There is a sign in the front yard of the church that has space for a message that we change on a regular basis. Currently, the message on the sign is taken from an oft-quoted saying from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry: “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.” On the face of it, the saying seems pretty harmless and non confrontational. I mean, it’s just about love, right? Well, yes, but…
The love that Jesus teaches and the love that Jesus manifests in his life is a courageous, expansive, and very often, confrontational kind of love. The people that Jesus chooses to love are often those whom society (and sometimes even their own families) have chosen not to love. Many of the disciples whom Jesus accepts and names as “inheritors of the Kingdom of God” were those who were certainly not the cream of the crop. Jesus loves lepers whom society excluded. Jesus loves orphans and women who were considered the least and most powerless. Jesus loves tax collectors whose professional lives had become a daily crime against their own people. Jesus has meals with scoundrels and extends good news to well-known sinners. To the convicted thief who was crucified beside him, Jesus says, “today you will be with me in paradise.” And as a crowning witness to the relentless love exhibited by Jesus, he even prays for those who were responsible for his own death, “forgive them, Father, for they know not what they are doing.”
Now, make no mistake… this inclusive, radical love of Jesus was wildly popular with those disinherited, excluded, disenfranchised folks on the margins of society. Never before had they heard or seen or experienced a love like this. Is it any wonder that when Jesus showed up, those on the margins crowded around him? Sometimes the crowds just wanted to touch the edge of his garments in the expectation that some of his healing love would rub off. Other times, they were willing to sit in the hot sun just to soak in the words of love that Jesus uttered. And then there is the story in the Bible of a blind beggar whom Jesus lovingly heals. The blind beggar is so utterly transformed by the experience of Jesus’ love that he is willing to boldly stand up to the religious authorities who interrogate him and to proclaim his new-found faith in Jesus.
This same love of Jesus, however, also caused A LOT of waves. In standing up for the powerless, he challenged the status quo religious and political power structures. In establishing solidarity with the poor, he often provoked the rich. Jesus spoke in such plain and truthful ways that most in authority were soon looking for ways to rid themselves of the dangerous rabbi. Eventually, as we all know, the powers of this world did find a way as they arrested, tried and crucified Jesus.
Maybe love isn’t as innocent as it appears upon first blush. At least the love of Jesus isn’t. It’s an amazing, marvelous love of grace and mercy and compassion and justice and grace. As such it is great good news to the poor and oppressed and marginalized. The love of Jesus, however, is also a challenge to any system or structure or person who resolutely insists on clinging to power or holding others in bondage.
Bishop Curry is right. If it’s not about love, it’s not about God. But let no one be deceived about this love of God. It is fierce and relentless. And this love of God will always eventually win.