The brothers Cyril and Methodius literally wore themselves out in the course of taking the Good News of God in Jesus Christ to the pagan Slavs. They worked tirelessly to proclaim the Gospel, traveling many thousands of miles, enduring hardships, even inventing the alphabet used to allow the Slavs to learn Scripture in their own language. (This alphabet is the basis of the Cyrillic alphabet used in Russian and many modern Slavic languages.) Inspired by their love of God and their zeal for truth, the brothers gave all of themselves, and it is in this giving of self that we see the archetype of Christian love.
When the apostle John writes that “God is love” (1 Jn. 4.8) he uses the word agapé. This word is sometimes translated as “charity,” and is found throughout St. Paul’s famous “love chapter” at 1 Cor. 13, in which Paul uses fifteen verbs and adverbial phrases to describe love. Nowhere do we find love described as an emotion. In fact, when Jesus asks Peter three times “Do you love me?” (Jn. 21.15-19), and Peter replies that he does, Jesus tells Peter what he must do. Godly love must be translated into action.
Godly love is being translated into action in the ministries of LoveINC (Love in the Name of Christ), of which the parish is a founding partner. The parish also provides substantial funding and willing volunteers to support Love INC, as together with many churches we work to meet our neighbors in need, and help them in the context of the best help of all—sharing the Gospel. We are working in ministry, not in the provision of a service. Ministry is not about just helping somebody meet a need; it is about developing a relationship with them in the context of identifying needs and causes, to allow for transformation of life to begin. It is about reaching out and sharing the reality that whatever the pressing need we may have is, the one need that underlies all human want and dysfunction is the need for a healthy relationship with God.
As LoveINC enters the official launch phase on the 17th of this month, you will encounter press and broadcast stories centered around a campaign about “Look at what love has done.” That sentence could describe the reality of salvation, although a perhaps better phrasing would be “Look at what Love is doing.” When we recognize and are open to what God is doing is our lives, in the life of the world, and in our life together as a worshiping community, we are transformed and our lives become lives dedicated to self-giving. We become more Christ-like, and are made (returned) more and more into the image and likeness of self-giving Love which is Our Lord.
Giving of self always involves another. There has to be somebody else to whom we give, with whom we share. And what is it that we share? It is God’s love; it is love as a verb; it is love in action. This love is embodied in how we share the truth found in Jesus, and are ready to testify to faith in a world that is indifferent to faith. It is embodied in meeting physical needs. It is embodied in the witness of worship. It is embodied in all aspects of life in Christ, but it is fundamentally centripetal as opposed to centrifugal. Love reaches out, just as the Cross is not a closed thing like a circle, but holds the arms of Our Lord with which He reaches out to all.
As detailed at our parish annual meeting on 25 January, we have spent more than three years focused on healing, and in healing we have necessarily focused mainly on ourselves. But we are now by many measures healthy, and it is a healthy Body that we can now focus on reaching out, on proclaiming and inviting. By God’s grace, if we write the history of this parish in another ten years, we should see 2015 as a year in which we pivoted, turned to look more outward; a year in which all members of the parish could and did invite those to known to them to join them in worship and praise and thanksgiving; a year of invitation and growth fostered by a desire to invite, to give of self, and fostered by all of the people being equipped to invite.
Our ministries will focus on evangelism and outreach in ways in which we have not been so focused in the past. This is not to in any way diminish what we do now; it is to share it, to give of the blessings in which we live.
Yours in Christ Jesus,