Readings for April 29, 2018
1 John 3:18-24
The motto for the state of Missouri is the “Show Me State.” Reportedly, in 1899, U.S. Representative Willard Vandiver said, “Frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I’m from Missouri. You’ve got to show me” (Missouri Secretary of State Records and Archives, http://www.sos.mo.gov). Nearly two thousand years earlier, Saint John calls out the same message, “Let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.”
The disciples in Jerusalem may have had a motto similar to Missouri when considering Saul’s conversion story. Saul had been a persecutor of Christians in the past, so the disciples weren’t exactly going to be convinced by a few frothy, elegant words stating that he believed in God now. It was going to take more than words from Saul to convince the disciples, they needed to be shown that Saul was truly a changed man. Enter Barnabas. It was not until the testimony of Barnabas to the Apostles regarding his work in Damascus that the Apostles became more hospitable.
The early Church was “at peace … being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord, and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit.” Sadly, since then, Church history has not been so kind. Particularly since the largely political split of the Western Church in the 16th Century, there has been more division than peace. One debate that has raged on is “faith versus works.” The disagreement pits against one another a dogma of confessing a belief in God versus showing a belief in God. Though I find this distinction to be principally based in linguistic emphasis, and I believe that faith and works are two sides of the same coin, the debate has been fodder for maintaining an unfortunate dissonance among the Christian faithful for the past 500 years. It seems likely that the Protestant reformers no more meant that a singular admission of faith is alone a final account of salvation than did the Roman Catholics mean that entrance to eternal life in heaven could somehow be “earned” by good works. But lines were drawn and we persist in our semantic disparity as we have since the Tower of Babel (with the notable exceptions of Pentecost and the peace-filled, exponential growth of the early Church). This divide makes it difficult for us to carry out Jesus’ stated mission: gathering all believers as one nation (John 10:16 and John 11:52).
So how do we go about setting aside our politics and our semantics and become one nation of believers, a Church at peace? I think this Sunday’s second reading paints a more complete picture of this path to salvation. As individuals, we are called to “have confidence in God” and “keep His commandments and do what pleases Him.” There is no single assertion of faith, no specific works of service, but rather “those who keep His commandments remain in Him, and He in them.” If all of us Christian faithful focus on keeping His commandments and we all remain in Him, then that will be our one nation.
Being a part of one vine of believers means a living faith, guided by the Holy Spirit, walking in peace and growing in numbers. And, as Jesus indicates, there is little consolation for unproductive branches. Indeed, the appraisal of my faith will be concluded when the vine grower prunes those branches that do not bear fruit to make more room for those that do. In essence, it seems God will not be satisfied with the frothy eloquence of my words of faith. Rather, He tells me to “prove it!”
Faith is an incredible gift given through grace from a merciful and loving God. It is both unearned and undeserved by those to whom the gift is given. The best thing I can do to love God in return is to reflect that gift in the way in which I live. I must love others. I must be grateful in all things. I must bring others into the fold—gather, not scatter. Only when the life I live reflects the belief I confess will the “proof” of my faith be evident. And so I pray,
O Lord my God, may I fulfill my vows before those who fear You so to bear fruit for Your Kingdom. Help me to remain in You so that You remain in me. May I reflect the sacrificial love of Your Son as I encounter others in my life and may the love I share bring peace to Your Church. I ask this in your name. Amen