This is the third in my series of columns on the theme of the upcoming National Convention Sing to the Lord a New Song.
In my last column I quoted Jeremiah's letter to the exiles in Babylon: … take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:6–7 NRSV)
The people of the earth did not become God's children only after the covenant was made with Abraham and Sarah. Every child of Adam and Eve is a child of God. After the Great Flood, the promise the Lord made to all humankind was: "…I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done." (Genesis 8:21)
It has been a hard struggle for human beings to get along. The stories of the Great Flood and the Tower of Babel conclude with a description of the earth being partitioned according to language and culture and each people living off in their own corner. The promise made to Abraham and Sarah is that they will be a blessing to all the nations of the earth—a hope that humanity will one day again be united.
Later, First Isaiah wrote:
Many peoples shall come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. (Isaiah 2:3–4 NRSV)
We are called by God to move outside our religious self-preoccupation and live our lives for the sake of the entire human race, regardless of language, culture, religion or morality. Our nation is secular, pluralistic, multi-religious and multi-ethnic. The gospel call is not only to those like us, but to all.
We rejoice in the glad news that we are saved by grace, freed from the anxiety of needing to please God. We are made free to live lives that are not driven by religious works intended to earn the salvation of our souls. We are made free, instead, to live lives of good works for their intended purpose: to serve our neighbour. Luther said that God doesn't need our good works, but our neighbour does.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus taught us that anyone could be neighbour to anyone else. It does not require that we belong to the same faith or the same ethnic group. It only requires that one human being recognizes another as a human being and responds when that person is in need. How we express this act of being neighbour is a part of how we follow Jesus' call to mission.
-- Bishop Raymond Schultz