July 9, 2017 – Proper 9
Letters Home (from a retired pastor to his family, the Church)
I had a friend I have loved since I was a child. We grew up together, shared many joys and conflicts. Through all of this we loved each other and still do. In many ways our lives took very different paths. But in other ways they were similar. Both of us were less than stellar students in our youth. Each of us joined the service during the Vietnam War. Later we found our separate paths into the construction industry. In our own ways, we were both people of faith, and ultimately became ministers in our different churches. But there was a time when something divided us. That something was a chemical addiction.
Often, when a person is in the grips of an addiction, that addiction overshadows everything else in their life. At the time, my friend had a young family and all the responsibilities and obligations that went with it. We all know this includes paying the rent, the utilities, and putting food on the table. This was difficult to do while supporting a habit that had taken control of my friend’s better judgement. So he turned to me.
I also had a young family and all the same responsibilities he had. I did what I could to help. After all, he was my friend, and his children held a place in my heart as well. For a while his rent, utility and grocery bills were mine as well. This lasted until the situation became a problem for my little family. At that moment I was confronted with one of the deepest questions of love; what is the most loving thing to do? This might sound simple, but it was one of the most difficult crises of my young life. What was I to do?
Of course I knew there were rules by which “good people” try to lead their lives. There were the laws of the land, which were being broken. There were also the laws of the faith tradition we had been brought up in. There was a part of me that simply wanted to follow the laws and wash my hands of my friend. This seemed as if it would be much easier. But my heart would not let me. I finally did the hard work of trying to answer the question, “What is the most loving thing I could do in this situation?”
That struggle taught me a lesson that has been central to my life and ministry since. When facing the toughest questions in life, the way forward is to seek the most loving response available at the time. This requires much more than following any set of rules. Engaging this more demanding question requires that we do not stand back from the one seeking help, but instead to be open enough to form something of a relationship and empathy from which to respond. I do not mean a response that has only momentary effect.What is needed is a loving decision that may be more difficult and costly, yet may have a transformative effect. Sometimes this means helping someone with their bills. Maybe it means paying a fuel bill, buying an airplane ticket for someone in need, or maybe it means simply sitting with the other and listening. There are also the moments when the most loving response is “no,” because a “yes” is ultimately crippling to the other.
My first “no” was finally spoken in my late 20s to my friend. I pray this helped him move beyond his addiction, as he ultimately did. Since then I have said “yes” and “no” to requests for help from many in need. I am absolutely certain I have made many misjudgments in this along the way. But when I have been in these situations I have tried to remember to asked myself, “What is the most loving thing I can do in this situation?” After all, our Lord commanded us to love each other no less than he loves us. I pray for His forgiveness for when I have loved less.
This coming Sunday many churches will join in prayer asking for God’s grace to love our neighbor as He commands, and as our Lord has shown the way.
Proper 9; The Sunday closest to July 6
O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 231)