Today we celebrate the life of John Henry Newman. Newman was ordained a priest in the Church of England in the 1820s. He was one of the founders of the Oxford Movement, that movement in the Church of England that sought to get us back to some of our more Roman liturgical heritage. They were the ones who started what we would call the Anglo-Catholic or High Church movement. Newman produced many tracts and was an avid scholar, but eventually the church infighting got to him and he left the Church of England to become a Roman Catholic priest and eventually a Cardinal.
What is interesting is that we get this epistle lesson today about love appointed for Newman’s day: “God is love … we love because he first loved us. Those who say ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers and sisters, are liars.” We often like to focus on the God of love – we say, “it’s all about love.” But so rarely do we act like it is all about love. Like the Church of England in the 1800s, we still have denominational infighting. We have seen how tense things still are in the conversations about a new Pope. The last couple of weeks, I have heard more trash talk between Romans and Anglicans than I like to admit.
The challenge that Newman and our epistle lesson give us is the challenge to love one another. The collect for this day says, “God of all wisdom, we thank you for John Henry Newman, whose eloquence bore witness that your church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic …” We confess this in our profession of faith, but I am not sure we always believe it. Whatever denomination life has landed us in, Newman and our epistle remind us of the centrality of love. This is most important in our conversations, our actions, our prayers, and our witness. The world is not only watching the Roman Catholic Church in this new election of a Pope – the world is watching how all Christians behave, especially toward one another during this process. For as our epistle says, “those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” Our invitation today is to be a church of love. Amen.