From the First Letter of John:
Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God. The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – 1 John 3:7-10 (NRSV) – April 12, 2013.)
It’s been several days since I last offered one of these meditations. I took time off to deal with a family medical issue and then there was Holy Week and then there was Easter and then there was something else and then . . . . Life can become a series of excuses for not getting things done. John, in this first catholic epistle, will brook no excuses, no procrastination. Get it done! Do what is right, for that is righteousness; “all who do not do what is right are not from God.”
Among my favorite verses of Scripture is James 1:22 – “Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves” – which I guess is why I could never really be a Lutheran (of any sort). Luther condemned James as a “straw epistle” because, apparently, its author’s insistence that “religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (1:27), and that “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (2:17) conflicted with Luther’s insistence on a Pauline doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone. I wonder what Luther made of John’s insistence that the righteous actually do something . . . .
I am an Episcopalian by choice. If I was schooled in any sort of religion as a child, I was reared in the American Campbellite tradition on my mother’s side of the family and in the Methodist tradition on my father’s; but the truth is, my nuclear family was pretty much unchurched. So when I was in high school I made my own decision about a church to attend and, when I experienced the worship and ministry in the Episcopal Church, I knew was “home.”
One of the things I most appreciate about our tradition is our insistence that a professed faith has active consequences; in our liturgy of baptism, these are laid out in the Baptismal Covenant. I preached about that last Sunday when I had the privilege to preside at a baptism. I won’t get into that again; I would just ask my reader to read that sermon (the last posting on this blog).
Righteousness is not just about works; justification is not just about faith. It’s not either-or; it’s a both-and sort of thing. (That’s something we Episcopalians and Anglicans say a lot, “It’s a both-and sort of thing.”) Belief produces results; faith is made alive in works; the Spirit brings forth fruit. As Someone once said, “You will know them by their fruits.” (Matt. 7:16) But that same Someone suggested that there is a limit to how long one can procrastinate before actually doing something, before actually bearing that fruit. Remember the parable about a fruitless tree which ended, “If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down”? (Luke 13:-10) There is a limit to procrastination and to excuses, so be about it; whatever it is that your faith requires of you, get it done!
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.