Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Lenten Journey: Climbing to the Cross - FOURTH SUNDAY

Ephesians 2:1-10, The Message 

It wasn't so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn't know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It's a wonder God didn't lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah. 

Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It's God's gift from start to finish! We don't play the major role. If we did, we'd probably go around bragging that we'd done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.

How many times in my life have I forgotten the powerful truth of this passage?

Too many to count. 

As a young Christian, busy with school, youth group, life
     I believed that somehow I could be my own savior... 
          if I just worked hard enough at it. 

As a young (and not-so-young) mom, 
     I tried really hard to be my children's savior, 
          working to 'fix' their lives. 

As a sixty-something, 
     I've tried to fix my aging mom, 
          to figure out the next best thing to help her re-find  herself, the mom I've known all these years. 

And all the time
     I do battle with a deeply embedded works mentality 
          that shouts at me, 
     "DO more, serve more, read more, study more, pray more..." 

But if I'm reading these words of Paul correctly, 
     most of the time I get the cart before the horse. 

Ten verses here - and it's only at the very last breath of them that anything at all is said about working. 

The whole rest of this prose-poem is 
     about being,
     about accepting the gift,
     about God going ahead and preparing the way,
     about the immensity of Love that sweeps away all my paltry efforts and says, 
               See this beautiful package right here in my hands? I've picked it out especially for you, 
     wrapped it with beautiful human skin, 
          given it a heart big enough to hold the universe, 
               and here it is. 

Yes, indeed, there is good work for me to do - and for you, too. 

But first comes the gift - 
     receiving it with humility,
          savoring it, 
               leaning into it, 
                    contemplating it, 
          saying thank you, thank you, thank you.


Thank you, thank you, thank you, Lord God Almighty, for the gift of Jesus Christ, who came to rescue us from ourselves, to give us life and hope, and to strengthen us from the inside out for the good works you ask us to join you in doing. Oh, help me to keep things straight - gift first, work second. Remind me that Love comes first, always.