Reflections is a column in the Erie Times News by religious leaders in the region. The Right Rev. Sean Rowe is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania, 145 W. Sixth St.

Bishop Rowe Nov 2014-93wtHow many times have we found ourselves engaged in arguments only to realize that whatever hot button issue we were arguing about wasn’t really the issue at all?

Time and again we turn against one another for superficial reasons that are symptoms of deeper issues that remain unaddressed. This is true in secular politics, and it is true in our faith communities as well.

We’re gearing up for what promises to be a long and painful political season. Already, candidates are using the poor for target practice in our ongoing cultural and ideological wars. Some aspirants to political power are even talking about massive deportations of people who live in grinding poverty and do work that many American citizens simply refuse to engage. The goal is to get “them” out.

We’ve walked a long way in the wrong direction since Jesus began his public ministry by announcing that he had come to preach “good news to the poor.” Today, the tenets of Christian and other faith traditions are used to bludgeon and exclude people created, as we are, in the image and likeness of God. Consider the ways in which issues regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are used to divide congregations and denominations. We create a righteous “in” and an unrighteous “out,” often under the cover of the old maxim “hate the sin and love the sinner.”

All of these issues seem, at some level, to involve determining who properly belongs within our communities and who should be kept out. We argue over and over again, down through the centuries, about which race, which religion, which sexual orientations are worthy of inclusion. We create wedge issues, and in doing so, we miss the deeper point.

Theologian James Alison points out that, for Christians, the real issue is that we simply cannot come to terms with the work that Christ has done for us through the cross and resurrection. This reality is quite simple: We are redeemed; anyone who wants to be “in” is “in.” We don’t have to get any better, go any deeper, or work any harder. God loves us for who we are and just as we are. But since we cannot really believe that this is true, since we cannot accept that our own merit played no role in our redemption, we develop standards that exalt ourselves and marginalize others. That’s the way we work out the truth that is so difficult for us to accept, that God loves all people unconditionally.

The good news is too good for us to accept: Through God’s grace — which, by definition is unearned and undeserved — we’re all “in.” Maybe we could work at living as though that was really true without any new terms or conditions.