I go to church. It’s a regular church, in many ways. Episcopal, in this case. More liberal than some, but pretty ecclesiastical, traditional, middle of the road in most. We try to be welcoming, as all Christian churches do, we try to be relevant to today, but not at the expense of the core beliefs of our faith.
There have been a lot of mis-statements made recently with regard to what the Bible is about. Some of these come from the mouths of supposedly religious leaders, teachers or commentators. Some of them are on the right track; some of them are not.
So what, then, is our faith about? If you go to church week after week, you hear the same words used time and again. In a one-hour period (or so), there’s only so much you can deliver. So the parts of the Bible and other texts that are repeated in each service must in some sense be the core of it all. Right?
Some of it is about the general concept of God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These are stated in various forms during the first part of the service, in the Gloria, and in the Creed. They are a statement of who or what we believe God to be. For the purposes of this article, these things are “nice to know,” but are beside the point.
More to the point are the things that we are taught to do in each service. These teachings are meant to convey the way we are supposed to look upon one another. As we live in a world with many different and divergent viewpoints, this seems key to who we strive to be. So it is these words and phrases and ideas that I want to focus on here.
We receive the Great Commandments.
Ok, just for a moment, let’s engage in a little voluntary suspension of disbelief. In other words, don’t bristle at the use of the word Commandment. Let’s just go with the idea for a moment that in order to participate in this club called Civilization, we must submit to some very basic requirements. Here they are:
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
This is the first and great commandment.
And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
That wasn’t really so bad, was it? Ok, I don’t know who or what God is, but I guess in the current case I’m just going to look at it as saying that I believe in the whole of it all, not bits and pieces that I have seen and heard, but I’m going to submit to the strong possibility that there’s a lot more to things than what I have been able to perceive, or may ever be able to perceive. I’m cool with that.
And the rest, that I love my neighbor as myself? Ok. I’ll try.
We confess our sins.
“Oh yeah, here we go, we’re all evil sinners. That old Christian BS.” But is it BS? Listen to what is included in this confession:
We confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
Ahhh, so those things we were commanded to do, we’re now saying that we didn’t do them. How true is that? It’s true. I got angry at someone who cut me off in traffic, not giving over to the possibility that she may have been racing to get to a job that she didn’t like but couldn’t afford to lose, after having finally gotten the kids to school. Instead, I cursed her out, and was indignant that she didn’t give me the respect that I felt I deserved.
Well, we quickly learn through these lessons that it’s not all about me. It’s about how we are to others. It’s repeated again and again. So this is why we make this confession. We are sorry, when we really think about it. And we are asked to really think about it.
We wish each other peace.
The peace of the Lord be always with you. And also with you. Hmmm. That seems ok. Actually, I kind of like that. It makes me feel good to say that to you. I do wish for good things for you, and I appreciate that you wish the same for me. Thanks.
We recite the one prayer that Jesus (supposedly) taught us to say.
Here’s the crux of it (again, focusing on the lessons pertaining to how we are to look at one another).
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those
who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
So we’re saying, let us have what we need, in order to get by. We’re not asking for luxuries and great wealth. We’re asking for our daily bread. We’re asking for the forgiveness for the sins we previously confessed to (see above). And we’re asking help in finding our way along our varied paths that will lead each of us to good things, and keep us out of harm’s way.
We give thanks.
Here’s what we’re thankful for:
We thank you for feeding us with the spiritual food;
And now, Father, send us out
to do the work you have given us to do,
to love and serve you
as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.
And by “witnesses,” all we’re saying is that we have gone through these lessons, by allegory, by practice, by confession, by our own ability to be thankful. We see how much we can do for each other, and how much they can do for us, by simply supporting each other’s right to be standing there.
In all of this, then, we haven’t said anything about restrictions on who can participate. We haven’t described or prescribed the neighbors we are asked to love. Not by the color of their skin, by their gender, by their lifestyle, their religion, their country of birth, their socio-economic well-being. All of these are beyond our control, beyond our comprehension, and beyond our need to know or to judge.
So the basis of this thing we call our Christian faith, then, really is summed up in the Great Commandments. It is not summed up in Leviticus 18. It is not summed up in Jude 7. Those are but way-stops. The real truth of what the Bible tells us:
Love thy neighbour as thyself.