Like you, I am deeply troubled by the terrible violence and loss of life that took place at the “Pulse” nightclub in Orlando, Florida on July 12th. The prayer composed by a contributor to the Consultation on Common Texts for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost that appears in A Disciple’s Journal-2016 appropriately addresses our pain:
God our refuge and hope, when race, status, or gender divide us, when despondency and despair haunt and afflict us, when community lies shattered: comfort and convict us with the stillness of your presence, that we may confess all you have done, through Christ to whom we belong and in whom we are one. Amen.
I’m also reminded of the following quote from Bishop Desmond Tutu:
Good is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death. Victory is ours, through him who loves us.
Tutu brings to mind the follow passage from 1 John which was very important to the preaching and mission led by John and Charles Wesley:
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.We love because he first loved us. Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also (1 John 4:18-21, NRSV).
Wesley teaches us that Christ calls his followers to regard all people as “brothers and sisters.” Christ commands his followers to love who God loves. He reminds us that God loves all people. His followers are commanded to love not only fellow Christians, but also people we regard as enemies and persecutors. We are to love and pray for them.
The love Christ freely gives and calls his followers to practice has little to do with warm feelings of affection. Jesus describes the character of love in Luke 9:23
If any want to become my followers,
let them deny themselves and
take up their cross daily and
We are capable of this love only when we follow Christ. Following him requires obedience to his teachings. He summarized his teachings in his response to a lawyer’s question, “Which is the greatest commandment?”
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
We can love because he first loved us. We become capable of his way of love when we obey his command: Love God and love who God loves. Jesus teaches and gives the grace we need to love in this way. We learn how to love God and grow in that love when we practice the what Wesley called “works of piety:” the public worship of God, the ministry of the Word, the Lord’s Supper, private and family prayer, searching the Scriptures, and fasting or abstinence. We love who God loves when we practice what Wesley called “works of mercy:” doing no harm and avoiding evil, and by doing good by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, visiting prisoners, caring for the sick, living as salt and light for everyone you meet. These works of piety and mercy are necessary to open our hearts to grace that forms and equips us to become fully the people God created us to be.
John Wesley believed Methodists are “a people who profess to pursue holiness of heart and life; inward and outward conformity in all things to the revealed will of God; who place religion in an uniform resemblance of the great object of it; in a steady imitation of Him they worship, in all his imitable perfections; more particularly, in justice, mercy, and truth, or universal love filling the heart, and governing the life.”
The people called United Methodist today can be agents to faith, hope and love in the aftermath of tragedy and unspeakable violence that occurred in Orlando, Florida on June 12th. When politicians, culture, and media respond by stoking fear and hatred, we are called to be witnesses to Jesus Christ and his love, mercy, and justice. For Christ’s sake we need to be people who proclaim to the world:
Love is more powerful than hate.
God is love.
Therefore, love, not hate or violence, is the most powerful force in the universe.
May we who claim the name “Christian” in the Wesleyan tradition be agents of love and justice amidst fear and hatred. I pray that we all “have the mind that was in Christ Jesus and walk just as he walked.”