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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

GOD WANTS ONLY OUR LOVE FOR ONE ANOTHER: ¨We are called to live out the faith of Christ toward everyone- especially the ones called our enemies.¨ The Rev. John Smith

Who is Savior?

This week, on Ash Wednesday, we began a forty day journey to Easter (40, because Sundays don't count as fast days).  It's a special time in our year to focus on our life of prayer, how we share with others what we've given by God, and how we can better control our appetites rather than be controlled by them.  The forty days mirror the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert tempted by Satan to either be faithful to his purpose on earth or not.  So Lent for us can be a similar time to reflect on our lives and confront the many temptations that seek to turn us away or neutralize our following of Jesus, the ashes reminding us of our mortality and the fact that we can practices faithfulness for a limited time.

The key Lenten word is "repent."  The word comes from the Greek word metanoia meaning change (meta) of mind (nous).  When the call is made to "Repent" it's all about looking at our thought processes that govern our actions and changing our ways to bring them into conformity with the Gospel.  On Ash Wednesday 8 of the St. Alban community received ashes at La Merced.  We got in line to receive our ashes from a lay minister who imposed ashes on each of us saying:  Repent and believe in the Gospel!

Last week I talked about two important questions:  Why did Jesus die? and Why did Jesus live?  Most of us could answer the first question:  Jesus died to save us from our sins and allow us to go to heaven when we die.  This is not a hard one to answer.  The second question "Why did Jesus live?" is more difficult.  The answer to this question is more communal, less individualistic, in nature:  Jesus lived to show us how to live with all of our brothers and sisters in this world in such a way that God's kingdom of love, peace, mercy, and justice can come "on earth as it is in heaven."

The scriptures today lead us to another important question:  What is more important- What we do or what we believe?  For sure, since the Protestant Reformation at least, the importance has been put on right belief or orthodoxy.  As the reformers tried to define themselves apart from the Catholic church the emphasis was put on belief or faith over works.  Faith in Christ gets you to heaven, not works or prayers that gain indulgences from God, etc.
  
It all comes down to a decision. a wonderful decision really, Do you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior?  We make this decision every time we renew our baptismal promises.  But it sets up a divide between those who make this decision, profess this belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior, and all those who haven't, or make it in a different religious context.

If we say what we believe is more important than what we do (how we live), and that faith in Christ is the doorway to salvation, very subtly, it is like we've the savior.  I said it, so I'm saved.  You didn't say it, so sorry, you're not saved.  Everything revolves around the decision an individual make.  If they make it, they are saved.  Who's the Savior here?  If it depends on my decision, I save myself.  I'm the savior.  That why it perhaps better to change (as it can be in the original language) it to the "Faith of Christ."  In other words, when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we are baptized into the faith of Christ.  Jesus is the Savior of all humankind.  We are faithful witnesses to Jesus.  Jesus was faithful to vocation his Father gave him (that's what the temptations in the desert are all about!), and when the Risen Jesus returned to the Father, he sent us a helper, the Holy Spirit, to enable us to live a new life.  Jesus is the only Savior and his salvation is offered to everyone, based more on what they do and how they live with their sisters and brothers in this world, and not upon their "correct" belief.

What this means, and what Lent allows us to do, is change our way of thinking about those who believe differently than we do.  It opens up the whole world to the love of Jesus through us his followers.  We don't want any of our brothers and sisters to be hurt or killed.  All are God's children.  We are called to live out the faith of Christ toward everyone- especially the ones called our enemies.  God wants only our love for one another:  See how those Christians love one another.

Satan wants something else for us.  We can have power, popularity, and privilege if we serve Satan.  This was Jesus' temptation and is ours as well:  to be deflected from our vocation as God's sons and daughters.  Satan loves it when we make our own personal faith more important than the faith of Christ.  Satan (not the power of an individual or super human, but a power rooted in human communal life that attempts to divide and conquer) loves it when we refuse to bring the first fruits of our life and labor to be used for God's purposes in the world and instead hold on to it tightly for ourselves.

So how do we hear today's scripture from St. Paul?

 The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart. (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.

So you might think that this beautiful passage is calling for:  a personal decision for Christ.  But remember the context of this testimony that "Jesus is Lord."  This was a confession in front of those persecuting and putting believers in Jesus to death,  Christians refused to confess, as all were required to, Caesar as Lord.  When the lions or the sword awaited you, you had to hold firmly to your belief that God raised Jesus from the dead and would do the same for you.  God, in Jesus, was the only Savior of the world, not Caesar Augustus.

Isn't it true that when we think of Lent we think of giving something up:  desserts, liquor, chocolate, etc.  "I'm going to lose 15 pounds."  But do we see how self-centered and individualistic this is?  Maybe instead of "giving up something," we "take on something."  We can take on something or share something on behalf of others that is faithful to our call as baptized believers of Jesus Christ.  We can tell the Gospel Story of Jesus as "a word of faith on our lips" in practice!  

Amen!

John+


Saint Alban Episcopal Mission (English) meets for mass every Sunday at 10:00 A.M. (see welcome letter at sidebar) at Casa Convento Concepcion, 4a Calle Oriente No. 41, Antigua, Guatemala.


The Reverend John Smith, Vicar.
5235-6674 cell telephone (502 country code)

THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH WELCOMES EVERYONE 

(everyone means everyone)
 

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