Monday Matters (July 10, 2023)


The Collect read in church on July 9

O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

These days, Monday Matters offers reflections on the prayers we say in church on Sunday, the collect of the day. We do this based on the conviction that praying shapes our believing, that what we pray forms us. We do this hoping that the prayers we say on Sunday will carry us through the week.

Getting religion right

Press pause this morning and ask yourself: What is religion all about? Is it about rules? Ritual? Being right in word and action? I almost have the alliteration out of my system. But let me suggest that it’s about relationship, an insight prompted by the collect we heard yesterday in church (see above).

For starters, let’s unpack what we think it means to be righteous, which folks often equate with being religious. Warning: the idea of being righteous easily slides over to being self-righteous, a downfall to which clergy are particularly susceptible. For some, being righteous means being right in one’s thinking, which in the world of religious thought often means somebody else must be wrong. For others, it means doing the right thing, because God is just waiting for us to veer offtrack, lightning bolt in hand.

St. Paul uses the term righteousness a lot, especially in his amazing letter to the Romans. I’ve been told that for him it suggested relationship. It was about being rightly related to God and to each other. It involved God’s gracious work in setting us in those right relationships, noting that, left to our own devices, we probably won’t get there.

Jesus apparently agreed with St. Paul (Isn’t that convenient?). When Jesus was put to the test, asked about how to inherit eternal life, he said that it’s simple, if not easy. It’s one thing, but really two. It’s about love of God and love of neighbor. In other words, it’s about relationship.

That is an echo of the central prayer of the Hebrew Scripture, the shema, which was to be repeated twice daily, affirming the worship of the one God by answering the call to love God and neighbor as described in the book of Deuteronomy.

In our liturgy, we note the centrality of relationship in the course of the Confession, when we admit we have not loved God with whole heart, body, mind. We have not loved neighbor as self. Those kinds of admissions are true every day of my life. We fall short. The vision of whole and holy relationship is a life goal. Maybe heaven is that place where we will actually, finally love in that kind of way.

I’m off today at a conference convened by the Presiding Bishop. You know, the guy who says that if it’s not about love, it’s not about God. The conference is entitled “It’s All About Love.” It will provide an exploration of the three key goals of Michael Curry’s tenure. We will reflect on racial reconciliation, creation care and evangelism, each of which has to do with relationships.

Michael Curry has helped us all recognize the inherent joy in a religion that seeks to build loving relationships. Clearly in our broken world, we have work to do in building those kind of relationships. Which is why we offer a prayer like we did yesterday in church. We ask for grace to love God more fully. We ask for grace to be united to one another in pure affection.

As you ask for that grace this week, how can you grow in seeing your life of faith as about relationship? What steps can you take, by God’s grace, to live more fully into those healed and holy relationships?

-Jay Sidebotham

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