“Whoever does not love abides in death.” – 1 John 3:14
Does Christianity still matter? It’s a question that gets asked a lot by those concerned about a decline in church growth. People ask it when they see how a church’s idea of God comes into conflict with the current political, economic, and social issues of today. Maybe it is a question we have all asked ourselves at one time or another as we struggle in the darkness of our own human pain.
I’m sure you won’t be surprised to read that your pastor certainly thinks so. I believe Christianity very much still matters. Or rather, I would like to argue that I believe Christianity can matter, and can indeed make all the difference, provided that we rediscover that which is at its heart.
At the beginning of this New Year, you heard me say that the heart of the Christian faith is learning to dance with the deep mysteries of God, who makes life possible. Norman Wirzba, in his book The Way of Love, says it like this: “Christianity reveals the life of God and therefore also the meaning of life as a way of love. God, life, and love – these three are indispensable for a good and beautiful world.
Without these three together, everything falls apart.” This is the heart of Christianity that we most need to recover.
Love is a word the world has learned to use often, but I am not quite certain that we know what it means. In fact, one does not have to look far too point out love’s opposites – hatred, war, envy, deceit, slander, gossip, ignorance, and indifference.
Love is also not a word the Church always gets right. At times, the Church has even shown itself to be the enemy of love. In many parts of our country, Christian churches have become a place of exclusion and punishment. And if we are not careful, our faith can become defined more by believing right “ideas” about God, than by acting in ways that advocate for love on behalf of others.
The reality is that real love – a love that is courageous and enduring — is hard. Jesus’ life, and especially his death, reminds us that love requires sacrifice, and it can cost us everything. That is why so many of us get it wrong. We’d rather not give everything. Often, this is the reason we are okay to settle for coming to church and making our worship about right belief instead of right action.
The most difficult truth to confront about our faith is that if we are not connecting with God, advocating for life, and loving our fellow creatures, then we are not living the gospel. Coming to church on Sundays and exchanging pleasantries isn’t enough. But the good news is, we don’t have to learn this way of love alone.
Jesus modeled what real love looks like through his life and death, and when we choose to enter into it with Christ, we are given the courage and endurance to press on because we know that there is hope of resurrection. We confidently stand knowing that when we give of ourselves for the sake of loving others and helping life flourish, the decision to do that will never go in vain. It will always lead to new life and transformation, in our lives and throughout the world.
So I invite you to come on a journey with me this year, so that together, we might learn the way of Love.