About 2100 years ago, a letter was composed and addressed to the members of the fledgling group of Christ-followers living in the coastal city of Thessalonica, a prosperous cultural center strategically located on a major trade route in what is now northern Greece. The authorship of the letter is disputed and much of its contents incendiary, but as New Thought author Emmet Fox suggested, if we are willing to sift through the layers, diamonds can be found. “Dear brothers and sisters,” the letter’s author writes, “we can’t help but thank God for you because your faith is flourishing and your love for one another is growing.”
It strikes me that since the earliest days of the Christ-followers movement, one of the primary functions of what would come to be known as “church” is this: church is a place to learn how to consciously love one another—not in the abstract, not even just metaphysically—but in the midst of embodied life, in the midst of conflict, in the midst of sorrows and joys, church is a “laboratory” for learning to love real, flesh and blood, manifest, incarnated people. We tend to think that inspirational readings and sermons are the source of what “spiritually feeds” us and there is truth in that, but it’s insufficient. The bylaws our church will vote on during our annual meeting this Sunday state that our church exists to teach “practical Christianity.” What could be more practical than learning how to grow in conscious love for one another? The empty calories of “flavor of the month” spirituality will never provide the nutrient density of learning to love another human being, especially if that other does not always seem so loveable!
This fall we have been exploring the underpinnings of what constitutes a flourishing life. Sunday we will welcome our newest members and ponder the nutrient-dense spiritual food consciously loving another person provides. Could there be any flourishing without that?