But if church isn’t the place for boundary-breaking, heart-stretching love, what is?
It may be that the riskiest thing we do is love other people, because people are unpredictable: they can act with courage, generosity and kindness, or they can act from weakness, fear and self-interest. And while we seek to embrace the love of God in a turbulent world, a “perfect love that casts out fear,” from day to day, we also live with a human love that is most definitely imperfect.
With the divides in our public and political life growing wider every day, we are on edge with one another, listening beneath the words for the answer to that question we don’t want to ask: which side are you on? We have been misunderstood, we have been angry, and our defensiveness is close to the surface for good reason – we have also been wounded.
It’s easy in a risky world to become more set in our ways, to retreat to the safety of the familiar and the predictable. Even our churches can become places where we gather with the like-minded to have our views confirmed. But if church isn’t the place for boundary-breaking, heart-stretching love, what is? If Sunday worship isn’t the time for rooting out the sins that stem from a desire to increase our own comfort while silencing the pain of others, what is?
See and hear anew
In worship we excuse no one, not even ourselves. Worship is the place we come to tell a different story than the story of division. We acknowledge together in confession our many failings. We listen to the pain of others and bring it before the throne of grace. We lament the ongoing suffering in our own communities and globally and pray for a more just world. We eat, drink, remember and believe that we are part of a new story – God’s story – and commit ourselves again to living as those who bear Christ’s name.
We know these words, and for some of us, they have formed us since childhood. But that simply means it becomes easier and easier not to hear them at all, to listen to them only with the filter of our preconceived expectations, to let them slide over us with the warm comfort of familiarity and completely miss their life-altering call. Which is one reason we need the possibilities of art to help us see and hear anew.
In his book Whistling in the Dark, Frederick Buechner says “the most basic lesson that all art teaches us is to stop, look, and listen. . . . ” And this is the same message of the Christian faith: “If we are to love God, we must first stop, look and listen for God in what is happening around us and inside us,” Buechner explains. “If we are to love our neighbours, before doing anything else we must see our neighbours.” And when we truly see them, who knows where that will lead us?
There are a thousand risks to loving other people in this world, but here is the good news: God’s love is stronger than our fear. And when we gather in Sunday worship and listen again to the old, old story, we offer God our vulnerability, our willingness to try again for the sake of the future God holds for this world. We stop, look and listen to the call of the Spirit moving us beyond all our divisive words back together in love of the One in whom we live and move and have our being.