Faith and Action: The Great Disconnect
by the Reverend Noel E. Bordador
Jesus said: “Therefore I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom." - Matthew 21:43
I heard once a story of a co-worker- perhaps a joke. It is a story of someone who went to her doctor because she was experiencing some health problems. The doctor told her that she had high blood pressure, high cholesterol and she could afford to lose some weight. The doctor told her, “Why don’t you enroll in a gym and come see me after six months?” Six months after, she went back to the doctor but she had the same health problems. “I don’t know what’s wrong, doctor, but I followed your advice. I enrolled in a gym as you said.” The doctor then asked, “How often do you go to the gym and exercise?” Befuddled, she said, “Go to the gym?” “Exercise? “I didn’t know I had to go to the gym and exercise.” Enrolling in a gym did not bear fruits of good health because she did not take appropriate action- that is, exercise. No good fruits came from her good intention because of her failure to act.
There is much talk nowadays about the relationship of orthodoxy, that is right belief and orthopraxy, that is, right action. For Christians, spirituality is not just a matter of right belief. Spirituality and religion must produce good fruits of charity, mercy and justice. Christian spirituality insists that religion must lead us to action that produces good things in our lives and in the lives of others. Often, however, there is a disconnect between right belief and right action. There are some who are stuck with the level of belief without it resulting in good works. Faith is not backed up by works of love and justice. Don’t we see a lot of Christians who go to church but often they do not do much of anything to make the world a better place. They don’t lift a finger to help the poor. Or worse, we see many Christians who go to church but also commit acts that are injurious to the cause of love and justice. We see it over and over- people who come to church but gossip or engage in dishonesty, or show contempt towards others. That is because there is a disconnect between faith and right action, a disconnect between belief and justice. That has been an enduring dilemma in the Church. In order for spirituality and religion to be effective, we must exercise the heart muscle; we must not be solely content with saying our prayers and having good thoughts and warm and fuzzy feelings about God; we must also be intent to act on our faith convictions, to act with charity, mercy and justice to all. That is the point of the first reading today - the Ten Commandments from the Book of Exodus. These Ten Commandments could be summed up as a commandment to act with love towards God and with our neighbors. These are commandments to do good. Religion and spirituality must bear good fruits of love. Religion is both belief and action. This is what Jesus said today as a warning: He says that while we are heirs to the Kingdom of God, this inheritance is something that could only be inherited if we produce the good fruits of our faith. We can only be worthy of our inheritance if we produce fruits of mercy, justice, peace and love in our lives. “Therefore I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.” The critics of Jesus were confident that it was enough to be a believer and a member of a religion. Jesus said, it was not enough to believe and be religious; to be truly religious is to act with the intent to bear good fruits of love.
This past Thursday, we celebrated the feast of Saint Therese of Lisieux, a French Carmelite nun who lived in the late 19th century. She was not what you would call a saint who did great things. By and large, she lived in the obscurity of her convent. Before her death at age of twenty four, hardly anyone heard of her. But her writings influenced millions of people. Basically, her doctrine is that we are all created to love. We can all be love. Wherever we may be, whatever circumstances in life we find ourselves, we can perform acts of love. We are not called to greatness or heroism, but simply to be love in any place and time we find ourselves. Often she is depicted holding a Cross ( the symbol of God’s love) and roses. We are flowers of God’s love, and we can scatter petals of love everywhere. How might you do that this week?
The acts of beauty to which we are called to do as fruits of our faith need not necessarily be grand, lavish or spectacular. We are only called to sow small acts of love on a daily basis. What we need to do is to start the day with an intention to do good to make the world a better place. It could simply be calling a person who lives alone, or checking in on a sick neighbor. It could simply mean withholding unnecessary criticisms or negative talk or gossip. It could mean volunteering at local soup kitchen. There are myriads of opportunities to bear fruits of love on a daily basis. Why not start the day with an intent to do one or two acts of kindness? And at the end of day, review as to what you have done to make the world a better place. If you have done something, however small, give thanks to God. If you have neglected to do so, then you make a resolution that the following day, you can begin anew.
© 2014 Noel E. Bordador
Noel Bordador is a queer Filipino priest in the Episcopal Diocese of New York.
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