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Speaking to the Soul: Their Religion is Worthless

Speaking to the Soul: Their Religion is Worthless

Week of Proper 27, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 88 (morning) // 91, 92 (evening)

Joel 2:28-3:8

James 1:16-27

Luke 16:1-9

I rarely waiver in my sense of God’s presence, or in my trust in the teachings of Christ. But my faith does waiver on one point: whether Christianity has a net-positive effect on the world. I know that Christian faith has inspired acts of stunning generosity and heroism, and that it sustains courage and compassion in many daily lives. But it also fails us spectacularly, to the harm of human beings and the planet we inhabit.

Our second reading today has some severe words for those of us who are religious. It speaks of those who are “hearers of the word and not doers.” It speaks of those who “think they are religious.” It warns us: “their religion is worthless.”

Is our religion worthless? The passage goes on to define true religion: “to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Are we caring for the vulnerable and marginalized, who don’t find themselves safely integrated into families and nations? Are we keeping ourselves uncorrupted by the powers of this world? Anything less is counterfeit. And many people can tell it’s false currency.

Lora Walsh blogs about the Daily Office readings at A Daily Scandal. She serves as Priest Associate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and assists with adult formation and campus ministry at St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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David Carver

Mother Walsh - Can I just say your blogs are excellent? Please, please keep up the good work.

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Gregory Orloff

What the world needs is a heck of a lot less "Christian" and a heck of a lot more Christlike.

"We who are disciples of Christ claim that our purpose on earth is to lay up treasures in heaven. But our actions often contradict our words. Many Christians build for themselves fine houses, lay out splendid gardens, construct bathhouses, and buy fields. It is small wonder, then, that many non-believers refuse to believe what we say. 'If their eyes are set on mansions in heaven,' they ask, 'why are they building mansions on earth? If they put their words into practice, they would give away their riches and live in simple huts.' So these non-believers conclude that we do not sincerely believe in the religion we profess; and as a result they refuse to take this religion seriously. You may say that the words of Christ on these matters are too hard for you to follow; and that while your spirit is willing, your flesh is weak. My answer is that the judgment of the non-believers about you is more accurate than your judgment of yourself. When the non-believers accuse us of hypocrisy, many of us should plead guilty."

Those words of John Chrysostom, bishop of Constantinople, ring just as true for 21st-century America as they did for the fourth-century Roman Empire.

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Norman Hutchinson

Gregory, Perhaps we should not identify ourselves as Christians and instead adopt the title Followers Of The Way as the early followers of Jesus self identified. Not only does the label Followers Of The Way allow us to escape the current negativity of the name Christian, but it gives us a direction and a goal.

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Gregory Orloff

You have a point, Norman, but I think the problem goes beyond labels.

We need to take Christianity back from those who would misuse it for nefarious political or social ends.

When they peddle bogus “Christian values” that don’t square with the gospel of Christ Jesus, we need to call them on it: “How come what you’re saying and how you’re behaving contradict Jesus’ commands to love neighbor, love enemy and treat others the same way as you want them to treat you?”

When they make a grab for political power, wealth and celebrity, we need to call them on it: “Why are you going after the very things Jesus refused when the devil tempted him with them in the desert?”

When they push policies and legislation that do harm to the poor and marginalized, we need to call them on it: “How can you sponsor and support those bills when Jesus told us we find him in the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the homeless, the sick and the jailed?”

Episcopalians and other mainstream Christians (and even some Evangelicals, of the Sojourners Magazine and New Monasticism) type need to take a cue from Paul: “When Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong” (Galatians 2:11).

We need to get the word out to the public that there is a Christian alternative (with far deeper roots and historical experience, by the way) where Jesus is not just some object of belief to secure the ultimate retirement plan (getting into heaven rather than going to hell), but rather a compelling figure who taught a new way of thinking and living rooted in loving God, loving neighbor, loving enemy and treating others the same way we want to be treated.

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