March 12, 2017
Letters Home (from a retired pastor to his family, the Church)
Several years ago my wife and I adopted Sam. We received a great deal of advice before doing this. Most of our friends suggested that adopting an infant would be easier. That way the little one would have the opportunity to grow into the family without the influences of a life lived before the adoption. We appreciated all the advice, but we went ahead anyway. Sam was an adult when he came to us. We made him a part of our family for two reasons. The first was simply because of who he was. We sensed there was something wonderful about him. And secondly, we opened our family to him because Sam was living in a very dangerous situation. He was living on the streets. I should mention that Sam was a cat.
Sammy had a rough start. His first family adopted him, had his front claws removed, and abandoned him. After that he had to fight for his life on the streets. I liked to remind those who knew Sam that at one time he had real “street cred,” and still carried the scars to prove it. When he first moved in with us he was wary of everything. It took him about two years to adjust to leaving the dangerous world of his youth behind, and begin to live in the world of love and care that we offered him. Many years later, when Sam’s time came to an end, I believe he had been able to make that internal shift from seeing danger everywhere, to sensing that the world in which he lived truly cared for him.
Over my years of life and ministry I have come to understand that Sam was not the only one to struggle to discern the basic nature of the world around him. Every child of Adam and Eve has to determine whether the world they dwell in is fundamentally dangerous, neutral, or supportive of their existence. The way we answer this question becomes the foundation upon which we build our lives. When danger is the dominant theme of a person’s world, the actions they take, the plans they make, and the ways they engage others tend to be fundamentally defensive. If the universe is neither this nor that, if it simply does not care about any of us, then everything is absolutely in our hands, and we are the gods of our own universe. But what if the foundation of creation has been laid upon the ground of deep and abiding love? What kind of world would that be? What kind of lives could we live?
Erich Heller is credited for the following words, “Be careful how you interpret the world, it really is like that.” I think this is a way of saying that the world really is dangerous, indifferent, and fundamentally nurturing all at the same time. This quote suggests that we get to choose which of these realities to dwell within. Jesus of Nazareth seems to have agreed with this premise. When we read the accounts of His life and teaching we see that he repeatedly challenged those around Him to choose which world they wanted to live in; an existence dominated by the broken human systems of the time, or the world as intended by its Original Creator. Jesus reminded those who would hear him that the Kingdom of God had come close and was simply one step or decision away from where they stood at that time.
This choice to live in a creation whose foundations have been laid upon the love and care of God is not a naive choice to make. It is real and pragmatic. The lives of Jesus and all the saints after him demonstrate that in a world in which good things happen to bad people, and bad things happen to good people there is a power that tends to draw things back on course to fulfillment. We probably do not need anyone to confirm the truth of this to us. Most of us have discovered that along the course of our lives amazing moments of grace have come our way. Often these have simply come out of the blue; someone forgives us, a new opportunity arises, and every once in awhile we have been blessed with a do-over and a new beginning. These are not miracles, they are part and parcel of the universe God has created.
God’s glory is always to have mercy. The foundations of our world have been laid upon this truth. Our shared Christian faith proclaims that like Sammy, we have also been adopted and have the opportunity to choose to live with the fact of God’s grace as the foundation of our lives. I know it takes time to adapt, but what a joy when we finally do.
Second Sunday in Lent
O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns,one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 218)