Both Paul’s conversion story and the account of Peter and the Resurrected Christ are excellent examples of how Jesus meets us with agape where we are, wherever we are. Paul needed to knocked off his literal and figurative high horse. Peter couldn’t make the proverbial leap from phileos to agape. Jesus met each where they were and did everything possible to move them along. My question is where is the church today? And what is Jesus doing to move us to where God yearns for us to be?
Many are very much where Saul was before he became Paul – the figurative high horse and all. These folx are breathing threats and hatred against many of God’s people. They thrive on fear mongering and limiting God’s capacity to love. There are churches who have very narrow definitions of who God can love and accept. They have confused God’s capacity for love with their own.
These are the places that are against Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and everyone who isn’t their stripe of Christian. They are also condemning of QT folx and people who explore their sexual identity outside of marriage involving one man and one woman. They aren’t particularly fond of people who don’t speak English in the U.S. or of woman who seek leadership in the church community. I could say more. However, you get the idea.
There are other churches who have lost themselves in some kind of love, though I am not sure it is phileos and cannot make their way to agape. These churches believe they are following Jesus and, yet, cannot state what they believe or why. They want to maintain traditions and sing familiar hymns and change nothing. They long for everything to “go back to the way it was” at some romanticized point in their history. They say that everyone is welcome and truly believe they mean it. However, these communities tend to be rather homogeneous and somewhat boring.
Of course, there are other types of churches who are doing their best to follow Jesus, and Jesus might just be yearning for more from them, too. Since Paul and Peter are our examples, I’ll stick with those who tend to breath threats and those who can’t quite make the leap to agape.
With the first type of church, I wonder what would happen if they encountered Christ on their journey. What if everything came to a halt for a few days and they only thing they could take in were the words spoken by Jesus. Would the scales of hatred and fear fall from them? Would they allow themselves to be transformed into communities that could save lives?
What of the second type? What would happen if they were invited to dine with Christ? Could they hear the invitation to universal, unconditional love that would awaken passion? Would they allow themselves to be transformed into communities that could save lives?
For Paul, the encounter with Christ changed everything. What if Jesus has been trying hard to knock us off our high horses for quite a while and we are resisting? It is easier to cling to what we know, even if it brings harm into the world, than it is to change everything about who we are. Can you imagine a church that truly welcomes all human beings and seeks only to embody agape?
I’m not sure any of us can. The good news is that Jesus stuck with Peter and is likely to stick with us. However, I’m not sure how long we can stay on our horses and let the question of agape go unanswered. Jesus is still with us asking, “Do you agape me?” The church has yet to say, “Yes, Lord, I agape you and will nurture all that is yours without condition.” Maybe now is the time…