So where to begin? For Israel, it began with a promise from God and reinforced with a covenant. God would bless and Israel would serve and love. For us it begins in baptism, claimed as the beloved children of God. There is nothing we can do to erase that beloved status and no circumstance can or will change it. Our story begins with love.
I believe it means that we act out of the understanding that we are all interwoven. And because of that truth, we then have to push beyond our own egos and desire for selfpreservation to identify with and care for the most vulnerable in our world our very neighbors. Seeing Christ in the other means to be surprised by God in our encounters with others. And I think it’s just as easy and as hard as that sounds.
Maybe another way to understand idolatry is to ponder and maybe rank our loves. What do we care about the most or what is most important to us? In what or whom do we place our ultimate trust and confidence? What do we worship? How are these truths evident in our lives in how we spend our time, energy, and resources?
Paul’s aim is not a strategy, but to lay out a basic truth: giving is an act of grace. We respond in gratitude for what God has done for us. When we give, we trust that God works through our offerings. As people of faith, we give as a spiritual discipline, as a practice of regularly returning thanks for all we’ve received. We pledge specifically to the church because we believe in the work that goes on here.
One angle on the gospel is this: the relationship between God and humanity has been repaired, which leads to the repair of relationships among people. In light of all this, we are called to be a part of that repair with our love and compassion, to be the kind of people who resist divisiveness, especially division based on hatred, ignorance, and fear. The LGBTQ community itself has a term for this: ally.
“So our goal is to be acceptable to [God], whether we are at home or away from home. We all must appear before Christ in court so that each person can be paid back for the things that were done while in the body, whether they were good or bad.” Out of the body or in the body, it’s all about how you live.
It’s as if Paul is saying, “Yes, this is hard, really hard, trying to live out the love and message of Jesus. Yes, we face opposition, we risk failure, we’ve tasted defeat, for sure… but we keep going. We have faith along this journey because we know it’s God at work within us. We’re not running on our own steam here. We are instruments of God’s grace.
What else could unite the Owen family, 63 Haitians, or a 95 year old veteran? What else could tie together billions of people across different beliefs and times and cultures? It’s deceivingly small and simple, yet Baptism makes a profound claim: this is the truest thing about you. You are a child of God. You belong to Christ. You are of infinite worth to the Creator. Your dignity is God-given. In Paul’s words, in the imagery of the Old Testament, “you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise.”
…we’re not just shells. All bodies have inherent worth and dignity. Bodies society tends to discard–darker bodies, transgender bodies, poor bodies–matter to God. The church doesn’t seek justice for statistics, but bodies. We don’t show mercy to sociological categories, but bodies. Human beings with emotions, scars, memories, quirks–God breathes life into all of that, and even works through it. Why would God erase all that handiwork in some disembodied paradise?
It’s easier to love someone if we are curious about their experience. If we suspend judgment, even for a brief moment, and begin to inquire, to ask questions, to wonder about why they do what they do, or why they think the way they think, we can love them more deeply. To be curious is an act of agape (love) because it is oriented to the other person. Empathy and compassion don’t appear out of nowhere. “You never truly know someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes,” the old adage goes. Be curious.