I have included here a part of a written piece by Tedd Lyons, the Associate Pastor at UPC-Fresno, my “home” church, and Tedd has been a pastor, friend, and confidant to me and my family for many years now. He was probably the first pastor that really challenged me in my faith and the pastor who turned me toward reading Bonhoeffer. I have learned, and continue to learn a great deal from Tedd, and if I am half as good as he is at being a pastor and at pastoral care, then I know that I would be a success at following the call of God in my life.
On Sunday evenings, Abraham Lincoln would from time to time walk to the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, where the pastor would leave his study door open so that the president could sit in quiet and anonymity and hear the evening sermon. One evening, as Mr. Lincoln was returning to the White House, his Secret Service agent said to him, “Didn’t you think the sermon was marvelous tonight?. So well-delivered, so intellectually sound, so passionately true.” Lincoln’s response was simply “No.” When the Secret Service agent asked the president why, the answer came back, “Because he did not ask us to do anything.”
The Protestant Reformation brought a great correction to the Christian faith. Luther and Calvin and others stressed the priority of God’s action over ours, and emphasized that “by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God–not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9) When Luther read in his Bible “The one who is righteous will live by faith” (Rom. 1:17), he took his pen and wrote in the margin, “alone”.
As important and fundamental as this truth is, its over-emphasis (perhaps I should say its distortion) has led to innumerable sermons that “did not ask us to do anything.” Protestants too often have behaved as though being right, being theologically sound, being the winner of the debate, was more important than being loving. The tragedy is that many who profess strong faith, who know what the Bible says, act in the world as though this faith and knowledge have only one function, to assure believers of their worthiness to enter the next world. So, in this world you live by the rules of this world, while believing that a better world is coming and that your faith assures you that you are saved and eligible to enter it as a free gift of God.
Over the last several years, UPC has taken on a yearly “practice”, a focused “doing”, that is intended, not to make us worthy of God’s grace, but to bring us into contact in this world with that grace at a level deeper than just the intellect. This year our practice is “face-to-face service”. This practice asks that we find ways to live out our faith in concrete acts of love and service to a real person or people. In so doing, we will not only make this world a better place (a noble goal), but we will personally come into contact with the God who saves by grace.
As a help to us all, in our summer worship, we will hear from a number of witnesses who have been helped by “A Rule of Life”, a little guide to faithful living that has been circulating among us for a while now. It is important to notice that this Rule is made up of eight imperative (do) statements. They begin “Open your heart”, “Keep yourself clear”, “Do”, “Take”, “Do”, “Keep watch”, “Practice”, and “Above all, love”. They point us to the God who saves by grace and empowers us to act as saved people.