--The Rev. Leslie Scoopmire
This last Tuesday, some of us throughout the diocese and all around the country attended the theatrical premiere of a documentary entitled A Case for Love, which examined the teachings of our own Presiding Bishop Michael Curry on the Christian call to live lives centered on what he calls “The Way of Love.”
The documentary included a handful of vignettes of ordinary people who have been transformed by the power of love—both of receiving it from others, and offering it to those they have encountered in the course of their lives. Stories included people who have fostered and adopted traumatized children; women who have been supported in leaving lives of crime and violence on the streets through the work of Thistle Farms around the country; soldiers and Marines dealing with trauma and healing it in the lives of so many; a family who had their eyes opened to racism and its effects after adopting—and later losing to cancer—a child with a different ethnicity, and more.
One story in particular which filled the heart was from Bishop Curry’s own childhood, as he grew up himself the child of an Episcopal priest. He introduced us to a pivotal figure from his own life named Josie Robbins. Ms. Robbins wasn’t even a member of the Curry family’s parish; she dropped off one of her neighbor’s children there on her way to her own Baptist church. But she heard of the pastor struggling to take care of two small children with his wife fighting cancer in a hospital miles from their home, and asked what she could do.
Overwhelmed, he asked if she could iron a room full of clothes—they covered two twin beds in a spare room-- that he had been able to launder but not finish while juggling all his duties as priest, father, and husband. The children we told to leave her alone and remain upstairs while she lovingly worked on this task.
Then one day, Bishop Curry’s father was running late and asked if she could make the children lunch, to which she graciously agreed. She later remarked that after that lunch, young Michael pulled up a chair in the doorway and started talking to her until the moment she left for the day, and for every day afterward.
Josie Robbins was there for the Curry family when Michael’s mother later succumbed to cancer. Josie Robbins soon was taking the children to the drug store to see the parakeets and hamsters, just as their Mommy had done. She attended every recital, every graduation, every celebration. Here was a stranger who saw two children under the age of 8 and a devoted young husband who were losing their mother and their wife to a terrible disease.
“Josie Robins is what love looks like,” Bishop Curry later recounted in his book Love Is The Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times. Through Josie Robins, love embodied in action arrived to help iron the laundry of a family in crisis, and stepped into Bishop Curry’s life as a mother figure for the rest of his life, and she remains so even to this very day (1).
In the trailer for the movie, Presiding Bishop Curry’s prophetic voice comes to us, saying: “We were made for each other, and I believe we were also made for the God who made us. And that’s the ultimate community: all of us together and the God who made us.”In our reading from 1st Corinthians this Sunday, we have the question of whether it is lawful for Christians to eat food that has been sacrificed to idols. What’s interesting is the way that Paul frames this discussion. In vv. 1-3, which we do not get to hear in our reading, Paul starts with a discussion of which is greater: knowledge or love.
It reminds me of a question I used to ask my middle schoolers: If you could only be one thing, would you rather be the smartest kid in school, or the kindest? It was always an interesting discussion, and often the first time they had had a discussion about values. And basically,
Paul comes down with something that many of my students stated: being truly loving can have more of an impact than self-serving knowledge. The question comes down to being inwardly or outwardly focused. The Corinthians lay out a logical argument about why, since the Greek gods do not really exist, it is permissible to eat meat from Greek temples. But Paul asks them to consider the greater good: what happens to those who SEE Christians openly eating meat sacrificed to idols? Might this lead people astray by appearing to still engage in the ways of the pagan world around them. Christians are, after all, called to live a life different, a life that even in commonplace things demonstrates their allegiance to God, not the world around them.
Paul points out that knowledge is rooted too often in the self, while love only exists in community, and love must be in a community to build it up. But love always comes first, both in time and as a priority in our relationships with God and with each other. Paul argues that even if what we do is legal, if it causes another to be led astray, the demand of love must take precedence.
Could it be that the Corinthians—many of them former pagans by default cultural practice—might be unwilling to really change their lives that much even while claiming to follow Christ? But that is a question for us as well: how much are we really willing to change in order to live out the values of Jesus in our everyday lives? And yet, by calling ourselves Christians, how we live and love—or not—is a profound testimony to the rest of the world.We live in a world that does NOT prioritize real, self-giving love. We are almost always the only visible sign of Jesus the world sees.
Yet that is exactly the main ethical demand God calls us to live by as Christians.
To live not in fear, or by vengeance, or by indifference to the suffering of others—but to live by love.
Jesus calls us into community—parish, diocese, denomination, or as the universal Body of Christ, to remind us that love always comes first—from God to us, and from us to the hurting world in which we live. A Case for Love aligns perfectly with Paul’s argument, which was Jesus’s as well, that sometimes love calls us to a higher standard than knowledge and logic alone. Knowledge may be good, but LOVE as an act of the will and freedom in the world is most important.
As we open our parish annual meeting for this year, I invite you to consider all the ways that St. Martin’s exists not just as a community for its members—but as a sign of Christ’s love in the world. There is much to celebrate here—and everything that we do in love is ONLY possible through each and every person here. How do we all make a case for love—the love of God and love of each other—in our own lives each and every moment? And how can we continue to grow that in the days and months and years ahead?
At the end of watching A Case for Love, each viewer was challenged to engage in a thirty day challenge. We were directed to a companion website, where there are supplemental materials for deepening our engagement from being merely spectators watching a documentary to following in the footsteps of those ordinary people who were featured in the film. There is a journal for engaging for thirty days in doing one selfless act of love and recording it and reflecting upon it each day.
I hope you will join me in starting this challenge as part of your Lenten devotion starting on Ash Wednesday--- even if you didn’t see the documentary. We will discuss this in a later adult forum. But for now, let us consider the way St. Martin’s parish, through YOUR actions and support, makes a case for love in the world every single day.
Website for A Case of Love by Grace Based Films, 2023
Michael Bruce Curry, Love Is The Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times, p. 13.