We are a silly species when you really think about it. Really we are. More to the point, we are a people of convenience. We tend to interpret the world and especially our “values” and our “principles” in ways that make things easy for ourselves.
I think of the movie the Godfather, which portrayed, correctly or not, the Italian mafia. The men plotted by day the demise of other men or the stealing of their property, but on Sunday they genuflected and crossed themselves as they accepted communion. Convenient?
I few days ago, a commenter on another blog related that after a woman had said really nasty things about the President in not repeatable graphic fashion, he asked, “and I suppose this is an example of Christian charity?” The woman responded with a certain self-righteousness, “God will forgive me any sins I have just by asking him to.” Convenient?
The readings today, remind us that our self-serving definitions and interpretations may not serve us well at all. The words of Moses come to us in Deuteronomy 11:18.26-28.32.
“See I set before you today a blessing and a curse: a blessing if you obey the commandments of the Lord our God that I enjoin on you today; a curse, if you disobey the commandments of the Lord your God and leave the way I have marked out for you today, by going after other gods you have not known. You must keep and observe all the laws and customs that I set before you today.”
Moses makes it clear: DO right, don’t just mouth right. Obedience is an action, not an afterthought. You don’t have a perpetual “get out of jail” free card.
Now, I don’t believe in literal concepts of heaven and hell. I believe that we seek unity with God. That is the goal. To have God perfectly present to us in every moment. That is the unity of singleness that Jesus achieved and attempted to teach us. That is how we are as Spirit, and it is how we are able to be in our humanity. If we work at it–actively.
When we emulate the teachings of Jesus, we move toward that unity and we find peace and joy in our lives. When we go it alone, acting out of our baser evolutionary beginnings, we generally spend a lot of time in fear, and that is not a happy state to be in.
Yet, we don’t like to think about these Jesus truths. Why? Because we are busy going after other gods as Moses put it. We are intent on money, and fame, and fortune, and things. And so we turn to what Paul appeared to say to the Romans:
“[We] are justified through the free gift of his grace by being redeemed in Christ Jesus who was appointed by God to sacrifice his life so as to win reconciliation through faith since, as we see it, a man is justified by faith and not by doing something the Law tells him to do.” (3:21-25.28)
So many of our believing friends love words like this, since it “lets them off the hook.” Paul appears to say that works, or DOING mean nothing, it is pure faith that saves. And we all know the types don’t we? Those who invoke God every third sentence, yet don’t ever seem to DO anything that suggests they have gotten the message. Jesus is avoided, Paul seems much easier to follow.
Yet, if read carefully, Paul only means that faith is a gift freely given. And we cannot, truthfully, work out way into heaven. Yet, he also tells us that those who have accepted their faith and really believe what has been preached, NATURALLY act it out in various good works.
And this is precisely what Jesus says in Matthew 7:21-27:
“It is not those who say to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven. When the day comes many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, cast out demons in your name, work many miracles in your name?’ Then I shall tell them to their faces: I have never known you, away from me, you evil men.”
Don’t in other words strut around the streets and church pews spouting my words, shouting your faith to the heavens. DO what the Father wants. Feed the hungry, tend to the sick, free the imprisoned, clothe the naked. DO the works of LOVE. DO, not say. DO, not judge. DO, not preach. DO, DO, DO.
It strikes me today, as Lent approaches, that doing is a better way of experiencing this most important of seasons. Doing rather than “giving up X”. What are you planning this Lenten season? What can you DO to evidence your faith and your seeking?