Rosh Hashanah-- sundown Monday, Sep. 17 to Wed. Sep. 19.

Jer. 4: 11--12, 22--28 Psa. 14 1Tim. 1: 12--17 Luke 15: 1--10

Hebrew Scriptures: TNK; New Testament: NAB; except as noted.

When we pause to consider the connotations of these metaphors, we realize why the Christian Church is reluctant to preach the Hebrew Scriptures. God's indictments are all too pointed and penetrating; we do not want to hear it because it makes us too uncomfortable.

Wait a minute. In today's Epistle lesson, we read: Indeed, the grace of our Lord has been abundant.... Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. (1Tim. 1: 14..15) If Christ has saved us, if God has forgiven us through the cross and has reconciled us by the resurrection, then do we need to be concerned with Jeremiah and the Psalmist? The author of the Sermon to the Hebrews teaches us that, in Christ, we should no longer have any consciousness of sin(1), let alone feel guilty. After all, have we not been washed in the blood of the Lamb? Dare we even countenance the notion that Christ's atonement may have been in any way deficient or ineffective?

No, we dare not. But--

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2: 12, NRSV). This is a confusing text, because it confronts us with the fact that there is salvation and there is salvation. Paul obviously does not mean to denigrate Jesus' ministry nor to imply that we, by our own works, can achieve the salvation wrought by the cross. That, by God's grace, is done, accomplished; and accredited to us through faith in Jesus Christ.

But the Apostle states that we must work out [our] own salvation. Jesus put it this way: "[T]ake up [your] cross daily and follow me." (Lk. 9: 23) This is the "other" salvation; it involves our daily behavior and carries its own system of rewards and punishments, which is why we are admonished to do it with fear and trembling. When we read the letter from James in this light, we find how he and Paul agree. And we become aware of the necessity of reading, and heeding, all of God's Word.

As far as I can recall, I have always heard Luke's two parables explained in terms of God in search of me, which, I am glad, is a valid reading. But is this all that Jesus meant? What if we-- you and I-- are the man and woman that Jesus was speaking about? The parables now relate to that "other" salvation, and we recognize a new pertinence to the phrase: until he [she] finds it. (Lk. 15: 5 & 8) Our everyday life constitutes a search, a "working out" of our salvation. But we need to be careful here; it is not our salvation that is lost. Our salvation is the search. What, then, is the sheep or coin you have lost?

Do you care?

According to Jesus, God does. Maybe you (and I) had better. [W]ith fear and trembling.

1. * Heb. ch. 9, 10: 1--2.

(comments to Phil at )