What matters most...

"God is love"  1 John 4:8b

He came to the church tonight because the sign out front said there was a Taize service.  There wasn't.  It had been moved to last week and no one changed the sign.  The man was angry.  His father died last week, which is why he was in Boston, trying to help his 94-year-old mother cope with losing her partner of 72 years. He needed the solace of the service.  The pastor of the church apologized and invited him to stay for supper and the Bible study I was leading.  It took about 20 minutes of convincing and calming, but the man stayed.

We were talking about the Bible itself--the different ways people approach it, and the issues and experiences people have with it.  The man shared about beinga soldier in Vietnam, and how he was out in the field of combat with another soldier (drafted as he himself had been) who was a conscientious objector and did not (would not) carry a weapon.  The other soldier was gunned down.  The man telling the story had been taught that God hates cowards.  He felt guilty--like he had been a coward.  Was carrying a gun a brave thing or was it the cowardly thing?  Did God condemn him?

Another woman talked about hearing an army chaplain speak--a woman who had been deployed to Afghanistan.  The chaplain had arrived exhausted from the trip on her first deployment with no one to show her the ropes or tell her what to expect.  As she crashed into bed her first night, she was awakened shortly as a new batch of wounded were brought in.  She didn't know where to begin and someone pointed her to one corner--"There.  Those are the ones dying.  Be with them."  And she went.

The chaplain told her audience that the only question those soldiers had in those last minutes and hours was whether God loved them.  She told them yes.  Yes, yes, and only yes.

Another woman spoke up about the sister of a dear friend.  The sister committed suicide and there were those who told the friend that those who commit suicide would go to hell.  The woman telling the story choked up.  Why would God discard someone so desperate?  The Vietnam Vet, a Catholic, spoke up.  "I asked a preist about that, and he said that God loved them and would accept them."

Yes, yes, and only yes.

"The only thing that helps me," said the Vietnam Vet, "is what helps me get through life once I go out that door."  We talked about prying the lid off a literal interpretation of the Bible so that the message could get through that God didn't hate cowards or those who took their own lives in desperation.  Something very heavy in the room lifted and people began to tell Christmas jokes.  The Vietnam Vet said he's like to come back next week.

It isn't rocket science, folks.  It is love.  It is being with those who are dying--either on the inside or on the outside--and reassuring them that God is love.  That God is big enough to handle our moments of cowardice, rage, jealousy, and fear and love us to something better.  It is about being the embodiment of that love for those who wander into the circles of our lives thinking that God probably hates them, but who harbor the hope that maybe they're wrong about that.  It is about how to get through life when you walk out that door.

Does God love you?  Yes, yes, and only yes.

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