One of the embarrassing things about our faith is that our entire theology can be expressed in three words of less than four letters. This fact, combined with the difficulty many of us have with practicing what we say we know, leads us to want to fancy up Jesus. Maybe my intellect would be happier with Scientology or some contemporary form of Gnosticism. Yet, God is love — and those who know this must also love.
I have been helped lately by hearing W. Craig Gilliam from Perkins and www.justpeaceumc.org, speak about Martin Buber’s I-Thou. It too, is a simple concept. Every social interaction involves either my treating the other as an IT, or my being aware of them as human, endowed with the full range of feelings that I have, and loved by God by the same grace that I depend upon. Take what should be an easy place to practice this, the daily interaction between two people in a long term committed relationship. Dr. Gillian points out that his wife knows when he has treated her as an IT. This is the hitch in our conversations, especially with people who know us well, we expect them to respond to what we have said, instead they respond to the actual I-IT attitude that was behind our speech.
God is love. He always treats us as human beings. His grace is thou…thou…thou. I do religion when I treat God as an IT, and offer him an hour in church and a twenty dollar bill in the plate, but don’t seek to know his will. His will is knowable. He wants us to love those around us. He wants us to treat them, I-Thou.
One of my odd jobs in college was teaching a group of mentally challenged adults how to swim. For some of them, the fear of the water was so strong, that I could smell it. Instead of teaching them how to do the Australian crawl, I led them to go one rung further down the ladder of the pool, then said, “Good job!” Others, had been coming to this swimming class for years, and still depended upon the floatation devises we gave to them. Yet, what struct me, as someone preparing to go to theology school, was that each of them were capable of knowing that God is love. Some mastered what I have not in thirty five years. Further, this group of adults were fortunate to be in a facility where the people treated them with I-Thou love, day after day.
I-Thou, this is evangelism. God is love, this is the sermon. Go do likewise.