Sunday, September 28, 2014
This is one of my favorites of Jesus’ parables. Some of the parables are obscure and hard to understand; this isn’t one of those. What we say is one thing, what we do is another, and what counts most is what we do.
That first son, who said ‘no’ but eventually did his father’s will, we’ll forgive his initial reaction. He came around, he did the right thing. He said the wrong thing, but he did the right thing. That other son, who said, “oh sure, absolutely” and then acted against his word... that’s not the sort of person you want to be.
I suppose there’s some attraction to the fantasy that salvation is simply a matter of saying the right thing. “I’m a Christian.” “I believe in Jesus Christ.” “I accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior.” But Jesus isn’t Lord of your life just because you say so. He’s Lord of your life because of what you do. Christianity isn’t a club you join that issues a ticket to heaven with membership. Christianity is a way of life. Even before our religion was called Christianity, it was called “the Way.”
Sunday, September 21, 2014
I remember the first time I spoke to someone who was looking forward to dying. It was bracing, surprising. I was maybe twenty-one years old, and it was a shock to hear someone talk about her life as something she would really just as soon let go of. She wasn’t ungrateful for her life and she wasn’t being a coward or giving up. It was just that everything she really cared about was waiting on the other side. That’s what did it: it was the goodbyes. So many goodbyes.
Picture yourself in a room, maybe picture it as a party of some kind, one room in which is gathered every single person who matters to you. Your spouse is there if you’re married, your parents are there, your siblings, cousins, children… there’s your kindergarten teacher, and that coworker you never hung out with but bonded with at work… your teammates, and all the friends from all the different seasons of your life. And as the evening wears on, one by one, they begin to slip into the next room. Just a few at first, but the movement picks up momentum until the room you’re in starts to feel quiet and empty. Eventually so few are left, and you’re so tired, that you spend most of your time thinking back and reminiscing about earlier in the evening when the room was packed and noisy and raucous. You’ve heard rumors about what’s in that next room, but you don’t really know with any clear idea. You just know you’ve watched most of the people you care about go through the door. The party’s been fun, you’re grateful for it. The fewer people still around you are nice, you’re grateful for them. But you’re ready to go through that door.
Sunday, September 14, 2014
When I was little my favorite story was the Exodus, I mean the whole tale from the rise of Moses to the Promised Land. It definitely had the most exciting pictures and descriptions in my illustrated book of Bible stories: crossing the Red Sea, facing down Pharaoh, Mount Sinai, manna from Heaven, and more.
It’s still one of my favorites. The story of the Exodus is an absolutely defining moment for Jewish people and the way they understand who they are and where they’ve come from. But for us, too, all that significance didn’t just evaporate with the coming of the Christ. If anything, it comes even more into its own.
Sunday, September 7, 2014
Jesus says that whenever two or three gather in His name, He’s with them. I think we’re meant to understand that larger groups work too; He’s emphasizing that even if it’s only two or three, He’ll be present. What’s a little surprising about this is that He does seem to be excluding a group of one.
Is Jesus not present with you if you’re alone? That sounds preposterous; of course He is. But why does He say He’ll be present whenever two or three gather? I think we’d have to agree that Jesus is always with us, regardless of what other company we’re in. But I think we’d also have to agree that there’s a way Jesus is among us when we’re in community that He just isn’t when we’re solitary. To put it another way, there’s a big part of a relationship with Jesus Christ that you simply can’t have without other people. Trying to do Christianity in solitude is like trying to play baseball in solitude: throwing the ball and planning to outrun it to take a swing, and then outrun it again with a catcher’s mitt if you whiff. If you can do that, maybe you’ve got a shot at doing Christianity alone too.