Gracie was sniffing the air in our backyard while Joy and I were finishing breakfast. We could see her through the large windows stretching across the rear wall of our house.
As we watched, Gracie picked up her ball, trotted to the window, placed the ball on the sill, and looked me directly in the eye. The message was clear. “Let’s play.”
I love this dog. We’re tight. She gets me. And I get her. So of course I rose from the table, stepped out the back door, and played a game of catch.
As far as I’m concerned, dogs are profoundly intelligent, emotionally attuned, richly ensouled beings. If you think that way too, then what I’m about to say might make sense to you:
The brief episode with Gracie that I just described to you said volumes to me about what it means to be faithful.
I’m a bishop. So it’s no surprise that I’m religious. So one way of portraying myself as a person of faith is to point to the way that I worship, the doctrines that I believe, and the creeds that I recite. This would not be incorrect. But it doesn’t get to the heart of what it means to be faithful.
To be a faithful Christian is to be connected and committed to a person. To the risen Jesus. My life is guided by my love for him. And I love him because he loves. He gets me. So I sort of get him.
After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to his friends. He told them what it would look like to love him: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” It was his way of saying, “Let’s play.”
In other words, it’s a tough and fractured world out there. Hurt people hurt people. And everybody is a hurt person. That creates a cycle of pain and resentment and violence. Jesus came to break that cycle with the scandal of love. The love that forgives. Over and over.
We have two choices, really.
We can keep hanging with Jesus and do what we can to change the course of this world. We can respond to hurt with forgiveness and healing.
Or, we can perpetuate the pain. We can withhold forgiveness and respond to hurt with hurt.
To be faithful begins with accepting that we are the forgiven. Jesus already did that for you and for me. It continues with becoming the forgivers that Jesus taught us to be. To do anything else would be faithless. To leave the world to its own self-destructive devices.
The apostle Thomas was not with Jesus’ other friends for that first appearance. And he famously insisted that he would be faithful—he would play—only if he could see the crucified and risen Jesus for himself.
Sure enough, Jesus showed up a second time. And what you Bible probably records as Jesus’s words to him are these: “Do not doubt but believe.” That’s led many of us to keep calling him Doubting Thomas.
But I urge you to consider this translation of Jesus’s words. “Don’t be faithless. Be faithful.” Or, “Come on. Let’s play. Don’t give up on me. Don’t give up on the world. I know it’s tough and exhausting and often painful. But hang in there with me on this forgiveness thing.”
I’m going to be honest with you. Sometimes I roll my eyes at the Church. Every now and then it even breaks my heart. And it grieves me to see that the Church has become such a damaging, unwelcoming place for some that they’ve had to turn elsewhere to encounter God.
But it’s in the Church that I’ve been able to live out my faithfulness most fully. And it’s in the Church that I’ve experienced Jesus’s faithfulness toward me. I suppose that just goes to show that Jesus shows up and says, “Let’s play,” in even some pretty messy places.
To schedule an in-person or Zoom event with me please contact my EA Holly Windham (firstname.lastname@example.org). You can learn more about my latest book by clicking here.