My buddy King returned, and how timely the return was! Not only because I had referenced him in a post recently, but because his pitch-of-the-week had a nice "compare and contrast" to this week's collect.
OK, I know the collect may not be the first thing that leaps out at most people during the service, but here's your "words to the wise" for Proper 13 Year B in the Episcopal calendar:
Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.
"True religion" is such an interesting phrase. And to get a better handle on what in the world THAT is supposed to mean, the collect writers were probably hoping that the assigned readings for the day might shed a little light on the situation. I think we basically got that in the reading from James:
"If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world."--James 1:26-27
OK...so, "religion"--at its truest--is taking care of orphans and widows (aka the most powerless in the First Century society) and realizing that all that we have... every "perfect gift", as James calls it, comes to us not from 'the world', but from God.
Ta-da!!! True Religion: the mandate that we are to look out for the people around us who are the powerless, and remember that without God... we are a rudderless boat just drifting along.
OK... so, why did I bring my Jehovah's Witness into this discussion? Is he an orphan? Does he need my assistance in some way?
No. And he wouldn't want what I would offer any more than I'm buying what he's selling to me once every six weeks or so on a Saturday morning.
I mention King because this month's copy of The Watchtower, The Jehovah's Witnesses' magazine, features a cover story called, "How Can You Choose A GOOD Religion?" The cover art features what looks like a young, teen-aged, African-American boy surrounded by five other men... dressed in the vestments of various traditions including one in a chausible with a crucifix.... all touching this boy with one hand in a way that seems like they're trying to entreat him to "follow me".
Note: this is GOOD religion, not TRUE religion. And, as one might imagine, what King's literature puts out there as "good" is not necessarily what I see as essential to religion being "good"(quoting Romans 1:26-27, and trying to imply it reflects an understanding of 21st century LGBT relationships, is a sure-fire way to get me irritated and declare the literature 'bad'!)
Good Religion, if you read their literature, can't be found on all roads: only the one that passes through "the narrow gate" (this is from Matthew 7:13-14). It goes on to quote the passages from Matthew about false prophets. Sadly, this fails to take into account that many others who are traveling toward the light and away from the darkness are walking on different paths, and are getting there through whatever means GOD has determined. God is the shepherd. God is the one who calls to the flock and makes them return. And God will not stop and will use whatever means necessary to reclaim the sheep. I do not know all of God's methods because I am not God. I can only speak for me. I can only say that, for me, I see God through the Jesus lens. But others may see God, and may arrive on the path toward light through another means. It doesn't make their religion "bad"; it just makes it different. And that difference may very well be "true"... or at least "their truth".
King and I didn't do much talking about "good" religion. We didn't get that far. He posed the question to me, "Susan, do you think that everyone goes to Heaven?" and I answered, "Yes." This led to the usual shifting uncomfortably and quoting various scripture passages. "King, what do you think Heaven is?"
"What do I think Heaven is?"
"Yes, because, see, I think Heaven is now. It's here. Right now. Unveiled."
"What do I th--Heaven is the spiritual realm. See, we won't have flesh and bodies in Heaven. We won't be here, we'll be spirits..."
"OK, I see."
And then I heard a little more Scripture, got my magazines and he and his friend, Matthew, went away.
Meantime, Isabelle has a beutiful mezzuzah to put on the door. Perhaps that will serve as the garland of garlic for King.