“Actions speak louder than words.” “Saying is one thing and doing is another.” “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words when necessary.” It is so easy to get bogged down in words. Sure, there are times we need to use words. There are still more times when we need to do something. Sometimes there is a need for both words and actions; folks are watching and listening.
I serve a congregation that is not particularly wordy about being a welcome place of worship and witness for ALL God’s children, but they are actively living it. For years they’ve been the host site for Alcoholic Anonymous and Al-Anon meetings. Various community groups hold meetings and activities in our building spaces throughout the year. Last November they called me, a pastor who is in a committed same-gender loving relationship. The many folks who make up “they” are busy in the community in numerous ways, all of them modeling God’s love for all in their myriad of ordinary actions and words.
As the pastor, I recognize both the blessing and the privilege of the pulpit with people who want to know not what I think but what God’s words mean for them and for us. Mostly they’re interested in knowing more about what it means to love God and love our neighbors and how we effectively can do more of that here. Their nearly 135-year history is full of actions that document that they “get” what it means to love God and neighbors; now they’re expanding their welcome based on learning and understanding more of their sacred texts.
Over coffee in a local spot, a non-church going community member asked me if I’d seen the recent hate-filled preaching of one Pastor Charles L. Worley in North Carolina. I had to “confess” that I had (up to that point) chosen not to watch and listen to him, but I’d heard enough and read numerous Facebook comments from others. She went on, “That kind of pastor should just shut up.”
Hearing no disagreement from me, she asked, “You ever preach something so hateful?” Quickly scanning my memories, I couldn’t remember any such time, and yet I did offer, “We’re supposed to love our neighbors, and while North Carolina isn’t just down the street, I suppose God means we must love Mr. Worley. I might not be so good at that.” There was an exchanged smirk between us. Having not attended a worship service under my leadership (yet), she doesn’t know firsthand if I preach honestly that we are to love our neighbors, even those who despise people like me, but what she knows of me is enough. It felt good to be reminded of the power of words, the weight of privilege, the responsibility of empowering others to use their words when needed and to act accordingly always.
Hopefully the likes of Mr. Worley will receive less than viral coverage in the near future. Even more hopefully, may my neighbors continue to search for places like “mine” where we examine the words, consider their implications and our responses to them, loving God and loving neighbors in unique ways and in line with the heart of the gospels and the Law.