In this morning’s epistle, Paul talks about the difference between doing something because you’re supposed to, and you have to, and you’re required to, and doing something because you’re compelled to, because you want to, because it is from the heart.
I relate this transition in a religious, spiritual sort of way, I was raised in the Roman Catholic tradition, and I was taught by nuns. I had my ears pulled and hair drug by priests, and I had my wrists slapped and disciplined, and I deserved it. I’m sure I did.
My hair was always a mess, my shirt was always un-tucked, and they did their best to try to turn me into a good young man.
By sixth grade, oddly enough, I got the citizenship award. It’s still a puzzlement to me, how I wound up with the citizenship award at St. Francis Catholic School. It all traces back to when Sister Bertram asked me to take the garbage out, and I responded in a split second and ran it out to the dump truck in time for them to take it. When I came back, there was a round of applause for me. For years, students would come to me and say “Sister Bertram talked about you today”, each subsequent 4th grade class that came into the school. So I’m sure Sister Bertram is why I won the citizenship award, just because of one event.
But this whole idea is the difference between having faith, having a love for God because you want to, and believing and trusting in God, not because of merit, not because of doing enough to do good.
I remember asking a question of my elders, my Mom. I said “Mom, do you think you’re going to go to heaven?”, and the answer was generally “I hope so”. Not that that is a relevant question that I want to bring up, “are you going to heaven”, but I know the difference between being in a religion, being in a tradition, going to church because I have to, because I’m required to, because I’m told that’s what I’m supposed to do and be, and the difference between because I’m compelled to from my heart.
And I also know the difference between having a love of God and a love of life and a love for others, not because the world around merits that. That story of Job. Of course he’s all happy with you, God, and of course life is all good, he has everything he wants, everything’s going his way. But when things go wrong, and I think that too is the gift, so it’s not only that gift of faith, given to us by mystery that allows us to be loved by God regardless of the condition we’re in or the lack of enthusiasm we have or the lack of love we possess. It’s not a matter of being good enough, it’s just we know God is love. God loves us, we belong.
And I also know the difference between judging the world around us and losing that sense of love, and going through hard times and painful times and suffering greatly, or enduring suffering on behalf of someone else, and still being able to say “my God, you love us, and thank you for the love we have for you”.
And it’s not something that we earn, it’s not something that we learn, it’s a gift. And it’s a gift that we see in education, we can all recount the ways we did homework because we had to, we studied because we had to, we’d get in trouble if we didn’t, we’d fail if we didn’t. But then there came a time, in some of our lives, that learning became something we wanted to do. We were hungry for more. We wanted to read more books. We wanted to go deeper in that what we need to do and to have. There was that inner compelling, that inner sharing of life. We know the difference between being worried about our own life, are we going to have enough, is everything going to be OK with us and with ours. An so consumed with those worries that our neighbor and strangers that we come about are no concern of ours because we’re so consumed with our own worry?
Well that gift breaks us from that, doesn’t it? That gift of God that allows our life not to worry about itself, not to be consumed about what it wants and what we want, but we have this love that’s going out. I know the difference between the two of those. Because that’s what God gives us. I think we all have to go through a time when we have to, when we need to, when we must. And then we come to that time that we want to, that it is in us to give.
And that is the gift of God, the gift of faith, the gift of love that Paul talks about, because he too went through that conversion didn’t he? If you know his story, he was a Pharasee, he was a studier of the law, he focused on doing the right thing. Then one day he found himself compelled to simply be whom God had called him to be. And his life ceased from being a life of judgment, discipline, and harshness and persecution, to a life of love, sacrifice, faith, and trust. Big difference.
May we all continue in that direction.