Sunday, October 31, 2021

The righteous will live by faith

Today is remembered as Reformation Day in some Christian circles: the day on which Martin Luther challenged the Roman Catholic church on selling indulgences, among other matters, and advocated the priority of faith. I mean "priority" in more than one of its meanings, so to be clear: both the importance of faith, and the fact that faith comes before the resulting works.

Jesus taught that evil comes from the heart: immorality, theft, adultery, murder, and such begin as internal matters. Before there are works of evil, there are thoughts and desires of evil. Consider the much-neglected commandments against coveting: you shall not covet your neighbor's property, or his wife, or his workers, or anything pertaining to our neighbor. Coveting property leads to theft. Coveting someone's spouse leads to adultery. In some cases, it has been known to lead to murder. The seeds of the evil to come were planted as coveting. The deeds followed from thoughts and desires that were encouraged. 

And the righteous live by faith. It begins as an internal matter. Long before Mother Theresa was a saint, she learned to value compassion and humility -- to see other people through the eyes of faith, as valuable in God's sight. Long before Abraham was anyone's father, he learned faith: to trust that God could keep a promise to bring offspring even from an old man such as he was. Long before we step out in faith, before we find our own calling, we learn the thoughts and desires of the heart that come from faith. We learn holiness and compassion. We learn to trust God's thoughts more than our own. We learn the wisdom of both righteousness and forgiveness. We learn the immeasurable importance of loving our neighbors. We learn what it means to desire mercy rather than sacrifice. It starts as small as a mustard seed, and grows until it is a refuge or sanctuary in this world. 

Faith, hope, and love are closely intertwined. It is hard to have one without having all three. God's love creates our faith. Our faith lives out God's love.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Fellowship: A friend closer than a brother

Family relationships can be complicated. Old rivalries, disputes, distance, differences of priorities, so many things can drive us apart from the small list of people who are closely related by blood. 

Few things feel as satisfying as keeping company with those who are close in heart, mind, and soul. 

"There is a friend that sticks closer than a brother." - Proverbs 18:24

The friends that are close to our heart may share traits with us that we do not share with our own families. We may share common goals, work on common tasks, or have the same creative pursuits. We find that Christ also intends his people to work together, as he sent out his apostles two by two rather than alone. Fellowship is not an optional part of our Christian walk. It is not possible to learn to love our neighbor or the rest of humanity when we are alone. May we be blessed to find that friend that sticks closer than a brother.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Fellowship: Strength and Hope in Adversity

Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falls; for he has no other to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken. -- Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 

There is a blessing in the simple presence of another who is well-disposed toward us. The difference between a manageable problem and a disaster can be as simple as whether there is anyone there to help. Earlier this year, in freezing weather without power for several days, I was reminded of the simple reality of the need for warmth; even being in the same room with another person helps with a true survival need. Sometimes There is a phrase people use to devalue an easy job: it is called a "warm body" job, meaning that anyone who is still alive -- who has a warm body -- can do it. Being a friend is a warm body job; still it's one of the greatest blessings we can give each other. That can be literal warmth in dangerously cold weather. But the world can be a cold place in ways that have nothing to do with the weather, and a friend is welcome then too.

The difference between a bad day and a good day can be as simple as whether anyone is there to share it. Of course things are not always so simple; another person may be an enemy or a critic instead of a friend. Even at a time like that, life is a team sport: we may be able to withstand an enemy if we have the company of friends. 

It is part of our calling as people of God to be people of God together, for each other. We are called to be each others' strength, to ease each others' way. Our presence can be an assurance to others, can be that presence that keeps disaster further away. Two are better than one.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Fellowship: The gifts I have -- and those I do not have

Now there are various gifts, but the same Spirit. There are various services, but the same Lord. There are various works, but the same God works all in all [of us]. Now to each one, the Spirit's manifestation is given for benefit. To one is given a message of wisdom, to another the word of knowledge, by the same Spirit. To another, faith by the same Spirit, to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit. To another, the working of miracles; to another, the discerning of spirits; to another various tongues; to another, the interpretation of tongues. And in all these, the one and the same Spirit works, distributing to each according to his purpose. -- St Paul, I Corinthians 12:7-11

It is plain enough that there are abilities each of us has, and that each of us lacks. Even with the gift of the Holy Spirit, still we find ourselves with different gifts. Fellowship does something for us together that we cannot do apart: it gives us together the sum of our gifts, including the gifts we do not have ourselves. If my neighbor has a gift which I do not, it is no benefit to me unless I know my neighbor. One has wisdom without knowledge, and is lacking. One has knowledge without faith, and is lacking. Another has faith but little ability to communicate. Even though human nature is easily swayed to jealousy or competition, the gifts are not in competition. It is easy to worry that their gift outshines mine or lessens mine; it is easy to overlook that without each other, our gifts can easily remain unfulfilled. My gifts are not in competition with theirs, but can extend and complete theirs. And without each others' gifts, mine are lessened; theirs are lessened. Our gifts are of best effect when added together.

Lord, grant us to gladly see in each other what we miss in ourselves, and without shame or jealousy view our neighbors' gifts as blessings, and without haughtiness use our gifts to bless, and to expand the reach of our neighbors' gifts.

Sunday, October 03, 2021

Fellowship: Iron sharpens iron

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. -- Proverbs 27:17 

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. 

Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.

Saint Ambrose and Saint Augustine. 

Saint Francis and Saint Claire. 

Professor Tolkien and Professor Lewis. 

Many people are on a quest to become the best possible version of themselves. Some even see it as a form of service or worship. But the ones who go farthest down that road often spark a special connection with another on the same road. Whether they are friends or rivals, having someone else on that level challenges people to reach deeper into themselves, to strive harder, and ultimately to reach levels that they would not have attained by themselves. 

Lord, may we bless you for the gift of fellowship. Grant that we all may meet those who sharpen us. May we delight in their companionship on the road. May we bless your name as we find those traveling the same path. May our fellowship glorify you.