There was an outdoor orchestra concert in New York and the featured piece of music began with a far off trumpet–a distant, clarion call that set the tone for the whole symphony. In rehearsals the conductor moved the trumpeter to the farthest edge of the stage, and then further into the wings. Still, he wasn’t getting the dramatic effect he wanted. Finally the conductor placed the trumpeter far off stage–behind a hedge of bushes to the side of the audience.
On the day of the concert the conductor takes the podium and the trumpeter, who has been crouching behind the bushes, stands and blows a great, stirring flourish. Whereupon the park security police, assuming he is a crackpot out to disrupt the refined symphony concert, promptly tackle and cuff him in the grass.
I think of that slapstick scene as I hear the clarion call of John the Baptist. “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord . . . . Bear fruits that befit repentance!” John wasn’t preaching from a gilded pulpit in a stately temple. He definitely wasn’t “on stage.” He takes up his post way out in the wilderness, out in the bushes. And when he stands to blow his trumpet of salvation, we tackle him.
John declares what we want least to hear: your salvation depends on how you treat the poor. The crowds who came out into the wilderness to hear John stood wind-whipped in their Versace dresses and Hermes shoes. Cut to the heart by his message of radical change they said, “’What then shall we do?’ And he answered them, ‘He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none, and he who has food, let him do the same’”(Luke 3:10-11).
The “salvation of our God” is not just about you and your private redemption, it’s about uplifting and restoring all people, especially the poor and the forgotten, the sick and weary ones we so easily forget. John shakes his head against our selfish “spirituality,” using faith to fix our own little problems and actually shield us from God’s favorite folks–the screw ups and misfits, the bald-faced and shame-faced (who live not just out there but in the walled off recesses of our own hearts).
We have to learn that our own saving is bound up in the rescue of the big human family. Either we all make it, or none of us will. When we remember the poor, when we shelter the widow and orphan, when we make room for those who aren’t like us–by race, color, orientation, when we welcome the stranger and bind up the wounds of our sisters and brothers, a strange and awesome thing begins to happen. We feel human again. We laugh again and feel that lightness of being. We know who we are in God’s eyes. Without knowing it, we have been saved.
Throw a line to someone in need today: the life you save will be your own