I Thessalonians 2:9-13
What does it mean to live a life worthy of God?
For many people, religion is all about rules, do’s and don’ts, and communal norms that stifle the human spirit. Those who follow the rules are “one of us” but those who take a different path or have a different lifestyle are shunned, sometimes persecuted, and typically looked down up as moral inferiors.
Now my mother Loretta was proper church lady. When she married my minister dad, she quit her job and set about the task of being a minister’s wife and later a mother. When my brother Bill and I reached our teenage years, she went back to school to recertify her teaching credentials and shortly thereafter began looking for a teaching position in early childhood education. At her first interview, one with a Christian school in San Jose, California, the initial question was, “Do you go to the movies, dance, or wear makeup?” An honest lady, she knew that she’d blown the interview when she responded “yes” to all three questions. A couple decades later, as a young seminary graduate, with Ph.D. in hand, and considering going into parish ministry as part of a bi-vocational career, I had a phone interview with a pulpit committee in Indiana. Although my lifestyle is pretty tame, I was astounded that the first question they asked was “do you drink?” Now, of course I drink water and coffee, and a few other things, but the question floored me and I answered it the way they intended – that is, did I drink alcoholic beverages – and never heard from them again.
Yes, many people think being worthy of God means staying within the lines and rigidly adhering to prescribed moral codes – at least when religious authorities are looking.
In contrast, I believe “living a worthy and holy life” means something different than living by external rules and regulations, even if they come from the “old time religion.” When I think of a life worthy of God, the first word that comes to mind is “integrity.” Or as the philosopher Plato said, “I pray that my inner life and outer life be one.” A life worthy of God is a whole life – a life in which all the parts fit together, and though we are all fallible and backslide at times, we seek to be in synch with God’s vision in private as well as public, when we are alone or away from home as well as when we among those who know us. In the lives of those of us who presume to be spiritual leaders, this involves, in spite of our fallibility, “walking the talk,” and being faithful to your word, your beliefs, your stated values in relationships and in your public involvements.
Now the author of I Thessalonians was speaking to a community as well as individuals, and this same question may be asked of us, “what does it mean to live a life worthy of God? What does it mean to be faithful to the God who loves you, who gracefully cares for you and who sacrificed for your salvation?” God’s grace is always free, and God’s love comes without conditions, but, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer asserted, grace is never cheap. Our salvation demanded sacrifices of God, and in return we need to be graceful, living by the grace we’ve received in our personal and community life, and living out God’s grace in our relationship with others.
Recently, we have been pondering “Godly visions” for our church’s future, and our visioning process has been guided by a sense of mission and service. Knowing how easy it is to stay within the comfortable world of our lovely building, we have pondered what it might mean to be a church without walls, reaching out to the community in its diversity, whether at the beach, a homeless shelter, Craigville Tabernacle, or Hyannis green. We have pondered how our love of children might go beyond our small community to embrace children who have never been in a church building or whose parents struggle to put a roof over their heads.
Hospitality has been central to our visioning and we are moving beyond acceptance for one another to embrace otherness in all its forms. Will this mean that we take a stand against human trafficking or make a place where the grandparents and parents of young adults with opioid addiction can find support and inspiration? Will this mean that our congregation – already welcoming of the varieties of human experience – will declare ourselves open and affirming to the GLBT community, providing a safe and loving home for young people wrestling with questions of sexuality and identity and welcoming couples of kinds and families of every color of the rainbow?
This is where our vision is going – to grow in love as the Spirit flows through us – to expand on an earlier vision, “learning, loving and living the word of God.” By whatever way we reach out in mission, we need to take Jesus’ words to heart – the greatest must be humble, those who are faithful must serve, not as better than those whom we care for, but as joined in a web of relatedness. We are all standing in the need of grace, and those who presume to be better than those they serve, will soon turn their backs on the vulnerable when relationships become difficult.
We are all in this together – for there is no “other” – in Christ, we are joined as companions – brothers, sisters, parents, children – in a fabric of relatedness, as Martin Luther King asserted, in which our well-being requires the well-being of those whom we are honored to serve. The “dreamer child,” the opioid addict, the undocumented worker reluctant to share his identity, the homeless family, the Muslim physician – we are one, despite our differences and legal standing, and there is no other.
So, let us ask regularly “how can be of service?” Let us pray that God places a vision before us that will challenge as well as fulfill our dreams. Let us ask God to “make us worthy of God’s unconditional love” and make this community a healing light and an open door, which welcomes pilgrims as friends and companions.