Thursday, July 31, 2008

Unearned Love

When I first started getting involved in my Church and first started becoming a Christian, one of the things that I constantly struggled with is understanding what I had done to deserve the love of God and the sacrifice of Jesus. Other people, ok, I can see that they have been faithfully attending church for years and years, that they do lots of good things for people and that maybe they have earned that love. But me? I wasn't even sure I believed, hadn't read much of the Bible and certainly hadn't been in the church for years and years. In fact, although I was there, at some levels I was affirmatively hostile - I kept waiting for the sermon that would drive me away, for someone to say that I wasn't good enough, for people to discover me, for an excuse to leave.

I did, though, want to earn that love - I wanted to be deserving, like other people. I thought maybe if I do more good deeds, maybe if I attend more often, maybe if I join a Bible study group, maybe if I really, really, really, try, then I can feel like I have done what I need to do and can stop feeling like I am not worthy of that love.

Of course, it never worked. The difference, though, is that now I understand that no amount of work or time in worship and praise could ever be enough. It isn't earned - it is given. We just have to accept it. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast." Ephesians 2:8-9

This morning I really thought about it in the sense of my love for my children. While there are an infinite number of things that they do that please me, I couldn't make a list that ever would explain in any real way why I love them. I just do. Of course I would give my life for theirs. So, too, is God's love for us.

I can't say this, though, without adding - the fact that God's eternal love is freely given is not a free pass on everything else. Just like the fact that I love my own children does not mean that they can just do whatever they want. The gift of salvation and eternal life doesn't mean that we can live our lives without regard to others and without focusing on living the life that He wants us to live. As the quote above continues: "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Ephesians 2:10 While those "good works" do not earn us the gift we have been given, God has prepared them in advance for us to do. We have the easy part, we just have to look for them and then do them.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Invisibility Cloaks

A few weeks ago I was in Atlanta with some amazing students on a mission trip. Among the things that we did was go into Centennial Park and spend some time with people we met there. I ended up in this incredible conversation with two homeless men (others joined and left over time), sitting on a bench near the fountain. As I was sitting and talking with them, I noticed a family about 20 yards away who were holding a piece of paper and kept looking over at us. They never made eye contact, but kept looking our way for about ten or fifteen minutes. Eventually, they wandered over looking at the engraved bricks on the ground (if you haven't been there, it is one of those places where, if you made a contribution they would engrave your name on a brick). The brick that they were looking for was about three feet in front of us. Still, though standing right there, they did not acknowledge us in any way and set about taking photos of the brick.

After a few minutes, they put a little boy (probably about a year old) on the ground to get a picture with him and the brick. When the child would not look up for the camera, one of the men that I was talking to tried to get his attention and get him to look in the right direction for the picture. It was only then that the group gave us the slightest acknowledgment - and that was only something along the lines of "Thanks." After probably a total of five minutes, they wandered away and we were back to talking.

Later that day - and a number of times since then - I looked back on that experience. While they waited to approach, they clearly were hoping that the homeless looking group on the bench would just go away. They tried to look right through us, to make us go away - to make us invisible. In short, they did just what I do in my every day life. When I walk down the streets and see a homeless person a half a block away, I know to make sure not to make eye contact, to try to avoid them, and certainly not to talk with them. Yet I had an truly amazing conversation with these men about faith, raising kids, life on the streets, the justice system, etc. I learned from them, we ended our talk with hugs and I look forward to trying to find them the next time that I am in Atlanta (I'm praying for you Rick and Jerry).

So much has happened to these folks on the streets that has resulted in them being there. Then, we have been trained to strip that last bit of humanity from them by acting as if they do not exist. Because that family thought that I was part of that group, my eyes were opened that day, the invisibility cloaks were stripped away.

Of course, sadly, you return to your normal life and life starts to return to normal. I find myself letting those cloaks slip back on unless I remind myself of what it was like and the experience that I had. So, this is my reminder for today. I hope that anyone that reads this will at least consider whether they have been trained the same way and try to do something about it. I'm not suggesting, of course, that you put yourself in a dangerous situation or anything like that, but try to open your eyes and remind yourself "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me" and the corollary "whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me." Matthew 25:40 and Matthew 25:45