"The inner journey, pursued faithfully and well, always takes us back to the world of action." Parker Palmer
Over the years that I have been involved in ministry, I have come to the conclusion that right doctrine takes a back seat to right living. That orthodoxy is not nearly as important as orthopraxis. I don’t think adherence to creeds is as important as a life of deeds. Of course, this sometimes gets me in trouble with those who want to say I am arguing for salvation by works instead of grace. To which my reply is always Matthew 25 and Jesus’ Parable of the Sheep and Goats where the place of eternal habitation was not based on what one believed, but how one treated others, specifically those who are on the margins of society. Even the Apostle Paul wrote, in the book of Romans no-less, that God’s righteous judgement will be revealed and God will repay each one according to their deeds (2:5-6).
The truth is, for me, the Christian faith is no longer about how I get to heaven and avoid hell. It is about how I live in this world as a follower of Jesus. How do I live as a person who seeks to practice love for all, including my enemy? In what ways can I work to tear downs walls of prejudice and hatred that have been built up over the centuries. How do I stand up for the truth that every human being has been created in the image of God in a world where special privilege is given to those of a certain race or class? What am I doing to feed the hungry, provide shelter for the homeless and sanctuary for the refugee? What am I doing to further the kingdom of God that Jesus came preaching about?
Recently, in the congregation I serve, someone brought to our attention a study done called “Virginia Millennials Come of Age.” It was about the social, economic and political traits of the millennial generation in Virginia. One of the highlights of the study was the high percentage of millennials who wanted to be involved in service opportunities to their community (75%). Many were looking toward churches to be an avenue through which they could fulfill this desire. If we believe that our faith is more about deeds than creeds, then we have a natural inroad to this group that has largely become absent from the pews. If we can understand that church doesn’t just happen on Sunday in the classroom or the sanctuary, but that church happens whenever we work together to lessen the difficult plight of others.
I do not mean that this should be understood as another “evangelism strategy;” an effort to keep alive the institution of the church, as we have understood it, by getting younger people involved. It does mean a whole new way of understanding the body of Christ existing in this world. It means the church is not the people who set themselves apart by a system of beliefs, it is a group of people who engages the world for the sake of creating a world of peace, equality and justice. I have spent a lot of time over the years working with the ministry Habitat for Humanity which builds simple, decent and affordable housing. Habitat’s founder, Millard Fuller, once said this, “Habitat is unashamedly a Christian ministry. And it is precisely because it is a Christian ministry that we work with people of all faiths and no faith. Because that is what we believe Jesus would have us to do.”
In the middle of writing this post, I went and worked at Oasis Social Ministry. I go there on some Thursdays with members of my congregation. We join with others and serve food to whoever comes. Those that do come are considered our “guests” and they are treated with dignity and respect. The posted sign reminds us of that. Today we served bacon-cheeseburgers, French fries, fruit salad and vegetable soup. There was no preaching with words. I did hear some singing, but not certain it was the hymns. There were definitely some heads bowed in prayer and gratitude before the food was eaten. If someone were to ask me when was the last time I was at church, I would say “Today, at Oasis.” I do know this, whatever food we serve on whatever Thursday we serve it, well, it all tastes a lot like bread and wine.