See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure …. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
(1 John 3:1-3; 16-18)
I taught sexual misconduct prevention in the Dioceses of Chicago and Milwaukee from the beginning of the Church Insurance Company’s mandates about 20 years ago. This passage from the First Letter of John formed part of the prayer I used to open training sessions for more than a dozen years.
The first year of training was really tough and stressful — the sexual abuse of children is a subject no one wants to talk about, but clergy and vestry and lay leaders were required to attend training, and (frankly) the training was pretty awful. It was heavy on statistics and risk and insurance riders and mandated reporting and penalties. Every time I taught, the tension in the room was so palpable that I ended up with a crippling headache.
Sometime in that first year of trainings, though, I came across the new Rule of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, an Episcopal monastic order in Cambridge, MA. It was (at the time) a fresh, new rewriting of the Society’s original Rule. As I read it more deeply, I came to understand that the SSJE Rule is really an extended meditation on right relationship.
That understanding transformed the way I taught. Rather than teaching about our failures (or potential failures), my colleagues and I began to articulate a vision for what right relationship with young people and adults might look like. “If we do ministry in the light,” one priest observed, “then attempts at secrecy or abuse stand out by contrast.”
“Beloved, we are now God’s children.” As God’s children, how should we live with one another?
Aiming for right relationship doesn’t mean that we are already perfect, but it does mean that when we fail, we recommit ourselves to the high standard. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God … and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”
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Gracious God, you see your children growing up in an unsteady and confusing world: Give us calm strength and patient wisdom as we bring them up, that we may guard them from harm, and teach them to love whatever is just, and true, and good; following the example of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.