I would say that the first step in Christianity is to love others, be those others neighbors or God. While much of merit may be said on how to love, I want to step forward briefly and talk about the second step. Some people respond to our love with hatred, others with indifference. We pray for them and wish them well. Some people respond to our love by loving us back and this is a wonderful thing. Communities are built, people are strengthened, the love of Christ is shared. This sort of love has been called evangelism, to love others into reciprocal love. I’m not sure it is. It’s a type of evangelism, but the basest sort. Real evangelism – spreading the good news – means loving others so that they love still more people. Loving those who love you is easy; loving those who do not is hard. If “making new Christians” means only widening the circle of those who love one another and speak of Christ, it is worthwhile, but it is not enough. For me, “making new Christians” means bringing more people to the boundless love which is possible in Christ – the love of the outcast and the ruler, the victim and the persecutor, the broken and the whole.
The challenges comes from the extreme difficulty of shepherding people to this kind of love. I’m not even sure I bear it myself on bad days. It is not the work of a moment, but the work of a million moments, and the work of a lifetime. It is the work of a million moments because we must choose to love over and over again. It is not enough to say I love God, I must strive to find God in everyone I meet, to seek and serve Christ in all persons. It is the work of a lifetime because the hard disciplines – patience, forgiveness, justice – can never be neatly summed up in a dogma. They must be worked at and learned with experience. Certainly, there are those rare, gifted individuals born with uncommon good sense and character, but most of us must strive for these gifts, ask for them daily. We must start by forgiving the smallest of slights so that in the end we may forgive the great tragedies. We must pursue justice in the smallest of matters so that in the end we may see a path to justice in the greatest of conflicts.
Love can do these things; true caring, compassion, and attention to the people around has the power (by God’s grace) to show us the way in which to be patient, forgiving, just… The best teacher by far has always been a good example. So let us work to love one another so that those who have not yet heard of God will hear of us. Let us love, so that seeing us, others learn what it means to be loving. And if it doesn’t look like love, let us listen to those who see so that we can learn what true love us.