When I was young, I was a member of a church that believed that God had prepared a special place where only members of that church would be allowed. I must admit that the teaching of that church colored my thinking and that became part of my belief system.
While I am still a member of that same church, my perception of God, heaven, and the role of the church have all changed. I think the general beliefs of the church have evolved at the same time and in the same direction.
The church I claim membership in and commitment to from my youth is still precious to me. I love the text in my Bible whose teachings have been evolving as more research on ancient texts reveals more truth. The Book of Mormon is also precious to me for the insights it provides into my understanding of God’s nature, of the love of Jesus and of the potential for human understanding. I am deeply impressed by the notion that God speaks to the church through modern day revelation of eternal purpose and God’s will for us in the situations we encounter.
As much as I am committed to the scriptural, institutional and relational resources the church provides to me, I can also respect those same resources others rely on from their church, their synagogue, their mosque or wherever they turn to as a source of strength and comfort.
The prompting of God revealed in my life through the Holy Spirit is that my most meaningful response to God’s love for me is found in the Gospel message from Mark 12: 29-31
29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
And from Matthew 25: 34-45.
34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’
My best response to the love of God is not in the form of theological debate. It is, instead, in being a resource for the wellbeing of those within my sphere of influence.
Those within my sphere of influence include members of the local congregation of my church, my facebook friends and the people living around me. These are the communities I am a part of. I have been involved in other communities in the past, most of which I have fond memories of, but I cannot have relationships with memories even though they do serve as a source of comfort to me at times.
I live in close proximity to the neighbors who occupy the houses on the block we share, both sides of the street. I know my neighbors, at least most of them. We look out for each other. When the ambulance or the police come into my neighborhood, I get as close as I can to the activity without interfering. I do that so I can be available to my neighbors for whatever assistance I can offer.
I hear often that we need to make changes in our society and I agree. The most important change we could make to our society would be to increase the degree of community (neighborhood) interaction. Even the simple change of forming “Constituent Assemblies” of 100 neighbors to choose representatives to our government would increase feelings of community cohesion.