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Thursday, June 28, 2018

Luke 1:46-56

Mary's song is traditionally called "The Magnificat" because of the first Latin word that translates, "My soul magnifies ..." It's a beautiful song, strongly parallel to Hannah's prayer in 1 Samuel 2. In both cases, the song / prayer is a powerful statement of what it means that God "saves."

Sadly, the whole idea of saving / being saved / salvation has become overlaid with all kinds of religious baggage in our time. In most Christian circles, "being saved" has something to do with being certain you will go to heaven after you die. It is purely individualistic, purely "spiritual" in the sense that it has little or nothing to do with physical reality here and now, and this version of "being saved" has little to do with a biblical view of salvation.

The word itself comes from the same root as "salve" in our language, and in both Greek and English has to do with healing. Part of the reason this word, this concept, is so hard for us these days is we have little agreement about "sin," little agreement about what it is that we need to be saved from. People who make a big deal out of morality -- and morality is important, but Jesus is about so much more than behaving well -- seem to see salvation as being saved from moral failings so that one can become a good person. The Bible has plenty to say about morality and moral failures, but most of the Bible's content in this regard is telling embarrassing stories about how the greatest heroes have failed. If you come open-eyed to the Bible with the assumption that being saved equals becoming good, you'll get frustrated in a hurry.

Two thoughts that are perhaps helpful.

First, being saved has to do, as we just observed, with healing. Think of all the ways our lives are broken: Broken dreams, broken relationships, broken hopes, broken bodies. Brokenness is a daily reality for every one of us. To be "saved" -- that is, to be healed -- means that our brokenness is dealt with in an effective way. Wholeness is the opposite of brokenness, and wholeness is a good translation of the Hebrew word "shalom" which most often gets translated peace. Think of peace not as the absence of conflict, but the presence of wholeness, of the restoration of health in every sense, especially relationally.

That relationships are the deepest dimension of our lives is obvious to anyone who thinks for even a few minutes about it. Consider all the brokenness in our relational lives -- between bosses and employees, between husbands and wives, between parents and children, between priests and parishioners, between humans and creation, between managers and the money they manage, between longings and fulfillment ... all of these pairings are relational, and all of them are broken. To be saved means to have our relationships put back on the right footing, including our relationship with God. Because of the brokenness in every other area of our lives, we are prone to project onto God all the disappointment, all the shame, all the scolding and frowning and abuse and hateful behavior we experience in every other area that leaves us so deeply broken. God becomes the abusive father, the angry lover, the disappointed mother. But these are our pictures, not reality.

The second thought that might be helpful -- and this is really key when one begins to understand the Bible's perspective -- is that God is the hero of the story. So much of our striving is built around making ourselves the hero. We strive to look good, to be well thought of, to Do Things Right, to profit, to climb, to endure -- all so that we might look like the hero in our own stories. Salvation starts with acknowledging that God is the hero of the story, and it is this more than anything that Mary gets right in the Magnificat. She understands that it is God who has acted to bring healing, that it is God who has power, that it is God who deserves credit. God is the hero. If we want to understand the significance of these gospel stories, these stories about Jesus, it starts with recognizing that God is acting for the benefit of his people, his creation, his beloved. God is bringing healing and wholeness where before there was only hopeless brokenness.

To bring this kind of healing, God acts in surprising ways. He gets into the mess, gets dirty to make things happen. Last night we had Vacation Bible School at Decision Hills. More than a hundred kids showed up and received sparkling white t-shirts and had a great time singing on the beach and playing games and learning about Jesus. Then, in a surprising incarnational move, they were given buckets of colored paint and sponges and played relay races that left those t-shirts a cacophony of color, THEN six adults -- yours truly included -- donned hooded white painting coveralls and goggles, and buckets of powder paint came out. Each child received a dixie cup, and the powder paint began to fly like a blizzard of many hues. More than anything else, these children seemed absolutely delighted that the adults were getting into the mess with them, getting into the multicolored arena and playing without saying, "Stay inside the lines" and "Make sure you don't get that in your hair" and "NOT IN YOUR MOUTH!" Rather, instead of boundaries that were used to shame, the joy of the whole experience was that it was a lot chaotic and everyone ended up multi-colored. It's a tiny parable of God getting into the mess with us, less obsessive about keeping us neat and tidy and more about loving the relationship, delighting in the crazy process, joyful to see us growing, healing, learning to fly. After all, he's the one who provided all that paint in the first place.

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