Love Bade me Welcome – Part II

Short Recap from Part I

In the face of the potential fragmentation over internal differences, the Evangelist John calls his community to hold together through the active practice of purposeful love (agape). Not only will the practice of purposeful love (agape) bind the community from within, but it will also commend the community to a hostile external world.  Purposeful Love operates at both community and individual levels:

Love one another; as I have loved you, by this shall the world know, that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35)

You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat.
So I did sit and eat. (closing stanza to Love, George Herbert)

Purposeful Love as Right Relationship

What are the qualities of purposeful love (agape)? How does purposeful love define the nature of the community where the members are bound together by a notion of right relationship?

For the Episcopal Church, the historical absence of a centralized teaching authority capable of declaring, and perhaps more to the point, enforcing an authorized interpretation of belief requires us to find some other basis for our holding together in community. We find this is the concept of right relationship. Right relationship is rooted in John’s understanding of purposeful love (agape) both binding a community together from within, as well as providing the means for projecting a discipleship presence into the wider world.

Agape, or purposeful love, has certain key characteristics that distinguish it from other forms of experience covered by the English word love.

  • Purposeful love is not dependent on emotions of attraction or admiration or liking. It does not rest upon the experience of a felt emotional bond between people.
  • Purposeful love honors the other, values mutuality, refrains from judging others simply on the basis of their difference from us.
  • Purposeful love for others does not emerge from our sense of abundance as in a kind of largess that tends to patronize others. It arises from our own prior experience of being loved. We love others in this agape way because of our own experience of being loved by God, often communicated to us through the experience of being loved by other people. In this sense purposeful love is caught, not taught.

Purposeful Love as Worship Centered

The historical absence of a centralized teaching authority capable of declaring and enforcing an authorized interpretation of belief has had a profound effect on the way the Episcopal Church interprets received tradition as we seek to be true to Christ’s teaching amidst the challenges of the world  in which we find ourselves living.  For us right relationship finds its highest expression not simply in that sense of shared common purpose, though this is important, but in the experience of common prayer and worship.

For Episcopalians that ancient Benedictine emphasis on the community defined as the community at prayer or in worship has shaped our Anglican character. Worship becomes for us our unique expression as a community. Our emphasis on worship, where all are welcome, contrasts us from the majority of Christian communities on the American religious landscape who define themselves through enforcement of fixed content and definition of belief, usually referred to as a confessional statement.

As we worship, so we believe. In worship we encounter God’s conversation with us as a community. This conversation comes to us through the liturgical use of Holy Scripture as the sacramental basis of an inspirited encounter with God. For us, it is not only the inspirited encounter that leads to the writing of Scripture in the distant past. Our encounter with the text is equally inspirited in the present. The sermon becomes for us our response to the conversation God seeks to have with us. Both the liturgical reading of Scripture and the reflective homiletic response is guided by the presence of John’s Advocate – the Holy Spirit , whom in chapter 14:15 Jesus declares God gives to us to continue to remind us of all that he has taught us.

Purposeful Love as Justice

The Holy Spirit teaches us as a community through the in-spiritedness of our engagement with Holy Scripture within sacramental setting of worship. Worship thus empowers us as a community to carry that in-spirited engagement out into the world where as disciples we seek to witness to the presence and action on God who is already in the world all around us.

For Episcopalians, extending right relationship into the world requires us to enter into a creative engagement with the issues of the time. This creative engagement leads us to an appreciation of our understanding of all that Jesus has taught us, deepening over time. For we, as a Church, hold that it is possible for the Church to change its mind about the particular meaning of Scripture. Interpretation of Scripture is what constitutes Tradition. Tradition is continually questioned by Reason in the light of current experience. Examples of this process in action is the 19th Century repudiation of  slavery. In the 20th Century the struggle for civil rights in the areas of racial, and gender equality, led us to change our understanding of certain scriptural texts because we came to see in them a contradiction with the Jesus emphasis on inclusion. We continue to engage in a similar way with the issue of sexual identity in the opening years of this 21st Century, along with an ever deepening of our commitment to global justice.

So within the community purposeful love is expressed as mutuality of interdependency. Yet, Christian community has a mission beyond its own internal world. The mission of  Christian community is to provide a base for going out and speaking to the issues of the world around us. William Temple was perhaps the greatest  Archbishop of Canterbury of the 2oth Century. He presided over the Anglican Communion during the dark years of the Second World War and its immediate aftermath. He reminded us that the purpose of the Church is to exist for those who are not yet its members. When we extend right relationship based on purposeful love into the world beyond our immediate communities, purposeful love takes on the expression of justice. For the Holy Spirit is not only a comforter, but also an advocate. An advocate is  one who speaks on behalf of God’s desire for ever greater justice to govern our relationships with one another in the world.

The Enigma of Love

Returning to George Herbert’s poem cited in my previous post . Love has been further immortalized for music lovers by the English composer Ralph Vaughn Williams’ who scored five of Herbert’s poems in his Five Mystical Songs

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNMnGNL0-uw                                                                                                        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q5JvpL6nyTc

Herbert highlights the common human experience that it is our shame that misguides us into hiding from, maybe even protecting ourselves from, the experience of love. We cannot take seriously the promise that God makes to love us, no matter what.

Herbert is talking of that love which we experience when we discover that we are beloved by God. We discover God’s love, not merely, despite our human weaknesses, but particularly because of our human vulnerabilities. Being human is to be a glorious creation much beloved by God. We hear in George Herbert that tender Christian humanism, which is an essential aspect of Anglican devotion, deeply rooted in the theology of Creation and the Incarnation.

Love one another; as I have loved you, by this shall the world know, that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35)

You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat.
So I did sit and eat. (closing stanza to Love, George Herbert)

 

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