How does the way we live our lives outside the church reflect the God we worship inside the church? How do we put into words why we go to church? This week, our Faith in Real Life groups considered these questions through the lens of Psalm 15.
1 O LORD, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill? 2 Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart; 3 who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors; 4 in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the LORD; who stand by their oath even to their hurt; 5 who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent. Those who do these things shall never be moved.
This psalm is an entrance liturgy and makes it clear that entering God’s house is no small matter. Abiding with God is not casual. Abiding with God requires that we defer to God and that we live differently. Though we seek to serve, we are not a civic organization dedicated to serving others. Though we seek wholeness, mindfulness and food for our souls, we are not a self help program. We seek to come into the presence of God. The nurture we receive and the service we offer happens when we start with God. The psalmist wants us to keep focus and to realize that life outside of the temple is the indicator of what goes on inside.
There is a figure eight relationship between how we live and how we understand God. Who we worship should reflect how we love and how we live should be a testimony to the God we worship. We simply cannot worship a God of love and live a life of returning evil for evil. I see clients all of the time who have been grievously injured by others. But, for Christians, being harmed does not justify doing harm. That is a Christian value and it is a hard one to keep. We believe we are all children of God. That means we are required to be inclusive. We may not live a ‘me first’ or a ‘I deserve…’ kind of life. Or as the psalmist put it, It is not OK to slander or to do evil to each other. It is not OK to take advantage and we are expected to be grateful rather than entitled. That is what God teaches. Those are the values that are eternal. Anything else will fail. We are grass and the grass withers.
Each of the behaviors that the Psalmist lists reflects an underlying understanding of God. The psalmist is specific about what we are to avoid and behaviors we are to follow because we worship God. However, the admission requirements are not performance criteria, they are liturgical reminders of God’s way. As one person put it, “if God expects us to do all these things to be with him, he’s going to be pretty lonely.”
If compliance is the test, we all fail. None of us are blameless. None of us always does what is right nor do we speak our true hearts. All of us have snide and unkind thoughts—and words. In the face of conflict, many of us stay silent. We do not take stands for Godliness and against wickedness. We are far more likely to take stands favoring or opposing our personal agenda—with little regard for what God expects. We rarely admit that our wealth is inexplicable and is often at the expense of others. We do not want to see the cost to our environment or the cost of ‘cheap’ labor. But in order to abide with God, we must hold ourselves accountable to God, we must live the life he would have us live.
Unfortunately we do not live in a time when the bible is central. In general our society is not biblically literate and all too often, even in our Sunday Schools, it is tempting to seek topical relevance without struggling with Scripture. But scripture is where we discover who God is and how he has been known.
It is difficult to wade through layers of history, confusing metaphors and differing world views to find the God who is eternal–much less find a way to communicate those beliefs. Worship is a foreign word, reserved for believers in the preposterous. Finding the words to speak Christian values to such people is a difficult task. What would you answer to a curious non-believer to the question, ‘Why do you go to church?’ It is a question we all need to answer. It is what makes us different. Many in our society are caring; many seek to serve. Those attributes are by no means limited to Christian people. But our understanding of our God sets the parameters for how we love and live.
When pushed in one of our FIRL groups I promised to put my own word to my core beliefs. As with the reformed tradition, these words are in constant process and are incomplete. For believers, I hope you will find them familiar. For non-believers, I hope you find them provocative.
I believe the Christian scriptures reflect reality and what it means to love better than anything else I know. While I readily acknowledge the limits of my learning, over the years this belief has been re-enforced rather than contradicted. I believe love matters and we should live that way. I believe I am called to set my face in the direction of love, to live my life in gratitude and mindful that every single human life deserves respect and care. I can not explain the inequities of life but when I see them, I have a responsibility to the ‘least of these’. They are my brothers and sisters. I cannot explain the blessings of my life but I know that I am not entitled to them and I should live with gratitude.
In the face of tragedy, terrible wrongs and wrongdoings I believe love will prevail and that new life is possible. I believe that I will fail no matter how well-intentioned or hard working I am. I struggle daily with my fear, my desire to be safe and my desire to manage how other people respond to me. I believe God meets me in my failures, does not hold them against me, loves me and challenges me to persevere.
These beliefs are the foundation of my living and, hopefully, these beliefs show up in my real life. To use the image of the last couple of weeks, we called to follow the light. That means study. That means finding our own words. And we are called to be the light. That means loving as God would have us love. We will fail. We will fall short. But then we confess. We turn back to the one we worship.
Those who do these things shall never be moved. Let it be so.