JUSTIN LEWIS-ANTHONY’S “If you see George Herbert …” has been a great read. A breath of fresh air. A challenge to rethink the living out of priestly ministry: everyone’s priestly ministry. The book tackles some of the dangers inherent in “mythos” – the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves – head on. A parish priest goes every evening to watch the passing-by of a regular train just for the joy of it – “because it’s the only thing I don’t run” … (now, if it’s true, whose fault is that!). This is a challenge to the notion of salvation by incessant striving and I’m recommending it to any and all, clergy and laity alike. 3 Minute Theologian contributes a great deal to clarity of thought and purpose. What’s salvation about, for anyone, anyway?
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori hit the news headlines at this year’s General Convention as it was understood that she denounced the idea of personal salvation as heresy. “Apparently I wasn’t clear”, writes the bishop in an OPINION column yesterday, the last three paragraphs of which are in my view most helpfully clear … and written at the end of August after several week’s further pondering. Neither knee-jerk reaction nor “incessant striving.”
Salvation depends on love of God and our relationship with Jesus, and we give evidence of our relationship with God in how we treat our neighbors, nearby and far away. Salvation is a gift from God, not something we can earn by our works, but neither is salvation assured by words alone.
Salvation cannot be complete, in an eternal and eschatological sense, until the whole of creation is restored to right relationship. That is what we mean when we proclaim in the catechism that “the mission of the church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ” and that Christian hope is to “live with confidence in newness and fullness of life and to await the coming of Christ in glory and the completion of God’s purpose for the world.” We anticipate the restoration of all creation to right relationship, and we proclaim that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection made that possible in a new way.
At the same time, salvation in the sense of cosmic reconciliation is a mystery. It’s hard to pin down or talk about. It is ultimately the gift of a good and gracious God, not the product of our incessant striving. It is about healing and wholeness and holiness, the fruit of being more than doing. Just like another image we use to speak about restored relationship, the reign of God, salvation is happening all the time, all around us. Where do you see evidence?
The train spotting priest is uncomfortable with the notion that he runs everything. Others are uncomfortable because they feel they don’t run enough. This morning I thank God that there’s one thing I know that we humans absolutely DON’T run. And that’s salvation. Thanks for the reminder Bishop Katharine.