By Michael Karunas
Two significant events dominated my attention this past weekend. Saturday was devoted to a regional showchoir competition at which my son’s choir performed. After the semi-final round he was invited to perform a solo and chose a song by Callum Scott, which he arranged, while accompanying himself on the piano. Our family knows this song quite well, having heard him practicing it in the basement frequently, and consequently know all the lyrics. It is a beautiful, heartfelt song with a chorus that includes the phrase, “I’d climb ev’ry mountain, swim ocean, just to be with you and fix what I’ve broken…” Clearly this is meant to for someone very important to the singer, who wants to prove how meaningful they are by all that the singer is willing actively to do. The singer regrets something that went wrong and is now promising to put forth the most intense amount of effort to show the strongest dedication and commitment. Not surprisingly, the song resonates with people of all ages who can “dedicate” the song to someone they love.
With that chorus echoing in my mind I transitioned to the second significant event. Sunday and worship at Central Christian. Our focus was Lydia, the first convert in the church in Philippi, whose story is told in Acts 16:11-15. Lydia seemingly has everything. At least everything that earthly life promotes. She is a successful business owner, well-connected, rubbing shoulders with society’s elites, financially secure, and has a family to love. By her work ethic and tireless efforts, she has earned affluence and influence. She has achieved status and independence. And yet something was missing in Lydia’s life. This lack of fulfiullment created in her a spiritual curiosity that led her to a “place of prayer;” a place where she was open to receive something that might fill the void within. This is precisely the place she met Paul and heard him speak. From what we know of Paul’s preaching elsewhere in the New Testament, we can be pretty sure his words to her went something like this:
Lydia, in the end we are not saved by the hard work we put forth on earth; nor by the good things we do for those dependent on us; nor by the assets and achievements we acculumulate – even if these things produce beneficial consequences. On earth they are important to us. They can help us navigate our way through life. They often make us feel comfortable. And we may have gifts that can flourish when we puruse these things. And yet… none of these things will ever satisfy our deepest longings. They cannot save us from our feelings of dissatisfaction. Only God’s gifts of grace, generosity and love can do that; our faith in Christ as the best expression of those gifts. And when we truly believe that, our lives are changed in the present. We find that our prioirites and perspectives change. We no longer chase after future goals at the expense of experiencing and expressing God’s love and generosity in the present moment.
I am struck by the juxtaposition of this song from Saturday and this story from Sunday. When it comes to expressing our love for someone, effort, hard work and dedication will probably always matter. When it comes to repairing broken relationships with others, images like “climbing mountains” and “swimming oceans” will resonate with our human experiences. And truth be told, I could listen to my son perform that song daily. But when it comes to our relationship with Christ – the one that outlasts even the strongest of our earthly bonds – it is not what we do that matters, but who we are – people who believe in the gifts of grace and generosity and love that are present in every moment and appreciating them when they come to us; being attentive to these gifts in the here and now and and sekeing to share that which we have received. This is what truly saves us. All else will likely provide moments of comfort along the way. But in the end, they will eventually leave us somehow unsettled or unsatisfied. Lydia discovered this truth from Paul. May we receive this truth from her.