When Charlotte is away her mail – the old fashioned hard copy come through the letter box mail – piles up on her desk. The letters, cards, junk, a parcel or two, some purchases all sit there waiting. And then there are the catalogues. (You’ve shopped with us before, come shop again.) I think they are mainly about clothes – I don’t really notice – I think of them as largely ‘Nanna supplies’ for grandchildren. These catalogues have many pages but they are specifically posted to her at our address (the non named ones tend to go straight into recycling). As I threw the latest catalogue on the pile, something caught my eye and I picked it up again. It was addressed to me!
It was a clothes catalogue for women. Huh! I flipped through more than 100 pages and a kaleidoscope of the same three women appeared before me in all sorts of summer clothing. Bright sunshine, smiles, lots of colours, scenic places bombarded my eyes – and of course, there were the clothes. I wondered how my name came onto the catalogue. There’s nothing wrong with sending it to me but I would have thought I wasn’t a top demographic. And then it clicked – I had bought a dress online last year for my ‘Secret Santa’ Christmas present. The ‘Huh!’ became an ‘Ah!’.
The catalogue was testimony that I had visited once and bought something. Would I like to buy some more? Would I return? I might … when I have a need.
And in an instant I was in my ‘church world’ where religion and God are products that people access, invest in, maybe buy when they have a need. I know there is a dimension to being clergy that I am categorised as in the retail section of occupations – hopefully a nice salesman but a salesman nonetheless in that I want something from people. And Ascension or Redeemer or Good Shepherd or the ELCE or Lutheran groups or ‘Christianity Inc’ are the ‘shop fronts’ and they can be well run and pleasant – or not – but they need people to exist. And people, if nothing else, are wary shoppers. They want a bargain, a good deal, and, above all, to control the transaction.
So here’s the mystery. God is a giver – for free! Everything he does – creation and salvation and living each day – are gifts to us. He gives without an agenda in terms of getting something out of us. This God wants us to live and live life to the fullest. Our human religions, however, are all designed because we want the gifts but not the Giver. Christianity can fall into this paradigm too because it is full of people but, at its centre, Christianity is fundamentally different because Jesus is different. He came to serve and not be served. He came so that we might live – now and after death.
And Jesus also reveals another mystery – another message – call it explaining reality – something not obvious to us – everything about Jesus is a trust thing, a belief, ‘through faith’ – but when we hear it, it makes sense and that is sin and God can only coexist when God ‘shields’ his holiness or wears masks (think the incarnation, think Jesus’ words, water, bread and wine). Left to ourselves humanity creates misery and death, the haves and the have nots, and our mystery is getting our heads around why people can behave so badly and not learn from history but we don’t think of ourselves as rebellious to God (because the gods always want to limit us, challenge us).
But the story of the Giving God in Jesus is one of rescue and relationships. We’re the suspicious shopper – if it seems to good to be true it is we say. That’s why grace and forgiveness and Jesus are kept at arm’s length and almost feared by many.
The Good News of Jesus can take a long time to believe. Free?! Really??!! For me???!!! Yes, indeed!!!! GS