No Way But Forward

Bishop Mariann preached this sermon to the congregation of Christ Church, Kensington on March 21, 2021.

The days are surely coming says the Lord when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors, when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt–a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.
Jeremiah 31:31-34

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit…Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say–‘Father, save me from this hour? No, it is for this reason that I have come. Father, glorify thy name.
John 12: 20-33  

Good morning, dear friends of Christ Church. I am blessed to be your friend in Christ, as well as your bishop. In the nine years I have served as bishop, you have been such steady and thoughtful spiritual companions, through your probing questions, commitment to Christian discipleship, devotion to one another, and desire to be a credible witness to the transforming love of God. I have great admiration and affection for your rector, Emily Guthrie, and I was grateful to be invited, along with my husband and mother, to join your vestry as they studied the history of race and faith in our country through the curriculum known as Sacred Ground. While it’s been a challenging, humbling, heartbreaking year in many ways,  you have been church–Jesus’ hands, feet, and heart in this world–through it all. Thank you.   

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the juxtaposition of grief and hope that we’ve witnessed in the past week. The litany of pain includes the horrific shootings in Atlanta and the increasing number of unaccompanied minors at our southern border, as well the less publicized suffering all around us and the struggles in our own lives. At the same time, hope, like the coming of spring, is all around us, as we begin to imagine and plan for our emergence from pandemic isolation. “I’ll go anywhere,” a friend said to me yesterday, “as long as it is forward.”  

I speak to you now about a kind of moving forward that is both hard and hopeful, challenging and life-affirming.   

Once when I was traveling by airplane, the pilot spoke to us from the cockpit. “Folks,” he said, “I’m sorry to say that there’s a lot of turbulence up ahead and the ride is going to be rough. So we’re not going to serve you beverages or food, and you’ll need to stay in your seats for the entire flight. I wish there was a way around, but we have no choice to go through it.”

As much as I dread flights like that, they symbolize a kind of forward movement that we’d rather not take but know we must because there is no other option. There’s no going back. There is only moving forward. 

Another story to underscore the same reality: When our younger son was around 8, he fell off a ledge that he shouldn’t have been on in the first place and broke his arm, badly. It was one of those breaks that involved protruding bones, and as soon as we got to the hospital, he was rushed to the surgical floor. Up until that point he had been in shock, but as he lay on the stretcher waiting for what was coming next, he started to panic. By sheer grace, the anesthesiologist who came to his side happened to be a member of the church I served and he knew our son. He quietly explained to this frightened little boy what was going to happen next. I watched in awe as our son took a deep breath and said, “Okay, let’s go. Right now!” There was no escape; there was only going forward. 

We’re coming to the end of Lent, and the drama of Jesus’ life story is building. Those of us who have re-lived this story with him year after year know exactly how it will end. Nothing from this moment forward will be easy. And in a passage that always takes my breath away, we hear Jesus pray, “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say, ‘Father spare me from this hour?’ No, it is for this hour that I have come. Father, Glorify thy name.” 

Jesus is resolved. This is his path and there’s no point in him asking God to spare him from the cost of going forward, anymore a woman in childbirth can pray to be spared the pain of giving birth. There is no turning back. There is only going forward. 

When my husband and I were first married, we made plans to study Spanish and work for a year in Central America at a home for abandoned children.This was in the mid-1980s, toward the end of the Central American wars. Central America, as our families reminded us time and again, was not a safe place to live. But we were young, and we wanted to serve in a part of the world where being a Christian required courage. 

As our departure drew near, I began to feel afraid. With each day, the fear inside me grew. What on earth had I been thinking? What would happen to us in a war-torn land? 

Early one morning, as Paul lay with a fever due to an adverse reaction to one of the many shots we needed to take before leaving, I sat by myself trying to pray. I opened my Bible. That summer I’d  been reading a chapter from the Gospel of John each day, and I had come to John chapter 12. I read the words we just heard read, and in particular, the prayer that Jesus prayed: “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say–‘Father, save me from this hour? No. . .” 

I don’t know how many of you have had this experience, but it was one of those moments when a passage of Scripture seemed to rise from the page and lodge itself into my heart. For that’s when I knew I couldn’t ask God to spare me from the source of my fear, because, in fact, I had chosen the very path that was now causing me to be afraid. It was too late to turn back; what’s more, I didn’t want to turn back. I didn’t want God to rescue me. What I wanted, and needed, was for God to give me strength to keep going in spite of my fear of the potential dangers ahead.  

The prayer that Jesus prayed and that he helped me to pray all those years ago and countless times since isn’t one that asks God to change our circumstances. It’s a prayer asking God to help us make it through what we know will not change. It’s about helping us become large enough inside to hold what’s being asked of us. As we pray it, it can feel as if we’re the grain of wheat Jesus talks about that needs to be buried in the earth so that it can be transformed. A part of us needs to pass through something, in order to make it over or through whatever it is we must face. 

The amazing thing is that in the praying of that prayer we are given what we need to move forward. We are changed into the kind of people who can ride out a storm, who can carry on when we’re weary; who can love when it costs. Through that prayer and our willingness to grow, be changed, and even to die a little inside so that something new can be born, we become more like Jesus in his sacrificial love for the world.

You know as well as I that this is a hard road to walk. It is, in fact, the way of the cross.  When we accept the cross that is ours to bear, when we offer ourselves and allow Jesus to change us into his likeness, then we align ourselves with his mission. We don’t need the world to change for us anymore. We don’t need other people to make us happy. We don’t need to have our way. Through him who strengthens us, we can live with love and peace in the world as it is, in our lives as they are, and help bring his love and peace to others. 

If you go back to the first Scripture reading for this morning from the prophet Jeremiah, you’ll read how Jeremiah speaks of the kind of transformation that occurs when we come to know God. That kind of knowledge isn’t only intellectual, although our minds are fully engaged. It’s a kind of heart knowledge. “I will put my law within them,” God says through the prophet, “and write it on their hearts.” The word we translate as law isn’t a set of instructions, but a way of being in the world, as companions–friends of God. 

I begin every Lent with hopes of centering myself in a few spiritual practices and abstaining from some of the things I enjoy perhaps a bit too much. I confess that few of those external disciples took hold for long, for reasons and excuses I won’t bore you with now. But one insight came to me at the beginning of Lent that has stayed with me, and in a quiet way has changed my relationship to myself and to God. 

I’m the kind of person that wakes up every morning with a to-do list in my head, and my inner critic wants me to feel inadequate from the moment my feet hit the floor. But this Lent, instead of listening to that voice, I ground myself in a brief prayer, reminding myself that Jesus is my friend and I am his. We will face whatever lies ahead together. 

In closing, I invite you to do the same. Hold in your heart whatever lies before you. Try to distinguish between the false standards that burden you and the real cross that you’re asked to carry. Where are you on the spectrum of acceptance as you look forward toward the things you cannot change? Some things can’t be avoided. When facing them, whatever they are, the most courageous prayer is for strength and courage to see you through. It was Jesus’ prayer. It can be yours and mine as well. 

Will you pray with me?

Lord, we can’t help but pray to be spared from the suffering and hardship of life, and we pray fervently for those we love and those hear about in suffering, that they may be spared. In any and all situations where suffering can be avoided, where we and others can be spared, please guide us to safety. But when the path forward is up the mountain, not around it; help us to climb it. When the path forward is the way of the cross, give us strength to carry on. When the path forward is like that of a seed dying in the ground so that new life may emerge, give us the assurance of your presence and love as we face the hardest things. Help us know that you are with us and for us, now and always. 

Amen. 

2021 Holy Week Collaborations in the Diocese

No question, the pandemic has been hard on us all. But even in the midst of heartache and loss, God calls us to hope. Parishes in the Diocese of Washington have been able to maintain, and even increase, their sense of community and mission throughout this challenging time by investing in relationships and the gifts of technology. As Easter approaches this year, we hear from two of our regions and one of our parishes as they demonstrate what is possible when we come together, following Jesus’s Way of Love to bless our communities in creative ways. 

“Last Christmas, the parish clergy of the South Montgomery Region realized we could pool our resources to create a joint online Christmas Lessons and Carols,” says the Rev. Cricket Park, rector of Church of the Redeemer, Bethesda and Dean of the South Montgomery Region. “We had such a good time working together. It seemed natural to look for opportunities to recreate the experience.”

They posted the prerecorded Lessons and Carols to YouTube where it ended up getting over 450 views within the first 24 hours. They wondered what might be possible for Easter and decided to record a Liturgy for Good Friday that would again be available on YouTube for anyone to view at a time best suited to their schedule. This time 5 of the 6 parishes in the region are participating and each of those churches will have a music piece in the service. Deacons will handle all the biddings, priests will do the collects, and lay people will speak the readings. 

In the Central Montgomery Region the parishes have also come together to record a reflective Good Friday liturgy. The Rev. David Wacaster, Rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd, Silver Spring and Dean of the Central Montgomery Region says, “Originally developed and suggested by The Reverend Virginia Brown Nolan, this collaborative Good Friday liturgy has been a meaningful part of the Region’s Holy Week worship for several years. The opportunity for regional parishes to join together on this project has been especially welcome during this pandemic time.” 

This will also be the second year that the Rev. Wacaster’s parish, Good Shepherd, will collaborate with Luther Rice Memorial Baptist Church on an ecumenical Seven Last Words of Christ service. “This is the result of the diaconal ministry of The Reverend Kathryn McMahon,” Rev. Wacaster shares. “During the pandemic, Luther Rice Memorial and Good Shepherd have been working together to collect food for Luther Rice’s foodbank in an effort to respond to the needs of the Silver Spring Community.” The two churches have also collaborated on an effort to help senior citizens become more comfortable with technology so they may remain connected to the community during this time when in-person gatherings are not possible.

We give thanks for the richness of these joint ministries, the strengthening of relational ties between parishes and within communities, and the opportunity to grow in faith as we seek to draw people to Jesus and embody his love for the world.

Welcome Emily Snowden to Diocesan Staff

Welcome Emily Snowden to Diocesan Staff

Rev. Emily Snowden, Program Coordinator 

We are excited to introduce Emily Snowden, the diocese’s new Program Coordinator for the School for Christian Faith and Leadership and the Tending Our Soil initiative. Emily is a UCC pastor and joins the staff with nine years of ministry experience in the United Church of Christ, in both congregational and institutional settings. She brings with her coaching, administrative, and program development capacities that will serve the diocese well. 

Emily will work closely with the Rev. Jenifer Gamber, Missioner for the School for Christian Faith and Leadership, to support the development of a broad base of offerings by the School to equip members of the diocese for faithful living and adaptive leadership and to guide congregations in an intentional process toward greater vitality.  “I am honored and excited to bring my communication, collaboration, and organizational skills to the Diocese of Washington and look forward to contributing in a meaningful way to its mission.”

Jenifer Gamber shares, “I am delighted to welcome Emily and look forward to a fruitful partnership to expand learning opportunities that help the people of the Diocese of Washington engage in a changing world with an enduring faith in Jesus Christ and know God’s love.”

“Emily provides us with much needed administrative capacity as we continue to move forward on our strategic plan goals,” Bishop Mariann reports. “We’re grateful to have her join the diocesan staff team.” 

A Quick Q & A About the Vital Signs of Parish Health Teaching Tuesday series

EDOW Communications Manager Keely Thrall caught up with The Rev. Todd Thomas, Missioner for Revitalization, to ask him about the upcoming Teaching Tuesdays series on the Signs of Parish Vitality.  


What takeaways do you hope attendees will have coming out of these sessions? 

The whole process of engaging the question of parish vitality and identifying the seven Vital Signs of Parish Health has been a collaborative effort from the beginning. The Teaching Tuesdays: Signs of Parish Vitality series continues that spirit of collaboration. We learn so well from one another, both ideas and practices. Attendees will come away from each lunch hour session encouraged, inspired and energized with new perspectives on the vital signs, new resources to study and new ideas to adapt and use in our own contexts.  

 

How does the Tending Our Soil initiative fit in with the seven Vital Signs of Parish Health? 

The Tending Our Soil initiative is based on three foundations: parishes working together in cohorts to build capacities for adaptive leadership, trained coaches guiding and accompanying the parishes through the process, and a focus on the seven Vital Signs of Parish Health. The vital signs are our best vocabulary and framework for both evaluating where we are and creatively projecting where we want to be. Participating in Tending Our Soil is an amazing opportunity to dig deep into where a parish’s strengths lie within the vital signs, to identify opportunities for growth and improvement, and then to develop new ministries for growing in those areas of opportunity. 

 

Bishop Mariann has stated she’d like each parish to choose one (maybe two) of the Vital Signs to work on first, not all seven at once. Why is it important to focus on a single sign to start with?

Using the Vital Signs of Parish Health as a self-assessment tool highlights a parish’s strengths as well as its opportunities for growth. Once a self-assessment is completed, a parish will have a better sense of where to spend its time and attention for maximum benefit. Choosing one vital sign, maybe two, further hones a parish’s strategic focus and creativity for the work ahead. Engaging the vital signs is not a quick-fix. No one expects a parish to make dramatic progress in a short amount of time, but narrowing the focus to one or two vital signs provides space for listening to where the Holy Spirit is calling a congregation, intentional prayer, strategic thinking, and innovative ideas to develop.

 

Teaching Tuesdays: Vital Signs of Parish Health Series

Grab your lunch and join Rev. Todd  and congregational leaders from across the Diocese of Washington Tuesdays at noon, April 13 through May 25. We’ll share our stories, pool our creativity, and curate resources for how our faith communities can engage the Vital Signs of Parish Health, even in times of shift and change. 

  • April 13 – Mission and Vision
  • April 20 – Inspiring and Capable Leadership
  • April 27 – Clear Path of Discipleship
  • May 4 – Faithful Financial Practices
  • May 11 – Welcoming and Connecting Ministries
  • May 18 – Uplifting and Inviting Worship
  • May 25 – Blessing Our Community

Register for the series. Drop in when you can. Recordings and materials will be sent to all registrants. 

Are We Good Enough?

God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved–and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God–not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. 
Ephesians 2:1-10

Jesus said, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and the world loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” 
John 3:14-21

Hello dear friends of All Faith. Thank you for welcoming me this afternoon, and for changing your worship time so that I could be with you in person. I was visiting my son and his family at the birth of our granddaughter the weekend when I was scheduled to be with you. Special thanks to members of the vestry and the Rev. Debbie Kirk for being so understanding and to all of you. I had a wonderful meeting with your vestry two weeks ago. They spoke with such joy and gratitude for the Rev. Debbie’s presence and leadership, and with hope for the future.  

This past week has been a time of reflection for many of us, because it was this time last year when, as a result of the COVID-19 and efforts to slow its spread, everything stopped. We were told to shelter in place. Schools, businesses, churches were forced to close. The magnitude of what we were facing was just beginning to sink in and we had no idea what lay ahead.

Global and personal tragedies like the ones we have and are experiencing invariably raise all sorts of questions for us about God and God’s presence–or seeming absence–in the midst of human suffering. Yet we have also learned, and continue to learn, how we are able to persevere in hardship. We have felt the sustaining power of tender mercies and small acts of kindness that can sustain us in times of trial. There is hope on the horizon as more of us become vaccinated and treatments for the sick improve. Yet fatigue is real, and we’d be made of stone if we didn’t feel a wide range of emotions in response to all that has happened. We’re all holding a lot right now, and we’re asking ourselves really important questions. 

My sermon is about one of the biggest questions we ask ourselves, although, truth be told, we often avoid it until it forces itself upon us. 

I begin with a story.

Years ago, when I was a parish priest in Minnesota, I went to visit an elderly member of the congregation I served who was in a care facility. It was near the end of her life, which she knew and so did I. Her name was Carolyn. 

As a young woman, Carolyn had married into one of the founding families of the congregation and soon became one of its stalwart members. She taught Sunday School for over 40 years. She and her husband sang in the choir until they decided they were too old and then they provided childcare so that younger couples could sing. She led the Altar Guild and was part of the guild that provided meals for families in times of crisis and for repasts at funerals. For decades Carolyn was the congregation’s heart and soul. 

Shortly before I arrived to serve that congregation, however, Carolyn had suffered a stroke that left her paralyzed from the waist down. In the years I knew her she was homebound, unable to do all that she loved and defined her life. I would go to visit her and she would often cry as she spoke. “Tears of joy, Mariann,” she would say. “Tears of joy.” They weren’t really tears of joy, but I loved the fact that she remembered joy through her tears, and that she wanted me, as a young woman, to hold onto joy. I loved Carolyn, as so many had before me, and was honored by the love she extended to me in the last years of her life.

On the day of that visit near the end, she didn’t have much strength to talk, and so we sat quietly. I opened the Book of Common Prayer and read to her from the psalms. She seemed to doze off, and so I tried to leave as quietly as possible. But then she opened her eyes and said, “Mariann, I am scared. What if I haven’t been good enough?”  

I didn’t say to her the first thing that came into my mind, which was, “Oh Carolyn, if you’re not good enough, we are all doomed.” 

What I said is something I pray someone will say to me when I am near death, that everyone hears either spoken by another or in the quiet of their hearts when crossing over from this life to the next: “You don’t need to worry about being good enough, Carolyn. God loves you completely and unconditionally as you are. Jesus is waiting for you with open arms. Everything you regret has already been forgiven. It’s only love that awaits you.” 

Now Carolyn was a woman of considerable faith and good works. Anyone who knew her would say she had surely earned God’s love and favor. And Carolyn knew her Bible well enough to be familiar with the famous line we heard read from the Letter to the Ephesians: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God–not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” Also from the Gospel of John: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that all who believe him will not perish but have eternal life.” She knew all that, and she had given her life to Jesus. Still she wondered–“am I good enough?”

Do you ever wonder if you’re good enough? 

Here’s another story.

My father died about 10 years after Carolyn’s death. He was not a believer in God in any obvious way, and he made no effort to conform his life to the teachings of Jesus. He had been baptized and perhaps in his early life he had “accepted Jesus as his Savior or promised to obey him as Lord,” as we are asked to promise in our baptism services. But by the time I was born he had walked away from everything and everyone that had to do with Christianity.

My dad was a tough person to be around. He was opinionated, bombastic at times. For much of his life he drank and smoked too much. He wasn’t an especially good husband (he married 4 times) or father. He lived his life as he saw fit. Eventually I got over my anger at him for the ways he had hurt me. I did my best to forgive him and stay in touch as we both grew older. 

The summer he died, my sister and I were at his bedside in the intensive care unit for nine days straight. Along with our stepmother we eventually made the decision to remove the ventilator that was keeping him alive. When the medical team took the breathing tube out of his throat, he was more alert than we had seen him for days. He couldn’t speak, but when we spoke to him, he seemed to understand. When we kissed his check, he kissed us back. When I asked him if he was afraid, he nodded his head. I said to him what I hope someone will say to me in my final hour: “There’s nothing to be afraid of, Dad. There’s only love waiting for you.” 

My father was not a religious man, and he did not seek the comforts of the faith he had rejected at the end. But after we each had said our goodbyes, after he looked at each one of us with his deep probing eyes, he turned his face toward the ceiling as if drawn to a great light. His eyes grew wide and his breathing quickened. For what seemed like a long time, he stared up at what only he could see. He never looked at us again. After a time he became quiet and inwardly focused. An hour later he died. 

Was my father good enough? 

Some in the Christian faith who would say, sadly, but unequivocally, that my father was doomed to eternal damnation because he had not accepted Jesus as His Savior. I came to faith in Jesus when I was a teenager in a church that held such beliefs. In fact, the pastor warned me that my soul would be in danger when I told him, as I was leaving to live with my mother, that I planned to attend the Episcopal Church with her. From that church’s perspective, the narrow path of salvation did not include other Christians who did not hold the same exact beliefs. Now I loved my pastor and members of the church I was leaving. But I knew as sure as I knew anything that he was wrong. 

Fortunately for me, the Episcopal priest of my mother’s church was a wise and kind man, and he gave me an amplified understanding of God’s love. He would say to me, “Mariann, if there is something you wouldn’t do because it isn’t loving (in this case condemn to eternal damnation someone who didn’t believe in Jesus the way I did), rest assured that God wouldn’t either. I hear echoes in his words in our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, who often says, “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.” 

By grace we are saved. Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world. We don’t earn our way into God’s favor. God’s love is unconditional. If we do not feel drawn to the presence of God as we live, God will embrace us as when we cross over from this life to the next. I saw my father enter the arms of God as he crossed over from this life to whatever awaits us after death. There was no question of his worthiness, or the correctness of his beliefs. He was loved–fully and unconditionally in the hour of his death as he had been, unbeknownst to him, all his life.

So, too, was Carolyn. There was no need for her to keep score of the good things she had done over the bad, her public virtues as a counterweight to her secret faults. God knew it all, and loved her fully and completely. 

I felt moved to tell you the story of Carolyn and my father today in part because of my own struggle of late with questions of worthiness before God, and how in that struggle I need to be reminded that there is no scorecard in God’s love. To whatever degree that may be true for you, let me assure you what I also need to hear: that we needn’t worry now or at the hour when we breathe our last. There is no question about our being good enough for God. All that is waiting for us is love. 

If Jesus came to this earth for anything at all, it was to embody a way of knowing and experiencing God that was not tied to our goodness or our worthiness. That’s not to say that Jesus didn’t want us to be kind, loving, forgiving, and generous people–he did, but not in order for us to win God’s favor or earn God’s love. And Jesus wanted people to know and love him, and yes, accept him as Lord and Savior. But friends, it isn’t love if we are punished with eternal banishment for not responding as God would want. That’s a contract, not love.

 Jesus came in love, and to show us how to love, and inspire us to love, and by his grace make it possible for us to love far beyond our own capacities. He wants us to know how much we are loved, and to help others know something of that love, too. But not with the fear of punishment hanging over our heads. That isn’t love. 

To be sure, the path of becoming a more loving person, patterning our life on Jesus, is hard. It asks a lot of us, and we will fail in our efforts to be like him. He knows that about us and simply asks that we keep trying, that we keep learning and growing in love. That learning and growth begins with opening ourselves every day to Jesus’ love for us, which, in turn, helps us to love others. “Love one another,” he said on the night before he died, “as I have loved you.” 

In closing, I invite you to call to mind someone who inspires you with their capacity to love. It may be someone whose love for you is something you never have to question,  or perhaps a person you’ve read about or seen on television. When we move into our Zoom coffee hour time, I’d love to hear from you about that person. Throughout the week, you might reflect more on what it is that inspires you about him or her.

You see, inspiration and example are what help us to grow in love, not fear. So I’ll leave you with one more story of a man whose love inspires me. He’s a Jesuit priest named Gregory Boyle who has dedicated his life to helping young men and women caught up in the violent drug and gang culture of Los Angeles to find their way out. There’s nothing easy about the path of recovery and restitution for these young people, but Father Greg walks with them every step of the way. Once he was asked if he ever felt taken advantage of by those who might abuse his love and trust. He said, “No one can steal from me what I choose to freely give. Whether or not they learn to walk this hard path is up to them. My choice is to love.”1

I want to unconditionally love the people God has placed in my life. I often struggle. I often fail. But people like Father Greg inspire me to love. Jesus assures me that there’s no test at the end of my life that I will pass or fail. There is no such test for you. He simply invites us all onto the path of generous, sacrificial, love for others, as he has loved us. Whether we choose to walk it is up to us.

Jesus didn’t come into the world to judge the world. God doesn’t judge others as harshly as we are tempted to judge them. And God doesn’t judge us as harshly as we judge ourselves. For it wasn’t for judgment that Christ came. For God so loved the world. It was for love that Christ came and for love that we follow him.

Will you pray with me?

Lord Jesus, thank you for your love. Help us all to feel it, to know it deep in our bones, so that we don’t waste another minute wondering if we are good enough for you. Help us turn our gaze toward you, be inspired by you and others to walk your path of love. Help us to forgive. Help us to share what we have. Help us to go the extra mile, so that through us, sinners that we are, something of your love. Amen.

 ~~~
1 Gregory Boyle, Barking To the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2017).