Monday, December 22, 2008

Is Jesus My Savior?

Some Pastoral Reflections – from Pastor Duncan:

At the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
Every tongue confess him King of Glory now….
Hymnal #435

In November the Diocese of Quincy voted to leave the Episcopal Church. In news articles about this decision it was reported that one speaker, speaking in favor of leaving, made the following statement to the assembly:

We need to make a choice. Is Jesus Christ our Savior or not?

This is a good question and one that has gotten me thinking over the last couple months. Is Jesus Christ our (my) Savior or not? I answer without hesitation in the affirmative. Yes! Jesus is Lord and Savior! OK – then….. What does that mean?
This is not so easy and perhaps all of us should use the opportunity of the Feast of The Name of Jesus (January 1), the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6) and the weeks of Epiphany to ponder this question and what in means for us, our lives and our life of faith and commitment. Below is my response to this question.
1. Jesus is Savior – and has received me by Grace alone. I cannot earn God’s love or my place in God’s Kingdom by anything I do on my own. Neither being right, or being pure or good or faithful or anything is a pre-condition of God’s grace. Indeed, following Paul, I acknowledge that my efforts do not always lead to success and that I am a sinner who God has redeemed and forgiven. And because of God’s love and grace I then am empowered to respond by following. This time a year there is such an emphasis on Santa Claus and the question of have you been “naughty or nice.” If the latter you can expect lots of wonderful presents; if the former then coal and sticks are what you will get. We have to be so careful not to transfer this to our relationship with Jesus. God lavishes gifts upon us, not because we deserve or have earned them – but only because of God’s love and grace.
2. God reaches out to ALL. There is no litmus test. Even a cursory reading of the Gospels makes it clear that Jesus was drawn especially to those who were excluded by the political and religious authorities. Jesus reaches out to the lepers, the blind, the adultress, a Samaritan woman and the list goes on and on. I don’t think we realize how radical that was for the time. In the eyes of the established, those people were outside the community, they were untouchable, they were impure, they were sinners. But those are the people who Jesus invites to the banquet! Jesus’ harshest words are for those who are better than…., for those who would put people in categories and label and then exclude them based on those labels. God reaches out to ALL – and because of this Jesus is my savior.
3. In the book of Job when God finally speaks from the whirlwind He doesn’t have a list of answers for Job’s questions. Rather God refocuses the entire discussion: There are mysteries that we human beings cannot know or understand. And, we must learn to accept those mysteries. There is much that we do not understand, and we can be very hurtful when we begin to pretend that we do have all the answers, or that we know the mind of God. The mind of God is way beyond anything we can comprehend. And for the bottom line – when in doubt – see #1 above (as per Martin Luther). Jesus is my Savior because His Grace has empowered me to be able to let go of needing to know and be right.
4. I recently read through all of the Gospel of Matthew in one sitting as a devotional discipline. I was struck by the kindness of Jesus as he went about his life and ministry. We live in a society which has become, over the last few years, very un-kind. Spend 10 minutes flipping through channels on the TV and you will find reality shows and political commentary and other shows which are nothing but nastiness. They all seem predicated on exclusion – if you are different than me, if you think different, live different, have different politics then you are less than human. This seems to be the attitude. This is not the attitude of Christ. In his ministry Jesus reached out to all in kindness. Look especially at the story of the rich young ruler – someone who doesn’t agree with Jesus and walks away – how does Jesus respond to him? With love and kindness!!! (read St. Mark 10:17-27)

So, what is your choice? Is Jesus your Savior? What does this mean for you? My God grant you a blessed Epiphany.

2 comments:

  1. St. Matthew's is lucky to have you here. Your view of Christ as one who loves all and calls to all is a Christ I want to believe in. I suspect that attending church more regularly will help me in that quest. Yet most of my circle of Web-friends are people who have left the church, including one ex-Episcopalian. (There are two practicing Episcopalians, two Roman Catholics, an Antiochian Orthodox Christian, and a Muslim on my blogroll as well).

    Several years ago I read Borg's book "Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time," which impressed me at the time. In those years--the Nineties and the early part of this century--there was a huge emphasis on the "historical Jesus," and Borg was part of it, though he was less extreme than some. I was caught up in it as well. But it's less important to me whether Jesus was born in Nazareth or Bethlehem than that Jesus is Savior.

    In the meantime, I'm working on a sort of magical realism novel in which a young woman leaves the Episcopal Church in the late 1960s to become a priest in a cult based on Marguerite Porete's Free Spirit movement, but leaves it to return to the church and work for women's ordination. The story begins on Epiphany, which is important to her beause her mother was Parsi and was descened from magi.

    The Free Spirit movement was condemned as antinomian--I don't think it was guilty as charged. What Helena, my heroine, recognizes, is that in Porete's debate between Love and Reason, it is Love who triumphs--in part because of Reason:

    The Mirror of Simple Souls was, in large part, a dialogue between Love and Reason, in which Reason becomes increasingly confused by Love’s words. Porete, in her subjugation of reason, was using argument--reason--to prove her point. When she read G. K. Chesterton’s The Innocence of Father Brown for pleasure, she found herself saying “yes” when Father Brown said: “Reason is always reasonable, even in the last limbo, in the lost borderland of things. I know that people charge the Church with lowering reason, but it is just the other way. Alone on earth, the Church makes reason really supreme. Alone on earth, the Church affirms that God himself is bound by reason.”

    Your blog gives us both Love and Reason. I'll be reading it regularly.

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  2. I received an anonymous comment expressing concern that I quoted the words of a hymn at the beginning of this post instead of using Scripture. I have not posted the comment because it is anonymous and I do not post anonymous comments. However, I wanted to respond. It is true that the words at the top of this post are the first line from the hymn which is beautifully set by Ralph Vaughan Williams (tune: King's Weston). However, it is based on this text by St. Paul:
    "Therefore God also highly exalted him, and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on the earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Philippians 2:9-11. This text itself is a hymn and is one of the great hymns of the New Testament.

    I will not apologize for using hymn texts. This is not a sermon - this is a blog posting and hymns are a wonderful way to reflect on our faith and on the bible. The insights of hymn writings is often profound and we can all learn from these wonderful hymns. I never suggested that hymns should replace scripture. Luther himself was a hymn writing as was John Wesley's brother Charles. God has given us these wonderful hymns to deepen our faith and I think it is more than appropriate to use them in that way.

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