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The Way to Love Jesus

On Saturday, February 17, 2024, Allen Michael Junek was ordained into the sacred priesthood of the Episcopal Church. I had the privilege of attending Fr. Junek’s ordination service among a sea of his family, friends, supportive parishioners, and several of us robed clergy types. At the end of the service, Allen gave words of gratitude to the congregation. Looking at his parents and sister, who were sitting on the front row, he began by saying to them, “Thank you for letting me love Jesus this way.”

Allen came to our United Church of Christ congregation of Friends Church when he was a student at Texas A&M by way of the Church of Christ, in which he was raised. At Friends, he felt a call to ministry. He pursued it, and in that process, Allen discerned that he was called to the priesthood. There’s much more to his faith journey, but from that snapshot you can see why a newly ordained Allen would thank his family, that was with him every step on that winding road to his ordination, for allowing him to love Jesus the way that he did and does. It’s a testament to his authenticity as a servant of God called to the priesthood, and to the grace and unconditional love, reflective of the Christ Allen follows and serves, shown by his family.

Allen’s public gratitude to his parents and sister has me thinking about the ways we love Jesus, and how those ways—like Allen’s alternating path to the priesthood—might make those accustomed to a particular way of practicing their faith squirm.

I’m thinking about Laura, who always sat at the front of the sanctuary in the Baptist church where I once served and would stand when anything was read from the gospels, while everyone else in the congregation remained seated. A lot of us thought that was weird, but the look of reverence on Laura’s face when she stood for readings from Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John said it all: “This is the way I love Jesus.”

I’m thinking about Josh, who would email me some Sunday afternoons saying, “There were a few times in the sermon when I really wanted to say ‘amen’ out loud, but I didn’t know if that was ok. I didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable.” Josh was asking permission to love Jesus the way the knew how; the way that was authentic to his faith expression.

During this season of Lent, these 40 days where we intentionally examine our relationship with God and one another, and our discipleship with Christ, maybe another part of the faith we practice could use some assessment: the way we love Jesus. How do we do that? How do we express that love of the One God called “My Beloved”? How do we show our love of Jesus, who embodied and exemplified the essence of God—love itself in the flesh—and carried that divine personhood to the cross, to the tomb, and into everlasting life for the sake of the whole world? What is the way we love Jesus? And is it true to our unmistakable self? True to who we are as God’s beloved child, fearfully and wonderfully made, called in our unique way to live and love in this world that God so loves?

There’s more to Allen loving Jesus the way he does than a path swerving between churches. Allen is a gay man who was told along his journey of faith that he could not be gay and be a Christian. In his head and heart, Allen knew that was a lie. He knew, as so many beloved children of God know, that God doesn’t make junk, and that each and every one of us, made in Their image, are called to love one another as we love ourselves—our true selves. From those faithful expressions of justice, mercy, and compassionate servanthood, the world will come to know the liberating love of God in Christ Jesus.

What Allen was being led to believe was that he could not love Jesus as his authentic self; that he could not love Jesus that way. God saw different. Look at Allen now. Amen.


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