Several years ago while on an overseas trip, we had a challenging conversation with our Buddhist guide who shared some of his convictions and invited us to do the same. He had engaged in conversations with Christians before, he said, but he found their explanations about the meaning of their beliefs overly complicated. So while he would like to have us try again to explain Christianity to him, he made one stipulation. He requested that we offer the essential message of our Christian faith in just a few words.
We took on that challenge. But if we only had a few words in which to convey the message, we’d have to try to offer the basic, foundational bedrock of the faith. What would that be? If you were challenged to offer a single sentence summary of your faith convictions, how would you do it?
We came up with this: “Love wins.” Granted, that’s pretty basic, but doesn’t it say a lot? For Christians, the incarnation and the resurrection (Christmas and Easter) are encompassed in that phrase, because both are celebrations of God’s undefeatable love, which bridges divides and brings new life.
If we keep love’s preeminence foremost in our minds and hearts, then decisions about how we should think about a matter, or how we should relate to someone, all become a little clearer. The centrality of love for people of faith is critical, because even if we are capable of offering but a dim reflection of God’s powerful love, our attempts at sharing God’s love may still be life-changing.
Rev. Walter Wangerin tells of being a green, young minister when he started visiting one of his parishioners who was just 40 and dying of cancer. For the first several visits, he considered it his duty to bring her some cheery words. He spoke to her brightly of the tennis he had played and the flowers blooming outside. She never said a word to him. But one day, he said, as he blathered on, she rolled her wide, serious eyes to face him, pointed a bony finger at him and said, “Shut up.”
So he learned, he said, that all that babble about happy things was misplaced. There are times in life when cheerful words don’t ring very true and when pat answers won’t suffice. So after that, Pastor Wangerin came week by week and sat with her in humble silence. Then one day the lesson of prayerful silence finally came to him. Maybe God’s loving spirit had something to do with it. Wangerin suddenly knew what to say and he offered just three words to the dying woman. He quietly and simply said, “I love you.” She rolled her wide, bright eyes to him, put out her arms, and he hugged those dying bones as she whispered to him the first words she had spoken in days, “I love you, too.”