There’s always an “only” . . . .

From the Daily Office Lectionary for Wednesday in the week of Proper 16, Year 1 (Pentecost 13, 2015)

1 Kings 3:3 ~ Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places.

Yessireebob! The Deuteronomic historians responsible for the Books of Kings loved Solomon . . . except for that one little thing: he didn’t restrict his worship to the Jerusalem Temple (which he built) and he married all those foreign wives with their foreign gods (and maybe – hint, hint, nudge, nudge – participated in their religious activities).

Those historians are a lot like . . . well . . . everyone. There always seems to be an “only” or an “except” or a “but” – often unspoken – annexed to every human word of praise or expression of love. As a parish priest, I preside at weddings from time to time (really pretty frequently) and, under the rules of the Episcopal Church, I cannot do so unless the couple has undertaken a course of premarital counseling with me. I use a testing instrument (“It’s NOT a test!” I tell every couple, but it really is – it doesn’t test their compatibility or likelihood of success; it tests their communication) which each partner completes separately; it allows each, through indications of his or her level of agreement with several statements, to express any “excepts,” any “onlies,” and any “buts” in ways which are non-threatening to his or her partner. They don’t even realize that that is what they are doing, but I do. I see it in the scoring of the instrument. We deal with it, to some extent, in the course of the counseling.

To love unconditionally, with no “onlies” and no “excepts,” with “no ifs, ands, or buts” as my late mother liked to say, is not a human capacity. The Deuteronomic historians were incapable of it. The couples I counsel in advance of their nuptials are incapable of it. You are incapable of it. I am incapable of it.

God, on the other hand . . .

I have a bumper sticker on my car which reads “God Loves You. No Exceptions.” Yesterday, I took my car to the local dealer for service. As I pulled into the garage, another customer, a woman whom I would guess to be in her late 40s or early 50s, greeted me and said, “I love your bumper sticker.” I thanked her and chatted about the PR campaign of my diocese which produced the stickers and about my church. I gave her my card and invited her to join us on Sunday. It was one of those great, unplanned encounters when one can do that. We had a great conversation.

I love the opportunity to talk with people like that woman, only . . . I don’t really expect her to show up on Sunday. See? There’s always an “only”.