This would drive Sheldon nuts
Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ reproduces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for March 28th: 2 Kings 4:18-37; Psalm 143; and Ephesians 2:1-10. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
One of Paul’s essential teachings is that salvation is granted through faith not works. Before his conversion, Paul was trained as a Pharisee, a strict observer and teacher of the Mosaic Law. It is said that there are 613 commandments in the Hebrew Scriptures. Laws affected not only the spiritual and worship practices of observant Jews, but nearly every aspect of daily life, as well. Righteousness, in a certain sense, could be gauged by how a person followed the Law, what a person did.
Paul’s conversion was a powerfully mystical encounter with the glorified Christ of heaven. Paul had done nothing to deserve this special vision of Jesus. As a matter of fact, Paul was working against the followers of Jesus when he experienced his conversion. As the account is shared in Acts of the Apostles, the heavenly Jesus appears to “a disciple in Damascus named Ananias.” (9:10) Ananias protests being sent to Paul because of “how much evil he [Paul] has done to your saints.” (9:13) The Lord answers Ananias saying, “‘Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel …’” (9:15) Paul did nothing to deserve a revelation from heaven and Paul was basically named an apostle by the heavenly Jesus based on what only the glorified Christ could see as Paul’s potential, what Paul would do not what Paul had done.
Works are completely absent from Paul’s experience of Jesus. Rather, Paul experiences Jesus as a gift from God. No payment is expected for a gift that is offered, but neither should it be treated disrespectfully. Accordingly, Paul worked tirelessly to share Jesus with others. He traveled far and wide throughout the Roman Empire planting church communities, establishing local leadership groups, and then moving on to another location to do the same. He stayed in contact with these various communities through correspondence, some of which survived and made it into the New Testament canon.
In today’s selection from Ephesians, we read, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” Salvation through faith as a gift from God is a teaching that flows from Paul’s own experiences. This is Paul’s first-person testimony based on his encounter on the Road to Damascus.
There is also the message in this passage that we are created “for good works,” and that these should be “our way of life.” Works do not earn faith and thus salvation, but works flow from faith. Salvation is a gift from Christ that we can never repay. The character Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory hated gifts. He felt indebted to the gift giver. He tried to calculate an exact equivalent to return to the gift giver to get out of the feeling of indebtedness. This was a comedy on television, but it is an impossibility when it comes to the gift of salvation. We are forever indebted to Jesus.
Salvation cost Jesus His life. There is nothing in any of our lives, or even in all our lives combined that can repay Jesus for this gift. It is an impossibility. However, Jesus offers salvation as a free gift. This would upset terribly Sheldon, but for us as people of faith, it is meant to inspire good works as a way of life. Not to repay Jesus, but to pay it forward.
May Lent help us to appreciate better the gift of salvation that cost Jesus the cross, and may this then inspire us to live our lives in appreciation of that free, priceless gift.
If you’d like, here is the link to the Southern New England Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.sneucc.org/lectionary.
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