That is one heavy word which we try to avoid, if possible, but it also represents the most attractive characteristic in a person. Loyalty demands from each of us a kind of commitment centered on love and faithfulness. Our reality is one where every single sphere of relationship in our lives thrives on loyalty. Yes, friends, employers, colleagues, partners, family, and even God all demand our loyalty.
There’s a story of a group of twenty-three South Korean missionaries who were captured in Afghanistan by the Taliban in 2007. They were terrified. The Taliban separated the group, isolated them, and confiscated their possessions. One of the Korean women, however, managed to hold on to her Bible. She ripped it into twenty-three pieces and secretly gave each of them a portion so that, wherever they were, each person could read a part of Scripture when no one was watching.
The group was aware that the Taliban had decided to kill them, one at a time. One by one, the missionaries surrendered their lives again to Jesus saying, "Lord, if you want me to die for your sake I’ll do it." The pastor shared this with the group: "I’ve talked to [the Taliban] because they are going to start killing us and I’ve told their leaders that if anyone dies, I die first because I am your pastor." Another said, "No, because I also am a pastor and I am your elder. I die first."
The pastor’s response was, "You are not ordained. I have been ordained; I die first." And sure enough, he did. Two more were killed before the rest were eventually rescued. While in captivity, this group of missionaries demonstrated extraordinary loyalty to God, and to each other - a test of their love and faithfulness.
The most remarkable thing about Christianity is not that courageous people give up their lives out of loyalty to a God whose existence we can’t absolutely prove and whose faithfulness we can’t guarantee. The most remarkable thing is the conviction that God continues to be loyal to us, however unworthy of that trust we prove to be. The real question from a Christian perspective is not whether we will regret loyalty to God, but rather will God regret loyalty to us?
Jesus found out at a very crucial moment in his life that he couldn’t rely on the support of his closest followers. They betrayed, denied, or fled. Can you imagine?!? Their flight away from their friend is a reminder of how broken loyalty destroys relationships, and undermines faith in each other and in God. In the end, faith isn’t about specific beliefs or passionate convictions or particular rituals, it’s about being drawn to a higher loyalty – and moments of crisis or decision simply reveal to us, and to others, what that higher loyalty is.
It is to this higher loyalty that I seek your support and conviction. Beginning this Sunday at 9:30 a.m. in Old Brick and over the coming autumn months, we will hold several Town Hall Meetings, as well as House Meeting discussions in a variety of parishioners' homes. These conversations will not only be about everything related to the challenges and opportunities that abound here at Christ Episcopal Church, but it will also be about casting a broader vision of the Christ Church we want to see in the future - a spiritual home of mission, formation, spiritual nourishment, and nurturing.
Most critically, as we look towards the celebration of our 300-year anniversary in 2027 the question is, how do we best honor those whose profound sense of loyalty to God, and to each other, led them to originally establish this church? The follow-up question is, how will we stand on that same loyalty, and build a church that can last for the next 300 years? It may seem that 2027 is a long time away, but every bit of preparation we make now will help draw us ever more deeply into the tomorrow we want to see, and the sort of church we want to build for the next generation of Christians here in Columbia, and beyond.
Loyalty asks, "Can I count on your support?" The answer we may dread is, "Well, it depends on what you’re asking of me." St. Augustine writes that “There is no greater consolation than the unfeigned loyalty and mutual affection of good and true friends.” You have been exceptionally kind and gracious to our Christ Church. Your sense of devotion to this place, and its mission, extends beyond words, and I am continually humbled by all things that you do to bring life to this community of faith. You have been amazingly good and incredible friends of Christ Church, and I have resolute faith that you will continue to do so.
As we make this turn and look beyond the horizon, the Lord invites us. He says, “Come now, and let us reason together." I pray that the sense of higher loyalty, of love, and of faithfulness will move us to join in this vital visioning process.
Your voice is as important as mine, so come and let us reason and dream together.
See you on Sunday.