NOTE: Bishop Hayes invited three laity to be guest writers of this column while he is on sabbatical.
By KAREN DISTEFANO
A motorcyclist was ahead of me as I drove to work on a recent day. Another motorcyclist approached from the opposite direction. The bikers waved at one another by extending their left hands out and down at their sides. I felt as if I had witnessed a secret signal, one known only to the motorcycle in-crowd. Seeking to confirm that notion, I asked Stephen Hale about what I’d seen. (Rev. Hale, an associate pastor at OKC-Chapel Hill, is active with the United Methodist Motorcycle Association.) He compared it to a lodge sign* used by Masons. The gesture indicates "I’ve got your back" or "I’m here for you" to a fellow rider.
How great it would be to have a sign like that — one that says to a passerby, "I see you and recognize you as part of the family"!
We Christians already have such a sign. "They will know we are Christians by our love," declares a 1960s song.
Love. That’s our sign!
A quick google search shows "love" is used 310 times in the King James Version of The Bible, with 179 of those in the New Testament. You probably know by heart many of the verses that use the word.
"Love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind."
"Love your neighbor as yourself."
"Love is patient and kind."
"Faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love."
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only son.."
"All you need is love." (Oh, wait; that’s The Beatles. Sorry.)
This love of which the Bible speaks can be expressed in many ways. When we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the infirm, and take care of the orphan and widow, we live out the commandment to love others. But these acts often are easy to do because we feel that the hungry, sick, or lonely deserve help. Showing love to those who make us uncomfortable or those we simply don’t like is much more difficult.
Yet we are commanded to show them love, too. As faithful Christians, we are to pray for our enemies and those who would persecute us. We must forgive those we believe have wronged us. We are to see others as children of God, even when they don’t look, think, talk, or act like us.
Manifested signs of Christian love are powerful. They transform not only the giver and receiver, but also the observer. I know this firsthand.
You see, I left the church for a while. When I left home for college and went out into the world, many other things caught my attention. Attending church stopped being any kind of priority for me. It seemed irrelevant, antiquated, and out of touch. Church got pushed away further and further, until it was nowhere in my life.
Then my father called one day, when I was attending graduate school in Arizona. He said a group from my home church in Oklahoma was going to Guatemala to serve as Volunteers In Mission. He asked me to go with them as the team’s interpreter.
I agreed to go, but wasn’t expecting much except to have an interesting vacation.
People from all over Oklahoma made up that team. While in Central America, I saw them living out their faith in a quiet, yet very powerful way. I also saw the Guatemalan people who joyfully claimed their inheritance as God’s children — in spite of marginalization, religious persecution, and even genocide — and who daily worked to fight heinous injustices that they suffered .
Together, the Guatemalans and Oklahomans labored as a unified body of Christ to do Kingdom-building.
There, in that place, I saw love. And I knew that I wanted to be a part of it.
Although I didn’t immediately come back into the church, the proverbial seed had been planted in me. Later, after I moved back to Oklahoma, I returned to my home church. I intentionally learned more about our denomination, discovering Wesley’s sermons, our Social Principles, and The United Methodist Church’s worldwide missional agencies such as UMCOR, UMVIM, and Global Ministries. I began to reclaim my inheritance as a Christian and a United Methodist.
Today, the Wesleyan tenet of faith in the Holy One, coupled with social justice for my neighbor, provides a firm foundation on which I continually strive to stand.
John 13 says: "Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you … A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
There’s that word! Love is our lodge sign!
Jesus showed it to his disciples. He did not even withholding his love from the ones he knew would deny and betray him. He told all of them to go and love.
Sisters and brothers, let’s go and do likewise. Let’s extend our hands to all those we meet. Let them know we are Christians by our love.
— Distefano, of Bartlesville, is the Conference secretary of global ministries.
(* Lodge signs are hand gestures used as a mode of identification among members of some Masonic organizations.)
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