I love Olympic years! To see most of our world’s countries come together, competing in a large variety of sporting events is so exciting! The host country is put on the global stage for the rest of the world to see. We are given the precious opportunity to learn about another nation’s beautiful culture along with their national struggles.
The Olympians are fiercely competitive! Each has their own story, many filled with challenges and some even heartbreak. For the most part there is great respect between the athletes. Occasionally there is an individual or two who do a bit of taunting, but that seems to only serve to energize the other athlete(s). This is a group of the world’s top competitors, who love their sports, respect each other’s abilities and seek to bring back to their countries one of those coveted medals.
I just began a book by Will Willimon titled “Who Will Be Saved?” I bought this book a few years ago, mostly because I was drawn to the title. The question of salvation comes up in conversations between Christians from differing traditions. Sometimes in the midst of these conversations, it begins to feel like a competition. I am in and you are out. I’ve done everything right and will get the coveted place with God and you won’t. As a Presbyterian, I am often the one who feels like she is being put on the outside of salvation. “Are you saved?” is not a question that comes up often in our tradition.
When asked this question, I want to respond with: “Saved from what? Myself? life? The world?”
Maybe, though, my question should be: “Saved for what?”
Since I have a deep respect for each and every faith tradition, I have chosen to respond with, “Yes, I am saved each and every day, over and over again?”
Words like salvation can turn people off from organized religion. It has been used at times to divide people rather than unite. It can feel more like a quest; if we are good enough, or believe hard enough, we will achieve the status of being saved.
In my mind salvation is a continual process. It is an action that has been set in motion by God. Salvation isn’t about excluding but including. Salvation is the means by which God seeks to bring all of us into a strong, healthy, loving relationship with God and with each other. Salvation has less to do with us and more to do with God’s loving action toward us. For me, as a Presbyterian Christian, that saving act is in Jesus, God’s son. For another, it might be … ?
When I watch the Olympic Games, I see a glimpse of what God’s saving grace looks like.
I see people from different countries, different faith traditions, different life experiences coming together under “one umbrella.” They are not tearing each other down for their skin color or their religious beliefs. They are united for a single purpose, the Olympics.
As I look around our nation and our world, I struggle to see unity. Our political situation is serving no unified purpose. There is no “umbrella” to stand under. Freedom of speech has become a weapon to tear people and the heart of this nation down. Neighbors are shooting neighbors. Fear and negativity abound.
I believe that we are all being called to become unified as one under the umbrella of Love. Salvation, whatever definition you use, is based in love, God’s love for us. If we would each consciously choose love over any other emotion, we would find ourselves living in a very different world. Love builds up. It doesn’t tear down. Love disagrees with respect. Love honors differences and celebrates similarities. Love is what will save us, each and everyone.
Love just might be what is needed to save our world.
The Rev. Deb Patterson is pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Delaware.