Years ago, when we were at St. Paul’s in Irvine, we got to know a wonderful elderly member of our community. A true character. She lived in Newport Beach on beachfront property that her husband had acquired before he went back to Greece to find a bride. He brought her to California, and then three years later he died in an accident, leaving her to fend for herself. She worked hard, and she survived. This wonderful and strong woman loved the Church. She walked on her arthritic knees to catch the bus every Sunday morning to be at services early. From time to time, our Pastoral Assistant and I would take her to lunch, always at the same restaurant, The Crab Cooker, in Newport Beach. All the wait staff knew her. She had no theological education, but she believed. The summation of her personal obligation as a Christian was this: “If you want to go to heaven, you got to be nice.”

As a person with some theological education, I would nuance this simple statement a bit, but she had an essential truth. Whatever we might claim to be or believe in, the litmus test of our claims is how it affects the way we treat others. Have you read the Apostle Paul’s New Testament Letters to various Churches? One of his main concerns in these letters is always how Christian people are treating one another. “Love one another, "forgive one another,” “live in unity” in every letter.

One of the most challenging facets of Christianity is that it is about personal transformation. Not self-improvement, but us cooperating with a powerful and wise God who works at transforming us in the image of His Son. How do I express my faith as a Christian? Read the Bible? Go to Church? Pray? Give to God’s work? Receive Holy Communion? Yes. All these things. But underlying everything else is love for God and for other people. Everything I do should lead me to love. If my faith does not result in love, then I am a hypocrite. The work of the Holy Spirit in us is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23) This is God’s glorious plan for every one of us, and there is no “plan B” that allows us to be unforgiving and mean!

I can testify that this compassionate soul, now in heaven herself, lived her theology. She was nobody’s fool, but she truly cared about others. How “nice” am I? How “nice” are you? Are you trying to get along with other people, especially other Christians? Other people sometimes do not get along with us, and we can’t always help that. The Apostle Paul tells us to pray for everyone and overcome evil with good. If we are really Christians, if we want “to go to heaven,” then our goal has to be to treat others with respect and compassion. Let’s get serious. Is there someone you don’t get along with? Someone you have had “words” with? Someone you have mistreated? Pray for them. Call them. Apologize to them if you have wronged them. Humble yourself. Embarrass yourself. If they don’t respond, you have done what you could. If they do respond, and that relationship is made whole again, you might think that you are in heaven already! The sin that caused tears of anger and pain will be defeated, and the tears will become tears of joy, the Church will be strengthened, the Angels will sing, and God will be pleased.