Monday, February 22, 2010

Churches and Tax Exemption

Organizations that are seen as non-profit organizations that have, as a mission, a goal to serve the community are given tax-exempt status. When donations are made to these organizations, these donations are tax deductible. Churches, because they are churches, also receive this. Part of the presumption is that the churches are a benefit to the community by serving the spiritual and hopefully temporal needs of many people within the community.

In the IRS code, Section 501 3C it states:

Section 501(c)(3) organizations are restricted in how much political and legislative (lobbying) activities they may conduct. For a detailed discussion, see Political and Lobbying Activities. For more information about lobbying activities by charities, see the article Lobbying Issues; for more information about political activities of charities, see the FY-2002 CPE topic Election Year Issues.

Churches are, by design and intent, not political organizations. They do not exist to dictate to the population on how to vote and who to vote for. A church, by design, does not see the government as its authority, but God. The church can and should speak TO the government on issues of justice and ethics, but not for the government.

Churches can have positions on issues. Within American Christianity different denominations and churches have contrary issues to one another. Issues such as capital punishment, abortion, LGBT rights, etc., may have churches standing in opposition to one another. American Christianity is very much a group divided and no group can claim that they have the ‘Christian’ answer to anything. They have, and are entitled to their opinion, but no one speaks for anyone else.

But as mentioned before, churches and do have positions on issues. They may not, however, make those positions translate into anything that resembles, “Vote for...”
They also cannot make any candidate of any party their de facto favorite candidate. In preaching, ministers may say how they feel about, let’s say, capital punishment, but never take the next step to say that they are going to vote this way or that way because of this-----and encourage others to do likewise.

Well, they can do this, but if they do this, they are subject to lose their tax exempt status. Ministers can have opinions on a wide variety of subjects, but we are not allowed to preach to the congregation, leading people to believe that XYZ is the ‘candidate of choice,’ for this church.

In reality, people to not attend church to hear political speeches or sermons. If they want to hear about politics, they can stay home and watch the news. Frankly, if they come to church to listen to a political lecture, they are leaving church needing a sermon. Jesus did not ‘play nice’ with the political authorities of his day and I suspect he wouldn’t ‘play nice’ now. Jesus would never be invited to speak at either party’s convention. Both our major parties would hear blistering comments on their policies and their antics.

I read many people concerned about churches and their tax exemption status. Frankly, if churches want to be political organizations, let them be. But do not allow them to use the word ‘church’ in their name, because they are no longer churches, and remove their tax exempt status. Political organizations are fine and churches are fine. They don’t belong in the same place.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunday's Sermon

Pondering Unanswerable Questions
Can We Know God's Will?
Text: Colossians 1:9-12
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo
February 21, 2010

Money is tight and you do not have any money to purchase groceries this week. The man walking in front of you has a $100.00 slip out of his pocket and fall to the ground. He does not know he has lost it and no one has seen you pick it up. Is it God’s will for you to keep the money because of how things took place?

You really like lemon filled doughnuts at Krispy Kreme and, by chance, you are passing a Krispy Kreme. Is it God’s will for you to buy the doughnut?

There is a person you know whose life and lifestyle you don’t approve of. You decide to tell them exactly how you feel about them and their lifestyle choices. You tell them God has told you to talk to them. Was it really God’s will for you to talk to them?

You are married or in a committed relationship and you meet someone in church who you find very attractive. One thing leads to another and you become intimate and both of you determine, because you met in church, God has called you together. Was this really God’s will?

God’s will. I’m beginning this Lenten Series on Pondering Unanswerable Questions with the question: Can we know God’s will?

If I give an absolute answer to this, ‘yes’ or ‘no’ then the question is not really an unanswerable question. It is actually an amazingly complex question.

On one hand, if we believe in divine revelation, if we believe that God is still speaking as the United Church of Christ states, and if we believe that God does call people in life, if we believe the Bible is the living Word of God, then there is a sense that we do have some ability to know God’s will.

On the other hand, it seems like there is great mystery about God’s will. In this letter to the Colossians, St. Paul was praying for people unceasingly that they might be filled with God’s knowledge. God’s will, Paul seems to be implying, is something that comes only through lot of prayer and an amazing sense of obedience. Additionally, there are so many mysteries in life that we struggle with that it’s very difficult, maybe impossible, to say we have a good grasp of God’s will.

One of my favorite quotes is from Pierre Teilhard de Chard in, who was a French theologian and philosopher. He said:
He that will believe only what he can fully comprehend must have a long head or a very short creed. --

Teilhard, who rarely was simple, has a moment of stark simplicity with this. Either our brains are massive, far more massive than usual, or, our foundation of belief is too small. In essence, if we believe we can fully comprehend the will of God, than our view of God does not have a big enough God.

There are observations to be made about grappling with God’s will and they are all pretty difficult things with which to grapple.

My first observation is this. When people speak about God’s will, our society has cheapened God’s will.

Abraham Lincoln, a man who struggled with faith, probably said some of the best things about God’s will ever stated.

After the second Battle at Bull Run in 1862, a crushing defeat for the Union, Lincoln said:
The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God can not be for and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God's purpose is something different from the purpose of either party -- and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect His purpose.

In his second Inaugural Address he said:
Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully.

Political leaders rarely speak like this now. Often we hear leaders speak with a complete certainty on what God is telling them to do. Preachers don’t either.

We now have people preaching that God has spoken to them and told them to tell people that if they have real faith in God they will have a big house, a Mercedes, and all good things will come their way and they say this in spite of Jesus’ repeated warning that if we faithfully follow him we were sure to be crucified with him.

Sometimes churches have conflicts and disagreements and people say that if a church was a real church they wouldn’t have conflicts and disagreements. It presumes that someone in the church has a really clear understanding of God’s will and the other one doesn’t.

The will of God is often cheapened by culture, society, and even the church. It is much easier to profess God’s will than to totally understand it.

My second observation is that just because things happen, doesn’t make them God’s will.

Things happen. Good things happen, mundane things happen, and bad things happen. Things happen.

Not everything that happens is God’s will.

Some years ago in the small town I was serving, there were a rash of teen suicides. It was horrible. The clergy in the town met with groups of young people and parents doing pastoral care with a great effort to try and assure these tragedies would not occur any longer.

In a group discussion, one woman said that God had called the young man who committed suicide, home. It was, I’m sure, her way of coping. But she didn’t like my response when I said that God didn’t tell this boy to commit suicide. I believed in my heart of hearts that God embraced the boy, and forgave the boy, and welcome the boy to his side, but God didn’t will this young man to die. God fixed a broken life and healed a devastating wound, but God did not make the boy kill himself.

The fact that things happen does not make those things God’s will. Much of life is lived outside of God’s will. Tragedies, sins, crimes, etc., may happen, but they don’t happen because God willed them. They happen because we live in an imperfect, often broken worlds.

The third thing is this. We need to be careful not to confuse God’s will with our own will. Sometimes different people decide that Christianity as it exists is not an adequate expression of what they believe it ought to be. As a result, people end up being victimized by bad religion.

To me, one of the real tragic stories in the news has been of Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina. Comedians speak of his ‘hiking the Appalachian’ trail and find great humor in it and many people have jumped on him politically. He did have an affair and we can say that was wrong but the story is not a story that is funny or even political. It’s actually rather tragic.

Sanford belonged to a group called The Family. This group is led by a man named Doug Coe and the organization has been around for decades. It attracts people in Washington, D.C. from both parties and promotes Jesus Christ. It is often misrepresented as conservative Christianity, which it is not. It really isn’t Christian. While they read the same Bible as all other Christians, and while they pray the same prayers, there is a distinct difference. Coe promotes an idea of Jesus plus nothing. Part of this is that people empty themselves of everything leaving only Jesus----which, again, at face value is good, but it also leaves out the core of Christianity. Participants in this group believe that Jesus is speaking directly to them, unfiltered by anyone or anything else. The Bible is there’s to interpret however they want. As a result people’s own ambitions and desires become “God’s will.”

In reading about this group and Sanford, who I think is, at his core, a very good man, he embraced his own thoughts, feelings, and, frankly, lustings, as God’s will. And it cost him dearly.

In the mid 1950's an Evangelical and Reformed (which became the United Church of Christ), Pastor in Van Wert, Ohio withdrew from the denomination and started his own movement called The Way International. Victor Paul Wierwille determined that the Christian Church had lost its way in the first century and that God had sent him to redefine what God had meant all along. Thousands of people joined The Way International, generally classified as a cult, which still exists today.

Wierwille, from all accounts, had himself quite a life and the people around him enjoyed a great many luxurious excesses in the name of God’s will.

People get victimized by all of this. When we presume because we want something or will something, and pray about it, it means it’s God’s will. It may not work like that, however.

I have read numerous times that the way to determine if it’s God’s will or our own will is this. If somehow our life is made far better, more profitable, more comfortable, and gear around our own wants, then it’s probably our will at work. If our life is made more difficult, we are called on to make sacrifices, and our desires are far from met, it’s probably God’s will.

God’s will. Can we know God’s will? It is, in many ways, an unanswerable question. There are times and portions of God’s will we can truly know, but we need to always remain humble enough to recognize there is much we never know.

Teilhard de Chardin was right: He that will believe only what he can fully comprehend must have a long head or a very short creed. --

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Friday, February 19, 2010

Finding Redemption

Beyond golf, beyond Nike, beyond so many other endorsements and commercial opportunities lost, there stood before the world a man today hoping for a second chance with his wife and family.

Tiger Woods gave his speech today and it was a good one. For people who said it was too controlled, too unemotional, look at the speaker. Tiger Woods is not an outwardly emotional man. Today he was just a real guy apologizing to the world and to his family for incredibly bad behavior.

Tiger Woods seems like he ventured into golf like a super man and into life like a 14 year old boy amongst a lot of girls who said ‘yes,’ way too quickly. He was totally in control of the sporting aspect of his life, and demonstrated the restraint of a middle school boy in another part of his life. The superman and the boy crashed into each other and it was ugly.

Many people are upset because he didn’t answer questions. Good for him. Those answers are between he and Elin, he and his therapist. People want to know more because there is a voyeuristic ghoulishness to so many of us. Tell us the gory, sexy details!!! So do many clamor and Tiger ignored them. Good for him.

Good for defending his wife and children and mother. Good for his mother who, as disgusted as she was, stayed there for her son, and embraced him lovingly at the end.

And, good for Elin for not being there. What they have to grapple with is meant for behind closed doors. Her body language and facial expressions would have been analyzed for the next decade. Her dignity is more important than our analysis.

Tiger Woods did something admirable. He apologized. He said he was sorry and he didn’t follow it up with, “But....” When people stick that ‘but’ into apologies, those apologies turn into rationalizations. Tiger did not rationalize but more confessed.

He is a man hoping to find redemption. The first step was apologizing. He did the first step well. The next step is living the apology. Finding redemption begins with words, and is lived by living those words.

I hope and pray he is able to.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Blasphemous Project

The Conservative Book (aka Bible) Project.

Who knew? A revisionist Bible is in the works.

They write:

As of 2009, there is no fully conservative translation of the Bible which satisfies the following ten guidelines:

1. Framework against Liberal Bias: providing a strong framework that enables a thought-for-thought translation without corruption by liberal bias
2. Not Emasculated: avoiding unisex, "gender inclusive" language, and other feminist distortions; preserve many references to the unborn child (the NIV deletes these)
3. Not Dumbed Down: not dumbing down the reading level, or diluting the intellectual force and logic of Christianity[4]; the NIV is written at only the 7th grade level[5]
4. Utilize Powerful Conservative Terms: using powerful new conservative terms to capture better the original intent;[6] Defective translations use the word "comrade" three times as often as "volunteer"; similarly, updating words that have a change in meaning, such as "word", "peace", and "miracle".
5. Combat Harmful Addiction: combating addiction[7] by using modern terms for it, such as "gamble" rather than "cast lots";[8] using modern political terms, such as "register" rather than "enroll" for the census
6. Accept the Logic of Hell: applying logic with its full force and effect, as in not denying or downplaying the very real existence of Hell or the Devil.
7. Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning
8. Exclude Later-Inserted Inauthentic Passages: excluding the interpolated passages that liberals commonly put their own spin on, such as the adulteress story
9. Credit Open-Mindedness of Disciples: crediting open-mindedness, often found in youngsters like the eyewitnesses Mark and John, the authors of two of the Gospels
10. Prefer Conciseness over Liberal Wordiness: preferring conciseness to the liberal style of high word-to-substance ratio; avoid compound negatives and unnecessary ambiguities; prefer concise, consistent use of the word "Lord" rather than "Jehovah" or "Yahweh" or "Lord God."

There should be one thing made clear. There is no such thing as a conservative Bible or a liberal Bible or a moderate Bible. There is only the Holy Bible. Period. When one decides to slant the Bible to fit a political agenda, it is no longer a Bible. Hence, I will not call this a Bible. It’s the Conservative Book Project.

First, some things need to be said about the Bible.

The Bible is compilation of books from the Hebrew Scriptures often referred to as the Old Testament, and a compilation of books from the early Christian Church often referred to as the New Testament. Through long periods of discernment, study, prayer, and a belief in divine revelation, leaders with Judaism created a corpus of Scripture as did leaders within early Christianity. The only major revision of the New Testament was made at the time of the Protestant Reformation when Martin Luther dropped Old Testament books with no sources in Hebrew. Martin Luther wrestled with other books and wrestled with parts of other books, but did not make revisions to manuscripts.

Often people within Protestant churches believe that the ‘Roman Catholic Bible’ has books in it that refer strictly to Roman Catholicism. Not true. The books that remain are Old Testament books, mostly Wisdom Literature, that have comparable information and teaching to other books. Luther’s determination was strictly language.

Bible translations, real translations, have been produced by scholars who painstakingly translate the original Hebrew and Ancient Greek into our modern languages, in our case, English. How translations come to be may vary.

Some translations tend to be more literal in terms of the fact that they will try to line the words up as exactly as they can. If you have ever taken a foreign language, you know that translations are difficult to do literally while retaining the smooth flow of the language. Most very literal translations have very little circulation. They are not easy or fun to read.

Most translations attempt to translate the ancient languages with complete accuracy, while making the wording smooth in modern English. The goal is to accurately take the words of the early manuscripts and make them intelligible to the modern era.

Some translations have their own little flair to them. The Jerusalem Bible and its following up The New Jerusalem Bible use the Hebrew names for God, such as Yahweh, in the Old Testament which is amazingly good in doing Bible study. I think it is by far and away the best translation of the Old Testament available. The New Revised Standard Version is noted for not using exclusive pronouns and nouns where the meaning is definitely for everyone. If something is meant for everyone as brothers and sisters, the words brothers and sisters are used instead of just brothers. The usage of inclusive language is meant to convey the meaning of the text in a contemporary form.

There are even paraphrased books like “The Message” which are really wonderful, but don’t call themselves the Bible but paraphrases of the Bible. They are not biased, however, and well done.

The Bible is not liberal or conservative and was never meant to be. It is the Bible. Translations are not done with a liberal or conservative bias but with a real dedication to maintaining the text. If you want to read the bias, read the footnotes. The footnotes are where the bias shows up.

The Conservative Book Project is not going to be a translation of the Bible. It is a revision of the King James Version of the Bible. The King James Version is an old translation that was a landmark and a masterpiece in its day. The language has changed and translators have a better grasp of the nuances of the ancient languages now, so there are better translations available than the King James Version. But, having said that, the King James Version is a notable translation and to just ‘revise’ it is disgraceful. To revise it and call it a Bible is sinful.

The Conservative Book Project is not going to be the Bible. It is being edited to exclude things some people do not agree with. And to exclude ‘liberal wordiness’ by not using the name Yahweh is a major HUH? Liberal wordiness to call God by God’s Hebrew name? This is making use of the words liberal and conservative just to use the words.

I might add that there is nothing conservative about the Conservative Book Project. Nothing. No person who is a conservative and also a Christian would ever contemplate extracting things from the Bible. Frankly, I can’t think of anyone, liberal, conservative, moderate, or otherwise believing in extracting things from the Bible. No doubt everyone wishes there were things not in the Bible that are; there are things that make everyone uncomfortable, but to have the hubris to extract things from the Bible and change words to suit a political perspective is blasphemous.

The Bible, as the Bible, does not support a political bias. Actually, if one was honest, the Bible, as the Bible, often confronts political perspectives. The Bible does go after our human frailty and our human perspectives. Jesus was incredibly confrontational. He attacked the status quo with vim, vigor, and glee to the point that it got him killed. The Bible often is a great comfort when we hurt; it is often a great giver of affliction when we become arrogant. The Bible stands for itself as a lamp unto God.

Every person who has read the Bible with the eyes of a person of faith has had their heart and mind and gut tugged at. Every person has come to a realization that the life they live is a life imperfectly lived. Every person has been uncomfortable and wanted to disagree with Jesus. The Bible is a constant reminder to all of us that God has questions for us and challenges for us that are difficult to confront.

One group of people decided they had the hubris to call the Bible biased and decided to revise it to their perspective.

Years ago, Thomas Jefferson decided there were parts of the Bible he didn’t like either. He removed large sections of it and tried to pass it off as the Jeffersonian Bible. He was widely condemned for it. It was a disgrace.

And it still is.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Lent from Clueless Christian

I’ve never known much to do about Lent. I know this sounds crazy since I am a member of the clergy and all that wonderful stuff, but Lent has always befuddled me. I’m something of a clueless Christian at Lent.

Lent is based upon the Bible telling us that Jesus spent 40 days and nights in fasting and prayer in the desert before beginning his earthly ministry. We are invited, as Christians, to do likewise. We are challenged to, in some way, make a time of sacrifice and reflection during the Lenten Season.

Some folks give things up for Lent. Preferably the ‘giving up’ is based on giving up something we like. Many people give up soda, or ice cream, or chocolate. Rarely does it seem that people give up things like brussels sprouts with some sense they are making a sacrifice. At least that’s what everyone tells me when I say that I’m giving up brussels sprouts.

I’ve often wondered if this ‘giving something up’ is a good idea. Actually, in all honesty, I have resisted it. I’ve always thought it was more important to take something else on. The problem often occurs, however, that I never get around to adding anything and I never give anything up and so Lent ends up being relatively hollow.

So this year, I’m thinking it’s a good year to give something up. I’m still thinking about what it is. It has to be something significant, but something I can truly live without. The thought process is hard at work. I shall not allow Lent to get past me this year.

Conversely, there are things to take on. I’ve decided to challenge myself doing a sermon series on pondering unanswerable questions. If people come to these looking for answers, I’ll be pretty clear. They are unanswerable questions. They really are. Lent also seems to be a good time to get off my hindquarters and get myself into some sort of shape. Even bad shape would be an improvement att his point.

One thing to note. If you’re one of those people who wrestles and struggles with Lent, please know you’re not alone. Even the ‘pros’ do!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Love----Sunday's Sermon

Text: 1 Corinthians 13
February 14, 2010
Rev. Dr. John E. Manzo

Today is Valentine’s Day and it seems most appropriate to talk about love.

Valentine’s Day is one of those days when if you have people who love you in life, it’s great; and if you don’t, it’s a day that sets people off ranting. It can be a sweet day if you have a special someone to share it with; or a day when people might be reminded, almost cruelly, that, at the moment, they don’t have a special someone. If business is good, Valentine’s Day can be a great day for people who sell flowers. If you’ve ever lost a loved one near Valentine’s Day the purchasing of flowers is twice as expensive making the experience all the more painful.

And, of course, if you go out to eat on Valentine’s Day there are always “Valentine’s Day Specials,” which promise to cost more than average.

So, now that I have everyone suitably depressed about Valentine’s Day, we can start the sermon.

We have all heard the words of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. Most people, if there was a poll as to favorite piece of Scripture, would probably include 1 Corinthians 13 and the 23rd Psalm in their list. It is a Scripture used often at weddings and even at funerals. The words of St. Paul, about love, are classic and beautiful words. There is a cosmic elegance to the words he uses them and Paul’s statements about love are universally true. We know those words and we strive to live those words. To really get what St. Paul is driving at, however, we need to see what he is saying in context, something we rarely do with this passage.

The Corinthian church was a mess. It was a church badly divided and highly conflicted. There were theological, political, and economic divisions that were seriously dividing the church. Paul’s letter was a letter with one main agenda. His goal was to get people re-connected with one another, or, maybe better said, even connected in the first place. His premise was to unite a divided church.

In the course of his letter he writes of spiritual gifts and that everyone has some spiritual gifts to offer. There are, however, three that everyone needs to have, faith, hope, and, most importantly, love. 1 Corinthians 13 is a statement on the spiritual gift of love.

Paul’s words on love are universal words. They are not words specifically for people in committed relationships to each other, but they apply. They are not words specifically for parents and children, but they apply. They are not words specifically for friendship, but they apply. The words of Paul apply to people as community of faith or individually. They are words meant on interacting with family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers. They are even words meant for interacting with people we may not like.

There are three points that St. Paul is making that I want to focus on. The first aspect of love that is an over-riding aspect is that love is respectful of others.

If we read the words from verses 4-7 this becomes readily apparent:
4Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

I’ve often thought about this and how easy it is to become disrespectful of others. I’ve done it, and I’m sure most everyone has done it.

I love the use of disclaimers, like using disclaimers make things okay.

Sometimes we’ll say something like, “With all due respect,” and then show a complete lack of respect for a person; presuming of course, by saying, ‘with all due respect,” made it okay.

Or, “I don’t mean to offend you, but,” and then they offend you.

Or, “I really shouldn’t be saying this, but,” and then they say it.

My favorite, of course, is when people say, “I say this in all Christian love,” and then they eviscerate whoever they were speaking to.

The premise of course is this. If you say a disclaimer, you can be as disrespectful as you want to be. This is, of course, completely bogus. Love is patient and kind. Patience and kindness demands we be respectful of others. It doesn’t matter if they are a spouse or partner, child, friend, relative, classmate, church-mate, stranger on the street. Paul’s words yell out to us to be patient and kind. It means that whoever we meet in life, whoever we interact with, is a person we must treat with respect. That is what the mandate of love means.

A second thing is this. Love, real love, is humble in nature.

Whenever I used to read this passage I used to wonder about a part of it that seemed to be disconnected from the rest of the chapter:

9For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12For now we see in a mirror, dimly,£ but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

Paul is making an observation about our ability to know. His observation is this. Our ability to know is very limited. We see as in a mirror, dimly. He goes on to reference things from the perspective as a child and as an adult.

Sometimes Sunday School teachers hear some interesting perspectives from children.

A Sunday School teacher was describing that when Lot's wife looked back at Sodom she turned into a pillar of salt, when Bobby interrupted. "My mommy looked back once while she was driving," he announced, "and she turned into a telephone pole."

Another Sunday School teacher said to her children, "We have been learning about how powerful the kings and queens were in Biblical times. But there is a higher power. Who can tell me what it is?" Tommy blurted out, "I know, Aces."

Lot again... A father was reading Bible stories to his young son. He read, "The man named Lot was warned to take his wife and flee out of the city, but his wife looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt."

His son asked, "What happened to the flea?"

These are amusing and we laugh at the funny questions children ask about God and the Bible. But, ponder this. These children are us compared to God. The knowledge we have is feeble. In the Book of Job, when Job wants to know why all these terrible things happened to him, God’s response to Job was to humble Job. We do not stand on equal footing with God.

The last thing I want to add to this are also words of St. Paul. Paul says that love never ends. Love is known by its endurance.

Giacomo Puccini was the great composer of operas like Madame Butterfly, La Boheme. He was rather young and contracted cancer, but he chose to spend his last days writing his final opera, Turandot, arguably, his most polished piece.

When his friends and disciples would say to him, “You are ailing, take it easy and rest.” He would always respond, “I’m going to do as much as I can on my piece and it’s up to you, my friends, to finish it if I don’t.”

Well, Puccini died before the opera was completed. Now his friends had a choice. They could forever mourn their friend and return to life as usual or they could build on his melody and his genius and complete what he had started.

They chose the latter.

So in 1926, La Scala Opera House in Milan, Turandot was performed for the first time. The famous Arturo Toscanini conducted.

In the middle of second act, Toscanini stopped everything, turned around with tears welling up in his eyes, and said to the crammed opera house,” This is where the maestro ends. He wept.

But then, after a few moments, he lifted his head, smiled broadly, and said, “And this is where his friends began,” raising the baton, and he finished the opera.

The legacy of the love and friendship of others helped finish the opera. Their love of their friend, and his love of them had a sense of endurance to it.

Ultimately, we are told to love everyone as brothers and sisters in Christ because we are not wise enough not to. If we want any chance of understanding God, at all, we need to learn to stand humbly before each other and love one another and do so with endurance.

Today is Valentine’s Day, a day about love. So let’s do it and love one another as Christ loves us.