While I was away last week, I visited the Mission at San Juan Capistrano in Southern California. It was one of 9 missions established in the 18th and 19th centuries to provide for worship of God and the common good of the people living in those locales. I had a very moving experience in St. Peregrine’s Chapel at the Mission, but I couldn’t help but notice that today the Mission is about mostly the preservation of it as an institution. A sociologist once remarked that the average organizations and entities can maintain the purpose for which it was created for only a short time and then their efforts seems to become preservation of the institution itself. That seems to be also true of churches and governments.
Two Sundays before July 4th, the assigned epistle in Galatians 5 said, “In Christ we are free; but don’t use your freedom to do anything you want. Use it as an opportunity to serve each other with love.” One translation says “To love your neighbor as yourself.” On this Sunday following July 4th, the Gospel text has Jesus affirming this commandment to love your neighbors as yourself. To emphasize the point, Jesus adds “The Good Samaritan” story to show us what this love of a neighbor looks like.
In thinking about the birth of our country and these two passages of scriptures, all 3 seems to remind us of our original purpose as citizens of this country and citizens of God’s realm. We are called to act on behalf of the common good of everyone and not just ourselves. Rugged individualism may be a much admired trait in our American psyche; but any impartial reading of Jesus’ words in any of the Gospels clearly demonstrates it is NOT a Christian value. It seems that we have gotten this mixed up in our American Church culture; and thus, too often we’ve lost focus on the purpose of our Christian journey as individuals and communities of faith.
The story of Good Samaritan and the opening lines of the Constitution both remind us that our purpose is “the general welfare” or the common good of all of our “neighbors.” This understanding enriches our lives and theirs. It helps us to see “others” as part of “us.” That is what it means to “love and serve your neighbor as yourself. “
Join us at Covenant this Sunday for worship and see how the common good of loving and serving your neighbor is seen in our reception of new members and baptisms by immersion. I will be preaching a sermon called “The Common Good: A Testimony Not A Title.” The sermon is based on “Luke 10:25-37.”