*From the August edition of the St Helena's Cross Finder, available online here.*
“My mother died, but not for me. My father died too, but not for me. Jesus died for me.”
The conviction, compassion, and joy with which he offered these words require more than a context, but the context helps, too: a small, Ethiopian child -- orphaned by AIDS -- answering in determined response to the question, “Who is your Jesus?”
Who is your Jesus? The man who asked the question was himself a believer, but a believer jealous for the conviction, compassion, and joy of this child. In response to this joy, and in search of it, too, Dan Merchant reflected on the divisiveness -- the anti-joy -- that so often marks conversations of faith in this country and, as he was honest, in his own life. Why? His formal reflections took the shape of a film, “Lord, Save Us from Your Followers,” which in turn has been the stimulus for a new conversation among some of us here at St. Helena’s these past six or so weeks.
About twenty of us took turns participating in the weekly conversation: we wondered out loud what it is to love someone else; we asked in honesty why the desire to love can unintentionally turn violent -- become frustrated; we talked about the difficulty of loving a person without changing them. Am I even able to change them? Who is ‘them’?
The conversation was always lively, but not without focus. Always, the questions outnumbered the answers. What does it look like to embody the love found in Jesus? What is mission? What is the price of my being right? Is it worth in? How do I relate my faith to my country? What about forgiveness? How do I relate to those who perceive me as attaching preconditions to the life that we would share? Indeed, on some days, the questions seemed so thick, so impenetrable -- the task before us so impossible -- that despair became a viable temptation.
I am so glad our Lord leads us not into temptation!
Instead, what we found -- what I found -- was that even as the group disbanded on a given Wednesday night -- exasperated at the real challenges to reaching out and loving others -- we had already begun the work. God was working in our midst. After all, who were we? Not one-minded, certainly. Many of us literally began a night as strangers, only to end it in embrace. In place of despair, we found a gathering set apart by prayer, marked by safety, trust, and mutual respect. This allowed us to keep the question always before us; put differently, “How should she act as a Christian?” very soon became “As a Christian, how do I reach out in love to her?”
I share all of this as an encouragement: holy friendships are where our stories meet the story of the Risen Jesus and -- thanks be to God! -- the story of God holds, molds, and challenges us here. Where have you seen this? I pray that you’ve found this.
Who is your Jesus? Would you trust him to meet you in others?