You have professed your faith. You have, after reaching the age of reason, accepted baptism or confirmation. You have answered the alter call or recited the Nicene Creed – and you meant it. Now what? Now the journey begins. Now you are on the way.
Regardless of how you got there and what else you call yourself, you are a Christian and Christians are all on a trail and that trail leads somewhere. We have to understand that a profession of faith – the door – is an entrance, not a destination in itself. Rather, the acceptance of Jesus as the Christ and as a real person (the real person) and the acceptance of the detail of belief found in the creeds both are starting points from which a journey begins. As we walk down the aisle for the alter call or to take our first communion, we are taking our first steps on the Way.
While there are several others, these two starting points cover a lot of territory. One starts with accepting that Jesus is the Son of God and that He offered Himself as a sacrifice so that all men might be saved. The other starts with a series of questions (a catechism) based on the creeds. The sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation are in large part recitations of that catechism. These may seem to be very different positions but they both acknowledge the same Lord and same God and spring from the same set of facts presented in the same Bible.
My first steps away from the gate were to accept other peoples starting points and then to learn that I could learn from them. As a creedal (Episcopalian) Christian, I had to relearn the personal relationship with Christ I had accepted and professed as a Baptist first grader. At the same time, I saw “John 3:16 Christians” on the Way learning the richness of the faith that we see in the creeds. We were all moving but which way were we going?
The answer came in a Gospel passage that kept replaying itself in my mind. A Pharisee asked Jesus to summarize the law. Jesus answers “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and all thy spirit, and all they might. This is the first and great commandment and the second is like unto it. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” When the Pharisee goes on to ask “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replies with the parable of the good Samaritan.
With this, we see more of the Way – but still may not see the destination. Jesus here tells us that real belief is to love God and our neighbor and to put that belief and love into practice. Even though the destination was clouded, I saw that I had to act on that love of God and my neighbor. But how? In my reading and in my life, I began to look for models of that love in action.
C.S. Lewis writes about the “Weight of Glory” saying that if we are saved we gain glory which he writes is “to be known by God”. The weight or obligation (or acceptance) of that glory is to make God known to others – to our neighbors. How do we do that? Lewis also writes about “latent Christianity.” The two ideas are related. Lewis writes that not everyone needs to be a priest to make God known to others. He writes that God needs lawyers and bankers and convenience store clerks and even wine salesmen who are latent Christians with their faith present in their law practice, bank management, shop keeping, and wine selling. That doesn’t mean we need to name our businesses “Jesus is Lord Auto Repairs” or “Christ is King Wines and Spirits”. Rather, it means that we should try our best to live our lives so that we reflect the love of God back to the world as love of our neighbor. Others will see what we gain from our faith – from glory. And when they ask about it, it is our obligation to share with them what they asked about.
But that still doesn’t get us to the destination. What do we actually have to do? What is the real weight or obligation of loving our neighbor?
In the Gospel According to Matthew, Jesus says “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ (Matthew 25:31-45).
Finally we are told. Feed the hungry. Give drink to the thirsty. Invite the stranger. Clothe the poor. Visit the sick and the prisoner. By doing these things we love our neighbor and somehow also return to God a portion of the love He gives us.
Our destination from the moment we walk through the gate onto the way by professing our faith is to finally stand before that throne of the Shepherd and from there to be brought through His gate into the sheepfold of heaven.
– Charles M. Bear Dalton