By Annette Brownlee
Feast of SS. Simon and Jude, Apostles
A Reading from Ephesians 4:1-16
1 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace: 4 there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
A friend and colleague, Philip Turner, once made this statement to me: If we cannot sit next to a person who drives us crazy week after week in a Bible study, we know nothing about God or the body of Christ. A life worthy of the grace we have received in Jesus Christ, the gift of the Spirit, and our shared baptism, is a life where we bear one another — with love, humility, gentleness, and patience.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes that the whole work of Christ can be expressed in the one word, “bearing” (Life Together, 101-103). He quotes Isaiah: “Surely, he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isa. 53:4-5). Scripture characterizes the Christian life as bearing our cross: “Bear ye one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).
This vocation convicts the Church. It convicts cancel culture. Life would be easier, the Church would be better if this person or this group was not in it. This is not the way we have received from Christ. Our vocation is to call no one a menace. Assuming that in Christ we are stuck with each other, what does it mean to bear one another?
Bonhoeffer lists three aspects of forbearing and sustaining one another:
- We bear each other precisely when the other has become a burden to us.
- We bear the freedom of the other, which means we are involved in the created reality of the other.
- We bear the abuse of that freedom — the other’s sin — with forgiveness rather than judgment.
To what end? That we can break through to joy. Yes, joy. But only by seeing the created reality of the other, with all that person’s quirks, oddities, irritations, and ways their reality is a burden on me. This is what it means to be made, to be this person and not another. You have made me, we can say with joy. And you have made him or her who drives me crazy.
The Rev. Dr. Annette Brownlee is chaplain, director of field education, and professor of pastoral theology at Wycliffe College, Toronto. She also assists and preaches at St. Paul’s L’Amoreaux in Scarborough.
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