by Sally Coleman.
“We must discover the power of love,
the redemptive power of love.
And when we discover that,
we will be able to make of this old world a new world.
Love is the only way.” – Martin Luther King
With the festival of Pentecost just past, and as we move through the season of Pentecost, which for the people called Methodist includes celebrating Aldersgate Sunday, and with the words of Bishop Michael Curry’s message at the Royal Wedding 1 still ringing in our ears and stirring us (whatever you felt about it, it was hard to ignore), I want to think about what it is that fires and inspires us as the people of God.
As a Connexional Church we often work in pockets of isolation, unaware of what is happening next door, let alone nationally, and fighting for our own survival whatever the cost. Things must change! We know that, but quite naturally we fear it, because change means giving up what was to embrace and release energy for what can be, to chase the vision, to dream the dream. The energy that can spur us on is the fire of love.
Over the last few weeks I have had the privilege of visiting several churches and individuals in the city of Sheffield where I am stationed. Two things have struck me, first is that where there is passion there is life, and second where our emphasis is on our own survival then the stench of death is not far away. I realise that, that is laying things out starkly, but I also believe that it is true.
I have seen passion and pain in the eyes of an artist longing for a better and more inclusive world, I have seen love and community amongst the most unlikely group of friends, and I have walked and dreamt with colleagues as we have pondered the path ahead for those we serve. The energy underlying all of this is love. The love of Christ who compels us2 is alive and active, it is tangible and visible for those with eyes to see it.
I have also seen desperation and confusion and fear in the eyes of those whose desire is to keep going at all costs because anything else will be deemed as failure. Somehow, we need to find a way to allow death as a natural part of the life of the church, and seek to celebrate what has been, while acknowledging that the time has come for a building to close or an initiative to cease to function. This may require a season of lament, and a sensitive pastoral and palliative approach, but it will also need to include a holy boldness, fuelled by love, for this is the pattern that Christ calls us to follow3.
To follow the pattern of love is costly of course, but it is life giving and, to follow the pattern of love is to follow God in God’s creative pattern of brining order out of chaos, to follow the pattern of love is to acknowledge that we cannot be the church on our own, for we are called into the community of love that is God, creator, sustainer and redeemer, who invites us to become a part of what s/he is doing. We need God, and God is love.
To quote Bishop Curry;
“This love, this is the way of Jesus. And it’s game changer.
Imagine our homes and families when this way of love is the way.
Imagine our neighbourhoods and communities when love is the way.
Imagine our governments and countries when love is the way.
Imagine business and commerce when this love is the way.
Imagine our world when love is the way.
No child would go to bed hungry in such a world as that
Poverty would become history in such a world as that.
The earth would be as a sanctuary in such a world as that.”
If this is our dream, and I hope that it is, at least in part, then we must find ways of releasing that dream and realising that dream. For John Wesley the fire was a deep knowing that transformed his life and ministry, perhaps then our challenge as the people called Methodist is to seek that knowing, that fire again, and to allow the fire of love to burn in a cleansing and refining manner, or to use another illustration, to prune us for fruitfulness. To choose love, is to choose life, it is not an easy or simple way, and I have offered no solutions here, simply a reflection that love must be our way.