Bruce G. Epperly

We Matter to God and One Another

An Extract from Holistic Spirituality: Life Transforming Wisdom from the Letter of James

What we do matters! It matters to our brothers and sisters, and it matters to God. Many people, you see, believe that God is untouched by the world, existing in glorious perfection, unsullied
by the brokenness of life. James thinks otherwise: God hears our prayers, feels our pain, and experiences our joy. Our spiritual lives are not just about our relationship to God; they are about
our relationship to our neighbors, near and far. James asserts that if you want to love God, you need to love God’s creatures. Our sins matter because they involve turning away from our neighbor as well as turning away from God. God is not outside the world, aloof, and unaffected by what goes on; God is the one to whom all hearts are open and all desires known. Accordingly, our ethical life, here on earth, centers around one thing: doing something beautiful for God, as Mother Teresa proclaims, by doing something beautiful for our neighbor. Will we give God a beautiful world – with happy families, enough food on every table, the opportunity to do good work and serve the community, or will we give God an ugly world of starving children, homeless families, vanishing species, and melting polar ice caps? Still, although God feels the pain of the world, God can survive our apathy and injustice; our neighbor cannot. In the spirit of Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount, our neighbor is “God with skin,” living or dying as a
result of our decisions and behaviors.

Loving Jesus means loving your neighbor. And if James is right, it means standing aloof and becoming counter-cultural in relation to socially-acceptable, but life-destroying, values – “being
unstained by the world” – that put profits ahead of people, neglect the needy, and blame the poor for their poverty. We are all created in the image of God and we all deserve to be loved, to have a place to call home, and an opportunity to live out our gifts and talents as God’s beloved daughters and sons.

In the Jewish tradition, it is said that “if you save one soul, you save the world.” I believe that this is the best way to read Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep: the shepherd goes out on the darkest
night, searching tirelessly until the lost sheep is found, not just to save the one lost sheep, but to bring healing and wholeness to the ninety nine in the sheepfold. We all matter; we are all in this
together. As 1 Corinthians 12 proclaims, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice.”

Today, the body of Christ includes your congregation, but we must think bigger than our local community and neighborhood – it embraces the whole Earth, its people and its ecosystems; it reaches out to include the future of our unborn grandchildren and children as well as our next door neighbors and family members.

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