Unpacking ‘the way of love’

If you are going to ECMN’s Convention this fall, you saw the image above on the registration page. The mission opportunity (read: ECMN learning goal) for the year might look so tidy, and some of it so familiar, that you could think to yourself, “Oh, this looks on brand.”  But it’s a massive theological statement boiled into one line.

So let’s go a little deeper, shall we?

Engaging  Getting to know, becoming involved with. Engaging is different than leading, creating, or establishing. Engaging implies meeting a force equal to yourself – something that may well change you. You will not be the same on the other side.

God’s mission This God isn’t an absent creator nor an angry judge. This God is a God who dreams acts to bring that dream to life. The work of the church is to come alongside that vision and join in. In other words, this is a corrective to some ways the church has functioned in the past, when the notion was that the mission was, in fact, ours. Believing that the mission is ours on God’s behalf leads in some dodgy and dangerous directions (i.e., colonialism, Manifest Destiny, the Doctrine of Discovery, just to name a few). Understanding that the mission is God’s is good news because we do not have to understand it, plan it, or strategize it. We get to embrace humility, be deeply curious about how our neighbors experience God, and lean into wonder and gratitude when we get to join with them in creating something beautiful.

Of Beloved Community Not so long ago, theologians like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Fannie Lou Hamer reminded Christians of God’s dream. They talked about Beloved Community: the personal and collective work it takes to be able to join in God’s kingdom when it’s right in front of us, even in the midst of our blindness to the ways race and power divide us from each other. ‘Beloved Community’ is language we learned from the Civil Rights movement that points to the same thing Jesus did: God’s vision of justice, peace, and reconciliation, holy wholeness for all.

      So if you put those phrases together, ‘God’s mission of Beloved Community’ suggests that we believe God dreams of human beings in reconciled relationship with each other right now, not just one day in the imagined future. God dreams of that kind of shalom, and God’s spirit invites it, and we can join in.

Living the way All day, every day, we make choices, small and large. At some point, our choices reflect habits, patterns, underlying beliefs and commitments that shape how we move through the world and how we impact those around us. The earliest Christians didn’t see themselves as adopting a new religion, but rather practicing a way of living. Western culture, especially since the Enlightenment, has embraced a worldview that leans heavily toward right thinking (‘orthodoxy’) as an indicator of your religious faith. But we’ve never lost the thread of thinking of Christianity as a series of practices. It’s time to reclaim our understanding of the practice of the way of Jesus.

Of love “The way of Jesus is the way of love.” Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection show us love that is courageous enough to speak truth in the face of injustice, defiant enough to announce good news in the midst of hopelessness, and humble enough to love even ones’ enemies.

Over the centuries Christians have used many different tools to understand what it means to put their faith into practice. For Episcopalians, the Baptismal Covenant is a blueprint for understanding how you ‘live the way of love’ in the particularity of your own life.

  • Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
  • Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
  • Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
  • Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
  • Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

The seven practices outlined in The Way of Love resources from The Episcopal Church put even more emphasis on how we are shaped by daily actions.

If we are to embrace God’s mission of Beloved Community, we must be willing to be changed in the small actions of our daily lives and in collective transformation as well. Ultimately, as your Missioner for Evangelism Marcus Halley put it, the way of love is the how of Beloved Community. There’s a lot more unpacking we can do here. I’m excited about how we’ll lean into this wisdom together over the coming year, from Convention all the way through the Consecration of Bishop X. And the School for Formation has a host of options and resources you can use to dive deeper. Let’s do this together, friends.