Whatever happened to 'good works'?

Cal Samra, Editor, The Joyful Noiseletter

In the November-December 2020 Joyful Noiseletter, humorist Patch Adams called for a "revolution of loving" in America and the world.

Dr. Adams believes that "a revolution of loving" would help solve the problems of racism and violence in society.

"A revolution of loving" might also stem that other deadly epidemic in society – divorce. The divorce rate continues to skyrocket in America, leaving a trail of wounded victims in its wake, and making virtual orphans of hundreds of thousands of children.

These children of divorce are deprived, through no fault of their own, of the ongoing emotional and financial support and guidance of a nuclear or extended family. And our social problems are multitudinous as a result.

By and large, the politicians of both parties, many of whom are divorced themselves, are ignoring America's epidemic of divorce, one of our greatest problems.

Loyalty – the disappearing virtue

This is a divorce society. Political parties divorce. Churches divorce. Married couples divorce. Loyalty is a spiritual value increasingly missing from our society.

At bottom, the problems in our society are not political or economic or psychological problems. They are spiritual problems. It's all about how people treat one another. The decline of spirituality has resulted in a decline of civility.

Patch Adams is right on target in his call for loving action. But we've become a nation of divisive political, legal, psychological, and theological windbags who promise us heaven on earth or in heaven if we only keep whatever faith or philosophy they are promoting.

But whatever happened to "good works"? The Apostle James, the brother of Jesus, said emphatically 2000 years ago: "Faith, by itself, if it has no works, is dead" (James 2:17), and "be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." (James 1:22)

Even in the fourth century A.D., the eloquent preacher and liturgist John Chrysostom, known as "the mouth of gold" by the Greek Christians he served, insisted that "the testimony of deeds is more likely to be believed than the testimony of words."

Centuries later, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. echoed Chrysostom: "We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right."

We build a new, healthy society not by talk and not by looking backwards in anger, like so many psychoanalysts and psychologists are always making big bucks encouraging us to do. We build a new society by doing what Jesus told us to do. Jesus told us not to look backwards, but to look upwards and to live lovingly and joyfully in the present, serving others.

We build a new, welcoming society with hundreds of thousands of acts of kindness and loving good works. We need a pandemic of good works to save our society.

"Even the smallest act of kindness matters," says Paul Kurlowicz of St. Michael Lutheran Church in Portage, MI. "It's like a ripple in a pond flowing positive energy forever outward to infinity."

Do something for a poor person. Do something for a disadvantaged person. Do something for a sick person. Do something for a mourning person. Do something for a depressed person. Do something for a suffering person. Do something for the helpless elderly. Do something for a prisoner. Do something for your spouse. Do something for your neighbor. Do something for someone from a different faith tradition. Do something for someone who doesn't look like you or talk like you.

Talk less and text less and do something to help someone.

Sermons hardly ever note that Jesus was a layman – the greatest of all action heroes, a physically fit Messiah who climbed mountains and walked everywhere, including on water, or that Jesus reserved his harshest words for those "who say and do not do, those who preach but do not practice."

Jesus declared, emphatically: "Not everyone who says 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does my will." (Matt. 7:21-23)

This is the joyful, action-oriented Jesus who will bring the young people – many of whom are staying away from all churches – back to church.

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