Sunday, July 8, 2018

What Do We Know About God?

Yesterday, General Convention left our usual convention site and went to the Palmer Event Center for Texas Night. It included worship and dinner put on by our host diocese. We began with worship in the context of revival before adjourning to a dinner of local barbecue and Tex-Mex items served from food trucks. But, before we could even get into the Palmer Event Center, we were met by a handful of protesters.

Several people at Convention have posted pictures of and comments about the protesters who are from a notorious Baptist church in Kansas. I choose not to identify them by name or image because I am convinced that they do what they do--protest military funerals, demonstrate at church conventions--only to get attention. They aren't interested in conversation about God. They don't want to teach people the Bible. They might scream at people about repentance, but they have shown absolutely zero interest in conversion. I think they thrive on attention, not religion, and I choose not to give it to them.

What was most remarkable to me, however, was the contrast between what was proclaimed inside the Convention's revival and what was proclaimed outside in the protest line. As one might expect, the message that Presiding Bishop Michael Curry delivered was one of love. Using the end of John 20 (as well as John 3, 4, 6, 10, 14, etc.), he told us that God wants us to live: "But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name." God came into the world as Jesus Christ, living and dying and being raised from the dead, in order that we might have life. God wants us to have life. That's the theme all the way through John's gospel account. That's what we heard. That's what we know.

Outside, however, it was the opposite. Their signs declared that "God hates fags." They called our preachers "liars." They proclaimed that "God hates proud sinners." Although I don't buy into it, I understand the strategy of scaring someone with a description of hell in an attempt to get them to accept God's love. But this group of protesters has no message of love. There's nothing to turn to. They don't care about repentance, only damnation.

PB Curry never mentioned the protest, but his remarks, whether intentionally or not, were very clearly connected to what was happening outside. At one point during the revival, he reminded us that, if we know nothing else, we know that God loves us. And I have thought about that for a while and believe that he is not only correct but is also touching on something extremely important for The Episcopal Church. What do we know about God? If we know nothing else, we know that God loves us. On everything else, we might be wrong. But the principle of God's love, which is the message of the gospel, should motivate everything we do.

We might be wrong about prayer book revision. We might be wrong about same-sex marriage. We might be wrong about women's ordination. We might be wrong about worshiping in English. We might be wrong about not requiring circumcision or deciding not to keep kosher. We might be wrong about the resurrection. We might be wrong about the Trinity. We might be wrong about a lot of things. I don't think we're wrong about any of those things, but I will accept that we might be. And, if we are in error, God will sort it out. God will not abandon us because God loves us. We might be wrong about all of those things, but we cannot be wrong about God loving us. Because, if we are wrong about that, nothing else matters. I won't matter what we get right and what we get wrong, because, if God does not love us as we believe that God does, we are lost once and for all.

What do we know about God? We know that God loves us, that God loves all of us--the whole world--and that God's love wills us into a transformed relationship with God and with one another. Everything else is derivative.

PB Curry told us that hate is not the opposite of love. Selfishness is the opposite of love, and hate is a derivative of selfishness. That makes sense. Love is self-giving, self-yielding, self-sacrificing. The opposite of that is to prioritize the self above the other. The protesters last night made it clear whose side they are on. They might think that they are on God's side, but the inward, self-serving work that they do belies their real motive. They are on the side of evil. They are my brothers and sisters, but they are working against love. Are they right about marriage? About women's ordination? About heaven and hell? I don't know. But I do know that they aren't right about God because God is love. And that's all that matters.

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