It is very easy to look at religious faith as a tool for being a good person.
Do this. Don’t do that. Make these particular choices. Avoid those. Be prudent and wise and everything will work out for you with God.
While this view is tempting, it was never really the view of our tradition.
What separated this God, revealed to the Hebrew people as YHWH or Yahweh claimed a different character than other gods. While they all wanted sacrifices for the promise of benefit, this particular God set about building a relationship. It wasn’t a punishment/reward system of favor, but a parent/child relationship of love, devotion, and mercy.
Being good and doing the right things aren’t the point, but the byproduct. Loving our God and our neighbor as ourselves leads to relationships of health, rather than dysfunction; hope in the midst of despair; opportunity when we feel isolated.
This hasn’t stopped Christians from turning our tradition into a sin-management system. But it isn’t the point. Far from it.
The point is love. A generous love shared with all.
Oaks of Righteousness.
Right after telling us about bringing good news to the poor and proclaiming the year of GOD’s favor, Isaiah speaks to a holy ministry:
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.
This is the work of faith! Building up ruins and repairing ruined cities! Reclaiming the devastated and displaying the glory of God in our life and work and love.
It’s a powerful image because of the might and steadfast character of the trees: oaks. Stable and majestic. Outlasting the flowers and surviving the coldest winters.
And their work is to build up the community.
Abstractly, we think of loving all people as being decent or welcoming them in when they come. Or being nice to the baristas and servers, maybe leaving a big holiday tip.
But what if this love thing isn’t just about being nice to the people we meet or giving gifts to the loved ones in our homes? Buying love with the perfect gift and the well-timed thank you card. What if this love needs to be extended and refocused?
What if it is a love which builds something bigger than us? Something which brings rebirth to our city. In love, hope, and mercy.
As we explored the last few weeks the two ideas of spending less and giving more: that GOD wants us to be both less selfish and more generous, we’re now invited to extend that spirit of generosity to it’s originating point. We’re called to love all. Not just the ones we like or agree with. Not in a spirit of homogeneity. Love and compassion.
Here’s one way from the Advent Conspiracy family guide:
Make a plan of action! Write down your plan as a family to serve someone new, pick a date,
and follow through!
Here are a few ideas:
- Walk around your community and pray for your neighborhood ask:
- Who could we meet this season? Does anybody seem particularly lonely?
- Who could we make something for? Who could we bring baked goods to?
- What ways can we meet the needs we’ve seen? Any yard work that someone may beunable to do?
- Contact a local homeless shelter or food bank and ask how you could serve together as afamily, even simply once.
- Ask some leaders in your church or neighborhood association if there’s anyone inparticular that you could help, whether visiting the elderly, bringing food to someone lonely,or making cards for someone sick.
If you or your family want to follow along, download the family guide and get started!