The problem with salvation is this. Once you’ve got it, once you are comfortable with it, once you truly inhabit it and make it a part of you, almost inevitably you start taking it for granted. I suppose that’s the problem with people, salvation is fine, but you get the drift, we tend to take for granted those things that are promised to us, we begin to think of them more as furniture in our lives, something to sit on like a couch, its always there, you don’t have to think much about it.
We think of a lot of things the way. I’m sure that loads of people thought about their jobs that way before the “fiscal crisis” I keep hearing about; or their homes, or the fact that the real estate market in California only ever goes up. We as a people tend that way, e tend to become habituated to whatever the situation is right now.
Which is a marvelous adaptation, we can become accustomed to situations vastly different from where we were a year ago, grow comfortable and then live as if things had always been this way. I think of the huge number of Eritrean immigrants in Minnesota and how they had lived most of their lives in a hot and dry desert and then, somehow gotten used to living in a place that gets, you know, cold, really cold; a place where the green is deep and penetrating, a lushness that invades your thinking and becomes a part of your being.
You can probably find more arable land within five miles of Minneapolis than in the entirety of Eritrea. These are vastly different places.
And yet the people who come, fleeing oppression or injustice, people who come to find a better life, greater opportunities; they come and they adapt and they get used to the differences, becoming accustomed to the cold, owning both a pair of sandals and a pair of snow boots.
The human capacity for adaptation is why we survived long enough to get advanced enough to get lazy enough to get used to just about anything.
People move to California and get used to not shoveling snow, though I do not understand how.
The weather is nice here so you get used to the weather being nice. The land is abundantly fertile here so you get used to the land being abundant fertile. The blessings of the Lord appear to have been spilled a little heavily here so you get used to that too.
Heck, even the thing that are not gifts of God can become so familiar that they lose some of their wonder. We drove across the !-35 bridge from Minneapolis to St. Paul all the time when I was in seminary. It had been there for most of the lifetimes of most of the people who drove across it and so it had become like furniture. You don’t think about it. It’s just there.
But bridges need to be maintained, they need to be re-built, not completely, but in bits and pieces as they get older. Sometimes they need to be replaced and once you start thinking of them as Just There, you begin to forget all of that. When it comes time to think about the state budget, you can easily just set aside bridge maintenance, after all, the bridge has been there for forty years, it could go a few without much extra thought being given to it, right?
What cost 5.2 million dollars to build in the first place cost 234 million dollars to replace because despite being rated at near the bottom or actually at the bottom of the national highway safety bridge ratings for the decade before collapsing, it was taken for granted, something that was just there.
MAybe there’s nothing to be done, maybe this is just the condition of humanity. We will build great things, and then sit back and retire, watching them rust and decay until they are gone again. I suppose this gives us a chance to build great things again, but as I mentioned earlier, it is probably more cost-effective to maintain what we have.
Marriages fare no better. It is small wonder that second marriages tend to last longer and be more satisfying these days than first ones. It’s like Joni MItchell said “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til its gone.” A lot of people get married and then commence to rest, sitting back and getting comfortable, taking stuff for granted.
No lie, it is work being married to Debbie. One of the best jobs I have ever had and one I intend to keep for as long as I live, but it takes attention or the human tendency to take stuff for granted will rear its ugly head and leave our society with a 50% divorce rate. My assumption is that it is also work being married to me, so nobody gets away with just sitting back and retiring. Once a marriage breaks up you can look over the wreckage like a CSI technician and see what it was that you had, before you took a wrong turn, and then another, and then another.
You can do better the second time, savoring every day, you hope, making the most of the blessings you have.
But remember, the first bridge cost 5.2 million, the second, 234 million. You can’t just go back and do it again like you did before. The world changes around you and you’ve got to change as well.
I sometimes think of this scene in the Gospels as the first time that it looks as if God’s first marriage is breaking up. The folks in that synagogue had begun to take the blessings of their relationship with God for granted, to relax into their worship and their understanding of the scriptures, there was this great thing, and it would last forever.
And then comes this young whippersnapper, telling them that the prophecies that they had read a thousand thousand times had suddenly changed, had been “fulfilled” in their hearing, whatever that meant. Except they knew what that meant, there were traditions and expectations for what that was supposed to look like and so they asked for the signs, they asked for the traditions, they said, well, prophets do tricks, so do one!
Most people wait until it is too late to go and see a marriage counsellor. Someone once told me I was better off not wasting my time doing pre-marital counselling because the marriages these days were doomed to fail. Loads of people take their faith and put it into their hip pocket or pin it to their chests and settle in for a long life of “being Christian.” The human tendency to take what we have for granted is pervasive and nobody escapes.
The folks in the synagogue react badly to Jesus telling them that their bridge, their faith is collapsing,no less so than budget hawks reacted badly to calls for more money to maintain the infrastructure that they had come to take for granted, after all, it will always be there. They sought to hurl Jesus off of the cliff because he told them that yes, they were special, that the word had come to them, that there was a particular relationship that they enjoyed with the almighty, but He also said that they might have grown too complacent in that knowledge,
He told them that there might be others to whom the Word of God might go if they were not good stewards of that word, after all, there were many widows in the land but Elijah was sent only to the widow in Zarephath in Sidon and there were many lepers in Syria, but only Naaman received the healing touch of the Lord by way of the prophet Elisha. Neither of these people were Jews. So perhaps the blessing of a relationship with the Lord is not something you can take for granted, maybe the relationship is more complicated than that.
He tells them, “You had a great thing, but it’s not a guarantee that it is always going to be all about you.”
Jesus is also talking to us.
How often are we found to be the “frozen chosen” the people who are saved and who take that salvation, the mighty power of being unafraid, of being able to carry the name of Jesus into whatever dark place we are called to go and to let that light shatter the darkness, the salvation that is the armor of God, the wisdom of the ages, the power to say to the mountain be thrown into the sea and have it be so, how often do we take that salvation out for a spin, actually do the things that it empowers us to do?
How often do we let it sit, like the family Bible that is more heirloom than scripture. How often do we take it for granted, like a couch we do not think about until the springs start to sag and we have to replace it? Jesus challenges the people in that synagogue to let their faith be more than a badge that says “chosen people” challenges them to take that faith out into the streets and make it real.
Because remember what the scripture is that Jesus is calling fulfilled. Last week we heard it.“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Jesus calls that scripture fulfilled because someone is willing to do it and not just read it. He is reminding them that they are not to wait around for someone to come along and build the kingdom of God for them because they will be waiting a long time.
Because like any marriage, it takes work. You have to engage the scriptures, ask questions and mull over the answers. You have to see what it says in the gospel and then find out what it looks like when you actually, well, live that way. How would it feel to be unafraid? What would it be like to trust completely in the Lord? Can we ever really see all men as our brothers? All women as sisters?
Only by engaging our faith in the world as the batteries for our efforts and not just the badge on our chests can that faith grow and linger, becoming sweeter with every passing year, every passing day, every passing second we live intentionally, on purpose in the knowledge of our salvation. You don’t have to march on the front lines, there are many parts to the body of Christ and all will have a role to play.
Do not just allow your faith to sit upon a shelf, a trophy to point at and brag over or one day a young whippersnapper may come into your midst and tempt you to throw him over the cliff. Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus like Paul says, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t get any better.
I am happier than I have ever been in my entire life, in my entire salvation. I am happier in my marriage than I have ever been, every day of the attention and intention has paid off and I love my wife more than ever.
We are about to enter into Lent and we are plotting a Journey to Jerusalem. Technically its called a walk to Jerusalem but not all of us will be walking. We’ll be riding bikes and studying the Bible and volunteering at the pantry and a host of other things that are all opportunities to draw a little closer to the word, find a calling and follow it, embrace the salvation that we have been given and use it to speak the word that has been placed into our mouths by God.This word: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Marriages are work, but the work is awesome. Salvation is a blessing but one that opens more doors, grants more possibilities and calls us ever onward into the blessings of God. Why sit aside and watch others? Get in the game. It only gets better once you start to play.