A long, long time ago in a church far, far away, a wise man entered my office on a Monday morning and asked, “Do you know what I hear every time you say ‘I’m a liberal’? I hear, ‘I’m not like you. I’m not one of you.'” As we talked more, it became clear that it wasn’t my beliefs, values or perspective that troubled him. It was the label I used to describe myself. That conversation stuck, rattling around, prodding and provoking, and still I wonder, was the problem with my label his or mine?
We’ve got so many ways we separate ourselves from another, making clear that “I’m not one of you,” or maybe worse, “You’re not one of us.” You know them as well as I do. Liberal or Conservative, Democrat or Republican, Cape Codder or Washashore, Yankee, hillbilly, Trekkie, Christian, Feminist, United Methodist. I don’t think the labels in and of themselves are a bad thing–they’re a part of understanding who we are. We can use them in helpful ways to describe ourselves, our particular set of values, or customs. We can use them to exclude, to blame. We can use them to hurt, or to heal.
Tomorrow is the inauguration. Some will celebrate. Some will march. Some will grieve. Then on Sunday, we’ll gather to worship, to sing, to pray, to listen together for the call of God. I wonder if we might use this opportunity to create brave space, to bring our whole selves to worship, with all the labels we claim. Is there space in our sanctuary, and in our hearts to hear the hope of those who celebrate? Is there room in our pews to hear the pain of those who grieve? Can we lift up our prayers for president and protesters alike, trusting that God hears? Can we hear one another beyond the feelings we have about the labels they claim?
Our text for Sunday is the story of Jesus calling the first disciples. One of the most beautiful and most challenging aspects of discipleship is that we don’t get to decide who Jesus calls to come and follow. Jesus calls “Follow me,” and fishermen answer. Tax collectors and prostitutes show up too. Jesus calls and men, women, and children fall in line. Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Libertarians, Kings and Queens too. Cynics and hopeless romantics follow in his footsteps. Red Sox and Yankees fans. And Jesus says to one and all, “Love one another.” He doesn’t say love those who are easy to love, or love the way you love, or think the way you think, or vote the way you vote. He says, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
I have to imagine part of what he was talking about was learning to listen to one another. It’s worth noting that his love was not an easy love. It wasn’t smarmy sweet, nor was it politely disinterested. It wasn’t nice. It was real: challenging, invitational, life-changing, provoking love. Could we learn to love like that, listening deeply to one another, hearing beyond the labels? Could we learn to be curious about one another, interested rather than judging? Could we make room in the pews for the person who is seemingly nothing like us, but trying to live and love just like Jesus? It seems to me it would be well worth the effort.