Thursday, February 03, 2011

The Simplicity of Doing Good

I wanted to capture some of my thoughts after last Sunday's sermon and readings. We had Bishop Shannon visiting, who seems like a very fine fellow, and he spoke on the topic of the Beatitudes and translated for us some of the original intent that was lost when translated to English. Suffice it to say, the original Greek emphasized, even more than does the English, that this message was really important, direct from the mouth of Jesus as a supreme oracle for his people. (To put it in a Greek perspective.)  He said:

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled." (Matthew 5:1-12)

What a straightforward and beautiful message.  And yet, so often in our religion (I am speaking broadly here as a Christian), we confuse our dogma and our liturgy with the path to righteousness. Raised Roman Catholic, I often saw those in my parish who felt if they did not genuflect properly and with enough fervor, they would surely go to Hell.

We see it time and time again in scripture. Jesus personally rallies against those in his own church, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, when he believes that people have lost the Message (capital M) for the strict (and often blind) adherence to the laws. And so we get very simple and direct sermons like the Beatitudes. Beautifully direct and easy to understand.

Paul reinforces this notion in his letter to the Corinthians, stating "Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of his age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" (1 Corinthians 1:18-31) And last Sunday's Psalm 15, "Lord, who may dwell in your tabernacle? who may abide upon your holy hill?" Answer, in the next verse: "Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right, who speaks the truth from his heart. There is no guile upon his tongue; he does no evil to his friend; he does not heap contempt upon his neighbor." Beautifully simple stuff, and a great goal for us all.

Finally, another reading from Micah 6:1-8: "With what shall I come before the Lord? ... Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? ... He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"

There it is again!  Plain and simple.  This one caught me quite by surprise on Sunday.  It was intriguing to see an Old Testament prophet (from the 8th century BC), rejecting the futility of ritual sacrifice and now-ancient dogma, for the simple message of doing what is right: Living humble, kind and good lives. How can we continue to not see this message as the single most important theme running through the entire Bible (both Old and New Testaments, and the very Gospel itself)?

As Abe Lincoln once said, "When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That is my religion."

I do believe it is as simple as that.

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