The Way of Jesus: The Way of Love

The Way of Jesus is The Way of Love

I want to make a confession to you all today. I am a very particular person. Just ask my mother who has been living with me for a little over a week now. I would imagine she will gladly attest to this. I am particular about how my house is ordered and cleaned. I am particular about the food I serve and eat. I am particular about how I dress myself, and my daughter. I am even particular about how I organize my computer documents and desktop screen. I am in general a particular person. Although, if you saw my laundry room right now you might not agree. All in all, though, I am fairly particular. And, I believe many of the reasons I am particular, which is probably the larger confession, is because I care what others think and want their approval. So, when I found out I was pregnant with our daughter Libbie, I began to wonder, hope, maybe even believe, that some of my own particularities, and concerns for the approval of others, might dissipate. That my priorities would somehow begin to be better aligned once our tiny bundle of joy entered our lives, finally awakening me to what was really important in this world. 

And, in the first few weeks of Libbie’s life this was most certainly true. As I spent many sleepless nights, and days, with my reflux riddled, constantly screaming, bundle of joy. I began to let go of many, if not all, of my particularities. Visitors would bring casseroles, and it wouldn’t be until they left that I noticed I was wearing the vast majority of Libbie’s bodily functions on my shirt and in my hair. Dishes would pile up, alongside laundry. Baby accoutrements would be strown haphazardly around my living room. Delivery pizza would be ordered. And, in general as long as I could sit on the couch, making my only concern to keep my little bundle of joy alive, and possibly close my eyelids for a moment, I wasn’t really that particular about anything else in my life. 

But, (as you may well guess) time went on. Libbie’s reflux thankfully dissipated. Drew and I began to settle in to our new normal. And I finally began to feel like myself again. Which meant, of course, that I began to concern myself, once again with my own particularities, possibly even adding new ones concerning the care and wellbeing of our daughter. 

While Libbie’s birth into this world, was totally transformational, for me, for my marriage, and (of course I believe) for this world. It did not totally transform me into someone new or different from the person I had always been. And, in a way, looking back, I am thankful for that. Because, first it is way too much pressure for me to put on one little baby, expecting her entry into this world to reorient my whole life. And second, maintaining my own personhood, has allowed me to maintain my sanity. If I centered my whole life and being around Libbie, I probably wouldn’t be able to get of bed in the morning paralyzed by the fear of the uncertainty this world holds for her. And I certainly don’t think I would be doing any favors for the health of my marriage, relationship with my daughter, or myself. What Libbie’s birth into this world did do though, was make me more aware. Aware of what it is I center my life, my concerns, my particularities, my whole world around. Begging me to answer the question daily, what am I centering my world around? 

Today, we hear Jesus ask us this same question. Even though Jesus’ call towards discipleship may at first sound like a harsh, impossible, or even incomprehensible demand. As he says “whoever does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” Going even further as he states “none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” But, what if we take a step back from our initial shock, and dismay, remembering that this is the same Jesus who also said “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” And, even still the same Jesus who urged us to remember the greatest commandment “love your God with all your heart mind and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Now, I wonder if we might be able to begin to approach Jesus’ seemingly insane demands for discipleship with a little less trepidation.

Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry (if your not familiar he’s pretty much like the Pope for the Episcopal Church), at last summer’s General Convention (which is the Episcopal equivalent to our country’s congress), made an invitation to all Episcopalian’s to take on, what he calls “The Way of Love.” The Way of Love, that Curry presents, is a call to live a Jesus Centered Life, by intentionally taking on what monostastics have for centuries used as a way to  shape their lives, rhythms, and disciplines, so as to follow Jesus through a Rule of Life. In an effort to promote and help others engage with the Way of Love, Curry along with his team, hosted a Way of Love Podcast this summer, covering the seven practices this Rule of Life is centered around: Turn - Learn - Pray - Worship - Bless - Go - Rest. As Bishop Curry explained how this Rule of Life can impact our lives, he equated it to the bravery and training of firefighters, first responders, and police officers. Noting that when these individuals run into blazing flames, putting themselves in perilous situations, even stepping into the line of fire, they are doing so because they have been trained over and over and over again to do so. In a way, Curry argues, so that their response becomes a reflex instead of an afterthought. And, it is in this way that spiritual practice and discipline can allow us to live a Christ like life, allowing love to become our reflexive response in life and the world. 

The first practice in this way of life, the way of love, is to turn. And, Bishop Curry talks about the practice of turning as a daily invitation to reorient ourselves towards God. To choose over and over again, whatever is loving, liberating, and life giving in our lives. Using the image of a flower, at sunrise. As the flower begins to feel the suns warmth in the glow of the morning light, it begins to turn, liberated from the darkness that caused it to wilt, and opening it’s arms wide toward the sun’s life giving light. 

If the call to discipleship is a call to turn towards all that is loving, liberating, and life giving. Then does that mean the cost is to turn away from sin, fear, and oppression? Might Jesus’ seemingly harsh words, actually be a warning against those things that can allow us to misalign how we center and focus our lives? 

I know when I allow myself to become quickly overwhelmed, bitter, and even resentful when I try to take on the role of supermom, organizing schedules and meal prepping, taking home work and answering emails at the crack of dawn, forgoing my own exercise routine for the sake of an early school pick up, staying up late to make sure the house is spotless. In these moments my particularities, and my desire to please others, are no longer loving, liberating, or life giving, to myself or others. In this way I can begin to see the cost of discipleship not as a demand to give up everything that I hold dear in my life. But, instead to turn it over to God, so that the weight of the burdens of this world can no longer keep me from turning towards the light. So that I am able to center my life around all that is loving, liberating, and life giving, and in turn able to share it with those around me. I would encourage us to ask ourselves, what do we center our life around? Is it loving, liberating, and life giving? If not, how might we turn? How might we lift ourselves out of the darkness, so that we can bask in the glory of the light! Remembering, always, that the way of Jesus, is the way of love, and the way of love can change our lives and our world.

Rev. Kate Byrd