Work out your own Salvation!
Obviously I write this from the Christian standpoint, but I am sure you can translate it to any religious take that you want. So:-
Keeping all personalities out of the following, but if your vicar [or spiritual leader of whatever religious persuasion you follow] approached you one day and said, “Well, John” – “Fred” – “Annie” whoever, “I believe God is telling you to sell all your possessions, give all the money away and for you to join a monastic community.” What would your reaction be?
One possible reply might be, “That’s some idea vicar. I will have to think a bit about that one!” and rush on at great speed!
I guess the type of response would depend upon how much you held your vicar [or leader] in regard – or not.
So again keeping all personalities out of the following, one example would be if my Rural Dean had approached me a few years ago and said, “John, I think God is telling you to return to parish ministry.” “Rural Dean”, I reply, “go play with your rosary beads”.
But if my bishop had said, “John, I think God is telling you to return to parish ministry.” Then that would have presented me with a problem, for all ordained priests swear an oath to obey their bishop. It would make me stop and think. That would have been even more so if one of the two archbishops did the telling.
However if Jesus had appeared before me and said, “John, I think you should return to parish ministry.” Then probably I would first doubt my sanity. Had I gone crazy, for Jesus does not suddenly appear before people and speak in that manner. However, if others were present and also saw him then we would jointly, no doubt, question the person’s identity. Next, if we were all convinced that it was in fact Jesus standing before me, then I would have to say, “Yes Lord, whatever you say, even if you asked me to walk on water I would do it.”
That is what happened to the disciples according to the gospel of Matthew, chapter 14, verses 22-33, following the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000.
Then he made the disciples embark and go on ahead to the other side, while he sent the people away. After doing that, he went up the hill-side to pray alone. It grew late, and he was there by himself. The boat was already some furlongs from the shore, battling with a head-wind and a rough sea. Between three and six in the morning he came to them, walking over the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake they were so shaken that they cried out in terror: “It is a ghost!” But at once he spoke to them: “Take heart! It is I; do not be afraid.” Peter called to him: “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you over the water.” “Come”, said Jesus. Peter stepped down from the boat, and walked over the water towards Jesus. But when he saw the strength of the gale he was seized with fear; and beginning to sink, he cried, “Save me, Lord.” Jesus at once reached out and caught hold of him, and said, “Why did you hesitate? How little faith you have!” They then climbed into the boat; and the wind dropped. And the men in the boat fell at his feet, exclaiming, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
In the early hours of the morning, despite the rough waters of the lake, Jesus walked towards them and, as we read in anther version of the same story, would have walked by! So first the disciples doubted their eyes and they thought it was a ghost, but after being reassured that it was in fact Jesus, their terror turned to awe. “Truly you are the Son of God”. But Peter – rash impulsive, horribly enthusiastic Peter, called out that if Jesus asked him to, then he would also walk on the water to Jesus. Notice the others had more sense and stayed well and truly fast in the boat, not saying a word. They had lots of commonsense. But it looks as if everyone came under Jesus’ admonishment, for when Peter realised the crazy situation and the predicament that he was in, he began to sink and called out for help. So Jesus rebukes him [and them?] for having little faith – lots of commonsense – but little faith.
Let’s bring that up to date.
I am sure that there are two very clear aspects to the Christian walk. The first is that it is a mixture of faith and common sense. If it was all a matter of faith then we would all be like Peter – non-thinking and impossible to live with! If it was all a matter of commonsense, then what do we make of the promises of faith? Jesus, in fact, actually promised us a sword! He also said, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, he must leave self behind; he must take up his own cross and follow me.” Matt 16.24. In other words the Christian life is not all honey and roses but can be one of trial and tribulation, simply because of our faith. There are times when we go through our own crucifixion experiences and life is hell. There are these times when God calls us to stand up and be counted – as a matter of faith.
So for example, we could be asked of God to sell our possessions, give the proceeds to charity and for us to join a monastic community. It does happen from time to time to some people – but thankfully not very often.
Then perhaps we could be asked of God to write a [monthly] letter to the ‘powers that be’, or the local newspaper or journal, concerning what we believe to be right and proper, say, about gay bishops or women priests, for example, controversial subjects that commonsense says stay clear of.
We might be asked of God to give up an evening a week in the distribution of soup or alms to the ‘down and outs’ of the local city, swapping comfort and safety for discomfort and danger.
We might be asked of God to intervene in a neighbourhood dispute, or even a family dispute, standing up for what we believe to be right. That will sort out the friends from acquaintances! That will show us what a crucifixion experience is all about and what acting in faith truly means!
The second point is that no one can truly tell us what God wants of us in any given situation! It is not the role of the vicar or any spiritual leader to do this. They are there to advise, confer with and teach but not to stand in our place! That remains with us and we can only believe in good faith what God is asking of us – for that is never easy. When we pass on from this life and stand before the pearly gates – figuratively speaking – Peter will ask us what we did or did not do and why not. It will not be any good to say that the vicar did not tell you to do this or that or any such thing. You will stand there on your own and be judged according to what YOU did or did not do. It is your life and so your responsibility – and no one else’s. There can be no hiding at that point.
So I finish with a quote from St Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 2 verses 12 and 13, “Work out your own salvation, with fear and trembling, for God is at work in you to will and to work for his good pleasure”.