“School of Love”
Laura Hunter and Lauren King
Intro to Scripture readings:
· Indigenous elders, teachers have repeatedly said, “Our people were given our original instructions by Creator. We are to protect the lands and the waters, and work for the good of all. We still remember our original instructions. You settlers have forgotten yours.”
· Nagged at me for years. Came up again this summer at a gathering and so afterwards I decided to “take into prayer”, really sit with the question.
· “As white, North American, Jesus followers, what are our original instructions, or “sacred instructions”, as one Indigenous writer calls them.
· Allowed a generous block of time for contemplating this question, but an answer came to me within minutes. A well known passage from our sacred stories.
· So obvious I laughed out loud, I cried, then laughed some more. The answer was hidden in plain sight. Certainly some of you can guess it right now.
· Somehow, I felt reassured to be reminded that I was not the first one to miss what was in plain sight all along.
· Let’s hear what two of most “woke”, attuned teachers of their times had to say when pressed about “instructions”. First, an account of what Moses said around 1400 years or so before Jesus was born. And then what Jesus himself answered when he was asked a little less than 2000 years ago, as told in the book of Mark.
Scriptures are read.
· See what I mean! So obvious, I probably have quoted these very passages as the central message of the entire Christian and Jewish traditions. But that day I heard and felt it differently.
· LOVE GOD HEART MIND STRENGTH NEIGHBOUR AS SELF
· EVERY SINGLE WORD had new depth, new implications for me on a personal level, but also for our mission as church in the world. We could explore each of those words alone for weeks at a time, for years, in fact.
· It illuminated for me a notion I had been carrying around for several months about the potential of the Church as a “School of Love”. ( Introduced by Brian MacLaren in his book, A New Kind of Christianity)
· Not talking romantic love. But that gritty, tenacious, love that you DO, when it is not easy.
o The kind of love that gets you through the turmoil of a family member living with dementia, or another type mental health crisis.
o The kind of love that causes your heart to break at the stories of families torn apart as try to find safety and hope by seeking asylum in another country – strangers to whom you have no explicable connection, but yet you care.
o That counter-cultural love that pulls us together to help each other in a disaster, despite the dominant messages that would tell us to be suspicious and afraid of our neighbour.
o The kind of love that keeps a community working together on a huge project like renovating their church to include affordable housing, and new kinds of gathering spaces, overcoming differences and obstacles.
· Everything that Jesus was teaching was about increasing our capacity to love one another, love our neighbours.
· And thus, everything we do as church, should also be about increasing our capacity to love!
· For Jesus, that played out as healing the sick, as reaching out to the lonely, the hated, the shunned, AND in a military occupied territory it sometimes looked like challenging the powers that were keeping the people down. That’s what the curriculum included at Jesus’ School of Love.
· What should a School of Love look like here and now? In this time of political chaos, of growing divides between rich and poor, of wrestling with the uncomfortable realities of racism and white privilege – what should OUR curriculum look like? What skills, and values, and practices do we need to equip ourselves?
· What should it look like here in St. John’s, at Cochrane St. United Church?
· What does it look like for Youth and Young Adult ministries? – Lauren
Church at its best allows young people to show up as their whole selves – questioning, messy, wrestling through the muck of it all. Church at its best allows all of us to show up fully, which helps us to feel brave in the world. We are able to take risks, knowing we have a safe home base to come back to. A kind of touchstone. The only way we can be our best as the church is by grounding ourselves in love – deep love that stands up to injustice, embraces the stranger into our midst, and doesn’t shy away from pain.
Young people are hungry for this kind of place – a place that acknowledges the chaos of our world and hears the despair. Youth and young adults are navigating coming into themselves in a world with a looming climate crisis, witnessing the largest mass migration of refugees and asylum seekers in history, coming up against a struggling economy, and feeling the effects of hateful attitudes just across the boarder. In the face of extreme uncertainty, it’s tempting to want things to be clear so that we can maintain illusions of safety. Young people see right through the smugness of certainty. The youth I have the privilege of working with know that we all possess a deeper level of being, one that loves paradox. One that knows God is found in the places where opposing ideas are held side-by-side. A place deep in our bones that knows that when we sit in silence, we hear the roar of existence. That healing is found in the deepest places of pain. Knows that our hope as Christians is found in the death and resurrection. Young people are drawn to places that drop concrete answers in favour of asking better questions, and offer experiences to grasp hold of. It is experiences that tap us into deep love, bringing faith from our heads into our hearts. Some of the most powerful youth programs in our church are those that offer experiences in community with others, stepping beyond the walls of the church and beyond faith as something that we think. There’s a beauty to working side by side with new & old friends, then sitting down together at the end of the day to reflect and debrief, wrestling with big questions of injustice, dreaming up the world we want to live into. We are called to action in a world that longs for healing – the young people I work with are keenly aware of the heartbreak and love that is required to transform our world.
A few years ago I travelled to an international Christian festival with a group from the United Church. One of the evenings, a number of us attended a service called Queer Communion. We were a rowdy cohort of United Church folks – bringing joy and laughter into the space, dancing to the songs and celebrating with the joy of belonging to a church that affirms and celebrates gender + sexual diversity. It didn’t take us long to recognize our energy was very different from the rest of the room - it was a sombre mood, with a number of folks in tears, and we realised that what we took for granted was a deeply moving experience for others, as they came from traditions that didn’t affirm their identity, and for some even barred them from the communion table. We received communion at the rail that evening, and the last to go up was a woman carrying a young child in her arms. The child was clutching a bunny tight to her chest, it was a stuffed animal that you could tell was well-loved and cherished, the white fuzz fading to grey. The woman drank from the cup offered to her, and then raised it to her child’s lips. After drinking, the child confidently and without hesitation dunked her beloved bunny straight into the cup. This child knew that the table was open to all.
As a church, let us draw community into our love story, a place where whole selves are celebrated and love grounds all.
· What role can Justice and Mission play in this “School of Love”?
· I have become convinced that these instructions to love God, our neighbours (humans and all beings), and further… love our enemies, help the poor, feed the hungry, be with the prisoner – these instructions were not so much for the benefit of the neighbour, or the prisoner, but rather these actions are important because of the ways they change us. The ways they open us, soften our overly simple judgements of good and bad. The ways they fuel us with courage to stand for what is right not just what will be popular.
· Over and over through the years I have had the experience, and other people have told me the same thing, of thinking we were going to help others in some way, but instead we were helped, and humbled in the process.
· It also goes back to the very first part of our “original instructions” that we heard in the scripture reading. Love God. In order to love anything you must have an experience of it. You must know it. Surveys report that the most common times that people report experiencing a sense of a Divine presence, or a profound connection to something beyond themselves, whether or not they would call God, are in nature, in times of deep despair, AND in times of serving others or a meaningful cause.
· So here’s the thing. You don’t need to be a Christian or go to church ever, to care about the Earth or want to make a difference in people’s lives. Millions of people with no connection to this spiritual tradition work for positive change in the world day in and day out, year after year, and always have. So why do it? Why give attention to what this guy, Jesus, had to say? Why come to church?
· Because if we, together, as church are doing our job well, if we are practicing our tradition as Jesus taught, you should be able to confidently tell your friends,“I go to church because it makes me a better lover!”
· Seriously, everything we do, from chairing a meeting, to protecting rights to clean drinking water, to holding the hand of a grieving friend, should be growing our skills, knowledge, and opportunities to practice increasing our capacity to love and to receive love. Even every little thing we do here on a Sunday morning from sing together, tell a story to the children, hear one another’s stories of love and change –all of these things should be opening us to love - and if that’s not the case we should be asking ourselves how to make sure it does.
· So let’s review:
o What are our original instructions? (Scripture)
o As a church what will we aspire to be? (school of love)
o And why come to church? (better lovers!)May it be so.