The only thing that separates you from God is the thought that you are separated from God. It is all in your head (and mine). You cannot be separate from God. If you lived for one nanosecond separate from God, you would cease to exist. When you live in that realization, that you are connected to God by a bond that can never be broken, it always feels like surrender. But it’s a good kind of surrender. You will feel like the weight of the world has been lifted off your shoulders. We spend a lot of time thinking that with all the big, serious problems going on in the world, how could God care about little, old me? But God does. And when you surrender to that, when you allow that, when you enjoy that, when you draw upon that—that is what it means to be saved.
One of the worst things we can do, as a Church—when we get into unhealthy theology–is to push this thing called salvation into the future and make it a worthiness contest. We are all running the race trying to be worthy and pure and moral and coming to Church, etc. (Thank you for coming to church, by the way). All of that is OK, but none of this earns you anything. You were in union with God before you were about to come to communion. It’s all mercy. It’s all grace. It’s all free gift. It might take you the first 40 years of your life to get there, but the real sad thing is there are 80-year-olds, whose lives are winding down, who never get there.
In our second reading, Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, notice what tense Paul is writing and speaking in. He writes in the past tense but never the future tense. He says, “when we were dead through our trespasses, God made us (past tense) alive with Christ.” He continues, “And God raised us up (past tense) with Christ and seated us (past tense) with him…” Paul continues again, “For by grace you have been saved (past tense) through faith…” If we have been made alive, raised up, and been saved, why do so many of us we keep pushing salvation into the future and turning it into a worthiness contest? Your salvation has already been achieved on God’s side. It’s just we who have not jumped on the train, surrendered to it, allowed it, or realized it. And as if it wasn’t obvious enough, Paul says, “By grace you have been saved (past tense) and this is not of your own doing (so stop wasting time with this worthiness contest); it is the gift of God.” He wants to show you the immeasurable riches of God’s grace. Grace means, by definition, something that is totally free. There is no work you can do to achieve this; it has been prepared for you in advance. The problem is solved from the beginning. And the only difference is between those of us who believe it and those of us who still want to earn and engineer our own salvation.
Now if you want to keep thinking how terrible you are, how unworthy you are, and what you have done wrong, you will probably fit in with most of the human race. You are free to think that way, but just know this: it’s not the Gospel. We tend to concentrate on our unworthiness; we have all done it, myself included. Before you come to the altar you are all going to publicly say together, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof.” And after we say that, we all corporately agree “we’re not worthy.” And then, I don’t know who started this, but all of a sudden it becomes a worthiness contest to come up to the altar. We will notice someone in the communion line who is in their second marriage (without an annulment, I might add) and think inwardly: “you better not come up, you’re unworthy. You people who are gay, you better not come up here; you’re not worthy. You, in the fourth pew, who sold me my last car, the lemon—oh, you forgot about that, well I didn’t–you better not come up; you’re not worthy. You who are destroying your life with that addiction—the addiction I can tell you’re not even trying to overcome—you better not come up; you’re not worthy.”
That’s just a waste of time. That means you are still inside the contest as if it was up to you to decide who’s in and who’s out, who God loves and who God doesn’t love. As Paul says here in Ephesians, “we’re all saved by mercy and grace.” No exceptions! From Pope Francis to me, to you, to the prisoners, to the Protestants, to the atheists, to drunkards, to whomever we think is unworthy, God has already saved through mercy and grace. So, we have to stop making those silly distinctions. The only thing that separates you from God is the thought that you are separate from God. Period. It is not a moral worthiness contest.
Now with that as a background, let us look at one of the most quoted lines in all the bible, a line from today’s gospel. This line is meant to jump out at you: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but that the world might be saved through him.” He will be raised up and everyone who looks upon him will have eternal life. Now what does that mean? Picture Jesus being raised up on the Cross. He is stretching out and holding together the divine and the human. It is as if Jesus is saying, “Look at me, I am the icon, I am the image of what God is doing everywhere, all the time.” Everywhere, all the time, and in every human being!
There was a time in early Church history, where we thought Jesus had to be either divine or human. This dualistic thinking, this either/or thinking, gave way eventually to a non-dualistic thinking, to a both/and thinking. Jesus is both fully human and fully divine. That seems like a contradiction. But if you can trust that Jesus is fully human and fully divine…you know what?…you can transfer that to yourself and to everybody else–that you also are divine and human. That’s the leap of faith. That is what is so hard to believe.
We are all overwhelmed by our unworthiness–how we think is not the image of God. It’s all about recognizing: “whose image am I?” You are objectively, ontologically, theologically, philosophically, metaphysically…forget all those big words…you are already a child of God. So, salvation is not a matter of “if”; it’s only a matter of “when.” When do you get it? And most people put it off to the last hour of life. Then you have no choice. At that point you have to finally surrender to the mystery of God and the mystery of love. But you are the lucky people who can begin to know it now! Why not?
The only thing that separates you from God is the thought, the mental thought, “I’m separate from God”. And when you think that way, you tend to live that way. When you know also that you are the son/the daughter of God, created in the image of Christ, then salvation begins and you are already experiencing eternal life.
Fr. Phil Mulligan