Saturday, April 27, 2013

Violence and Salvation

The Source of Our Salvation

Paul tells us that Jesus is “the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty”, Jesus says, “I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life."
Which brings me to a story;
There once was a family traveling across the desert. They are near death from thirst. They happen to come across an oasis but they are unable to find the water. There is a child with the family whose acute sense of smell detects moisture and with considerable energy the child explores the oasis until at last, he finds a cave that leads to water. He signals to his family to follow him into the cave and there they drink to their full, they luxuriate in the plentiful supply of water. They bathe, they wash, they fill their water skins and journey on in joy and gratitude toward their destination. On their way, they leave a stone to mark the way to the spring. In succeeding centuries other families, by the hundreds and thousands come by the same oasis until eventually a great cathedral is built on the spot marking the presence of the spring. Yet the people began to forget where the source of this water was. They were preoccupied more with the building they had erected and with the life giving spring that brought that building into existence in the first place. The spring was lost to them. The cathedral was abandoned and it began to fall into disrepair. At last, more time passed another family came to the oasis and they too were near death for thirst. The child among them ventured into the cathedral and her acute sense of smell detected moisture. She found her way to the spring where the water was. She too signaled to her family. They then drank, and washed and filled their water skins and continued on. 

What then is the source of our salvation?
What is this “living water”?

For one thing it has to do with our connectedness to God. That connection centers around our ability to respond to God’s love for us by loving God in return. But there is a brokenness in that connection. Sin and Death break the bonds of love that exist between us and God. There is an of abundance Sin. We read about it daily in our newspapers or watch it unfold before our very eyes on the television. There it is in all its amazing panoply of ugliness; a veritable smorgasbord of sin. Warfare, bombings in the public square, carnage in the public name it we do it. Then there are those little private sins we commit against God and one another on a fairly regular basis. And if that isn’t enough there are all those little bad habits we develop along the way; lots of things that are just plain not good for us.

We seek those things that destroy God’s creatures, ourselves and others and God’s creation as well. We seek our own will instead of God’s. Sin, as one of my theology professors once quipped, is the only doctrine of faith we can prove. All others teaching of the church must be taken on faith. Ultimately, I am not interested in Sin. Well, maybe that’s not quite true. I think the truth is we’re all enticed by many things that we all know are not good for us. But at the deepest level of my life I thirst desperately for my Salvation. 

Because what also separates me from my God is Death. Suffering and Death and the Specter of both all too often raise a shadow upon life all too often. And there we are. Helpless it seems against the reality of our own helplessness and weakness.

Where then is my Salvation?
Where is the Spring of Water of which Jesus speaks from which I may drink so that I too may live forever within the heart of God.

I suspect that this Salvation will come from Baptism. Because once I find out where that well within rises to my joy, I will live again. I will be forgiven of all my sins, and the inevitability of suffering and death will then be set within the context of the Victory of Jesus on that Great Easter Day!

For the truth of the matter is that what breaks the barrier between me and God is the love that God bears toward us. And that love is forever. And once I find this way to God nothing in all creation can separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

And even though the bonds of sin are strong the bond of forgiveness is stronger still. And God is the final Victor. God has the final say. God says we are forgiven. God says that we may come to his spring of water where we may drink freely, bathe and luxuriate in the refreshing spring of God’s love and then live forever.
So then Jesus completes the picture; don’t just love God, "Love one another". “This is how they will know that you are my disciples, that you love one another.” One member of my Bible Study group on Tuesday said as we studied these words; "That is possible only up to a point" And another worshipper at the Villa asked me "What do I do about my neighbor? I've never had a problem like this before. She is rude. She is hurtful. She is hateful. I don’t know what to do.” I told her, I suspect that the problem is within her, not you. Go on loving her the best way you know how.

Now, I confess to you before God and the Archangels Michael and Gabriel and all the other angels too, that I had a parishioner once who developed a strong dislike for me, can you imagine! She came to the 8am service and sat in the front row with her brother. The two of them looked like the two in “American Gothic” except that there was no pitchfork between them, at least none that was visible. But she was at ease in speaking unpleasantly toward me after church and I never got used to that. I finally worked up the nerve to speak back to her one day and asked her to keep a civil tongue in her head. At last she said to me on another day “I think, in view of Christian Charity, that we should agree not to speak to one another from now on”. I replied; “That my dear woman is the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me”. 

And so it goes. As it turned out the poor woman was developing a terminal heart condition, one of a physical sort, one that reflected some of the emotional heart trouble that plagued her all her life.

When I visited her at the hospital, she seemed to have a turn of heart then. We both shared a tear, asked a prayer, and commended ourselves both to God’s keeping and God’s love. The ice between us melted that day.

You see, it is as Sallie McFague once said: "We come from God and we return to God. In the meantime, we live in the presence of God, even when we do not know or acknowledge God. The entire universe reflects the Glory of God, each and every particular creature and thing in its own particular, concrete and unique way. Creation is a kaleidoscope of mind boggling diversity; a myriad of outrageously extravagant species who altogether make up the heart, body and mind of God. Each creature praises God by simply being itself, and by being fully alive."

No one ever promised us that being a follower of Jesus would be easy. You will remember how it all worked out for him. Yet the cross was not the final truth of Jesus. 

The final Truth of Jesus is the love of God. Therefore we are to love one another. Just Friday evening Muslims, Jews and Christians met together at the Islamic Center of Boston to make visible God’s love for us all. Imagine that! It takes courage to love God and to love one another.

But we will discover that as we do this very thing, we will be like a family that travels across the desert, near death from thirst. God will quench that thirst with this abundant fountain that leads to life; the endless and bountiful fountain of the Love of God.

Fr Paul

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