The city of Tombstone declared itself America's Second Amendment City earlier this year. What if we made a similar declaration? What if we said, we are going to love our neighbors as ourselves? What if we did it? I mean, not what if we made the declaration - but what if we love our neighbors as ourselves? How are we different?
I knew a congregation once that declared itself to be "a welcoming Christ-centered community". They made it their mission statement. They put up a sign.
And the first Sunday you were there, either they ignored you completely, or they greeted you; the second Sunday, they asked you to be on a committee.
They got mail inviting them to join a national association of welcoming congregations - they'd never heard of it.
And by the way after that second week, they never heard from a lot of people.
Of course if you stuck with it - if you stuck with it you learned welcoming is on you. And maybe so is loving your neighbor. So the sign is not important.
In fact I knew another congregation - the only one where my parents got big smiles on their faces when they went - that did not have a sign. But they sure had a welcome.
The declaration is not important. And it doesn't matter so much if you ask yourself, are we (meaning they) doing it?
It's a simple religion, really. Love God. Love your neighbor.
The joy in this is that to love God brings you to love your neighbor; to love your neighbor expresses your love of God.
Over centuries people have puzzled it out, turned it over, tried it out, said it in many ways; and those ways were lovely, some of them, others simply challenging:
- Love of God comes out of love of neighbor.
- Love of God is to love of neighbor as contemplation is to action.
- Love of neighbor is love of God because it is love of the image of God.
If we are made in the image of God (not the man on the coin, from last week's Gospel) and we discover that image in each other as we go to love them -
Sometimes it seems pretty hidden - but it can be found!
As we practice the law of love, that is the love of the person that is made in God's image, we begin to see through the dim and distant mirror the love of God reflected in another's face and even in our own.
Christ is the image of God most perfectly to have come among us. When we love the image of God in neighbor it is powered by our love for Christ the living image of God.
So. Love God in your neighbor. How?
How you and I carry that out is our call, our vocation. Our call to serve. It is our charism as a community, the thing that we do that shows our love for God in our way. And maybe it does mean declaring ourselves "America's second commandment church" if that will create a witness.
How? is our charism, our calling, our challenge. And our freedom. For we do seek to love God, to love God's image, to love our neighbors, and ourselves, as we ourselves are called to do it.
Where are we tugged? drawn? What are we shown as a way to love? What is right on top of us? What is within earshot?
What says, here you can, here you are, loving God?
Love God; love your neighbor: is it two commands, or one? Possibly only one, really, the way Jesus connects the two... not an abstract answer to a tricky question or a negative to beat a negative ("Do not do to others what you would not want done to you") but a calling to a way of life, a way of love.
And so we come to it: God is love.
Of course Jesus knew Rome wasn't sacked in a day. So he gave people a way to practice: Love one another as I have loved you.
Seek out the image of God in another: begin to perceive it; it becomes clearer with practice.
As we practice the law of love, the love of the one that is made in God's image, we begin to see through the dim and distant mirror the love of God embodied in his son reflected in another's face and even in our own.
For as we love the one made in his image, we begin to love as Jesus shows us love, the way that shows us, in his image, the mystery: God is love.
And now let us confess the faith of America's second commandment church in the words of the Nicene Creed....
~ ~ ~
Delight in the Lord in his love and light
Proclaim his peace by day and by night
The peace of the Lord be always with you...
(David Adam, Clouds and Glory, SPCK, 2000, 135.)
Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be brave, be strong.
Let all that you do be done in love.
And the blessing...
(1 Corinthians 16:13-14)
St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Tombstone, Arizona.
October 29, 2017
Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
"...you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord." (Leviticus 19:18b)
You shall be holy as your Father in heaven is holy. (cf. Lev. 19.2, 11.44)
He watches over his holy ones. (Wisdom 4.15)
Eliza Linley My ancestor, Martin Ruter Peel, was a mining engineer in Tombstone, shot and killed for the copper mine payroll he was carrying from the bank to the mine in 1882. His father was the judge. Wyatt Earp came to the house to offer to find and kill the two men who shot him, but Judge Peel would have none of it, as it was not a legal solution. Never mind,the two murderers fled across the border and were killed for the stolen payroll. Exciting times. Welcome to Tombstone, vicar! (Martin is buried at Boot Hill).