Archive for December, 2022

22
Dec
22

SAVED

Passengers on the Titanic knew it.

Jews living in the ghettos of Warsaw in 1939 knew it, too.

No one knows it better today than the citizens of Ukraine.

It certainly was a routine part of the consciousness of people in Israel 2,022 years ago.

But I wonder… do we know it?

More specifically, how often do those of us who live in the developed, non-Ukrainian world of A.D. 2022 pause to think about the subject of salvation?

Salvation is a real question for people who are starving. It is absolutely not a hypothetical matter for the unhoused. Women trapped in abusive relationships, men writhing in the grip of addiction, children hiding from a deranged gunman under their desks, all cry out, “SAVE ME!” with a fierce urgency.

But what about the rest of us? How do we understand this? How acutely do we each feel the need for salvation?

Medical science has saved most of us from plague, polio, pertussis, pox, and other diseases. Seat belts have saved millions of people from violent death in car accidents. Central heating and air-conditioning have saved people from the consequences of extreme weather.

[If only there were a technological breakthrough that could save us from our own bad decisions!]

But some niggling intuition tells me that NONE of these are what God meant when God told Joseph to name his Spirit-conceived son, “Jesus,” which means, “he will save.” (“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21, NRSVU).

Yes. That promised salvation most certainly included all Jesus’ contemporaries. But can we grasp that it also includes ME? And YOU? And people who have never heard the name of Jesus? And people who have heard the name, yet who turned away and said, “Nope. No thanks.” 

So many questions…

  • How is this possible? How does it even work? How, exactly, has Jesus saved me from my sins?
  • Is this salvation thing like some kind of cosmic “Get Out of Jail Free” card, handed out equally to everyone at birth? And if so, does that mean sin has no consequence?
  • Is it universally available, or do we need first to consciously accede to a set of principles and practices before we receive this salvation?

I am embarrassed to admit it, but I must. Even though I have a Master of Divinity degree, have been examined by superiors and found worthy, have been properly ordained by a representative of a mainline Protestant denomination, I can’t confidently answer ANY of those questions. 

All I can tell you for sure is that Jesus’ saving act BEGAN at his birth, CONTINUED throughout his life and ministry, and came to FRUITION at his death and resurrection. 

I can also tell you that this Supernatural Salvation Symphony built a heretofore unheard-of BRIDGE between heaven and earth… between life and death… between the Creator and the Creature… between Spirit and Substance. 

Finally, the only other thing I can really say with any degree of certainty is that MY life, and the lives of millions of other poor wretches like me, has been forever transformed by the miracle that began in a dirty manger in occupied Israel… and that I will yearn to share this Good News with everyone until I draw my last breath. 

To all those hard-working seminary professors who spent hours and hours honing and refining their soteriology lectures, I send my sincere apologies. You did your best. 

I only know that Jesus’ gift of salvation is the best gift I have ever received. And like the little drummer boy, the only gift I have to offer him in return is my song and a heart full of praise.

Abundant blessings;

12
Dec
22

Excluded

They were all there. 

Standing close. Knowingly nudging each other. Laughing. 

Sharing so much more than space and time.

They were sharing themselves.

It was the place I desperately wanted to be but couldn’t.

I watched them and ached. 

Left out.

At one time or another, each of us has known the pain of standing on the outside looking in. We know that pain because belonging is a core human hunger. Some contend that the central truth of the Genesis creation story is the reminder that we were divinely created for connection with others. 

When that connection is missing in our lives, we seek it as ferociously as a mother seeking her lost child. 

This time of year can be a time when those vital human connections are revived. When we seek the warmth and shelter of community. When we revel in relationships. Hearths are kindled, carols are sung, and hot toddies are poured, as much to warm our souls as our bodies.

Which makes it even more important to recognize that this season can also serve as a stinging reminder of emptiness for some of our neighbors. As they watch us clink our cups of wassail and deck our halls, they feel a deep stab of loneliness, reminded of a joy they once felt.

There we are, gathered gaily around the hearth while they stand outside in the cold, sobbing at the window.

I am not sure I have ever referenced Saturday Night Live here in this space, but there’s a first time for everything! Just this past Saturday, December 10, the cold open sketch (called, appropriately, Blocking it Out for Christmas) was all about the time-honored practice of using the Christmas season as a time to stuff down all our fears, anxieties, griefs, and sorrows and pretend to, “eat, drink, and be merry.” 

Here is that link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRjjKVRaAik

My prayer for today is that we each remember we don’t have to “block it out,” or ignore the pain that can often be the unwelcome guest at our Christmas celebrations. Instead, let this season be a reminder that just as God became “enfleshed” as a tiny baby, we are each called to similarly enflesh our love for one another in practical acts. 

Abundant Christmas blessings;

06
Dec
22

Keeping Score

Do you keep score? 

This past weekend, I was surprised to pause and consider how much time I have devoted to this nefarious activity.

I kept score as the U.S. Men’s national soccer team went down in defeat in the World Cup to the team from the Netherlands.

I counted the number of times the puck went into OUR net vs. THEIR net at the college hockey game we attended.

And I mournfully watched the numbers add up on the scoreboard on Sunday as my favorite NFL team (the Kansas City Chiefs, in case I haven’t mentioned that before) lost to those aggravating lads from Cincinnati who insist on wearing tiger strips on their helmets.

As embarrassing as it is to admit, I must confess; my tallying doesn’t stop with sporting events. I also found myself counting the number of consecutive daily devotions I’ve done. I kept track of how many times I ran the dishwasher and put away the dishes. I put little mental tick marks on my side of the ledger when I offered Joan a compliment, or put her dishes away, or fetched her a cup of coffee. 

Pathetic. Right?

And for all its “merry and bright” aspects, the Christmas season can also bring out the hidden scorekeeper in all of us. How much did he/she spend on me last year? How much time is it going to take to decorate the house, or bake those cookies, or send those cards? Do we owe the neighbors a courtesy get-together in return for their recent hospitality? 

For all its annoyingness, we somehow still feel the need to keep score. We stubbornly cling to the belief that the ledger can’t get too lopsided… either FOR us or AGAINST us. We follow a somewhat distorted version of the Golden Rule that goes, “Do unto others in roughly the same measure as they have previously done unto you.” 

Because even though ACTUAL debtor’s prisons no longer exist, most of us shudder at the thought of languishing in a relationship debtor’s prison.

Is it any wonder, then, that a lot of people struggle to come to terms with the scorecard that reads: Jesus = EVERYTHING, Humanity = NOTHING

To affect a reconciliation between heaven and earth… between God and humankind, God gave us himself in the human form of Jesus. As if that wasn’t generous enough, Jesus then gave us EVERYTHING, including his life. 

In return for this mind-blowing, history and life changing gift, God required NOTHING from us except for an open hand, ready to receive.

As an American, I recognize that I live in a place where scorekeeping is as deeply embedded in our national DNA as baseball, stock cars, and fried, bacon-wrapped Oreos. And yet, I can’t shake the idea that you and I are meant to discern a message from God’s style of scorekeeping. I believe we are meant to understand the eternal beauty of a badly lopsided scoreboard. We are called to embrace the fact that some scores will never be settled… because they can’t be.  

God’s scorekeeping is supposed to remind us that, “… It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35, NRSV), and that, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13, NRSV).

And while it is true that God’s brand of scorekeeping might not get you into the Jeopardy Tournament of Champions, it just might get you into something a WHOLE lot better.

Abundant blessings;




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