Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid.
The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.” With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. In that day you will say:
“Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
make known among the nations what he has done,
and proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things;
let this be known to all the world.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion,
for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”
Wow. What a bold statement. I am a fickle spirit with a timid heart. I am not struck by “God is my Salvation.” Rather, it’s the “Surely” part that gets me. I’m not “Surely” about anything, if I’m quite honest. And my life does not look like someone who says, with conviction, “Surely God is my Salvation.”
If you looked at me, if you knew me, it might look more like this:
Surely planning is my salvation
Surely well-placed humor is my salvation
Surely clarity of purpose is my salvation
Surely my friends are my salvation
Surely perfect sentences are my salvation
Surely stained glass and quiet and pretty words are my salvation
But not the God of the Universe. Nope. That sucker* is too wily and unpredictable to be relied upon. Because to me, salvation is security. Not shalom.
If salvation was right relationship and restoration and all that stuff…if salvation was something I actually wanted…it would be a lot easier to say “Surely God is my salvation.” If I truly wanted a revolution, it would be a lot easier to trust an Almighty Being who says to his C-Suite “it’s okay, guys, I’ve got a plan. I’m going to give them a baby. Because they have a GREAT track record on raising exemplary human beings who are not horribly wounded and operating from a deficit mindset. I know we’ve got a hundred generations of really poor ROI, but trust me, this time it’s gonna WORK.” I could trust that God if I was willing to take risks, to keep believing in other people, to lose a bet, to lose my bed. But that isn’t my salvation.
I mean, it is. I’ve been to Sunday school. I get that head knowledge. But don’t talk to me about that 8 inch journey to the heart because honey, I haven’t got the map that makes that trek predictable. Siri can’t help me with that.
Hearing the verse “Surely God is my Salvation” has made it so painfully clear that I don’t actually believe it. I am still co-opted by the Gospel of Security, and I’ve been lazy. It takes a lot of concerted effort to throw in beside a God whose plan A is conception, pregnancy, birth. Not only is it the slow route, it’s hella dangerous. How many times do you think God might’ve miscarried before finally making it to the birth? How many Saviors-in-Waiting might’ve succumbed to infant mortality? [Sidenote: Is this like Slayer Activation? Was there a Divine number list, where when one was lost another began the process all over again?] So, yes, dangerous, and the slow-boat, to boot. [Another sidenote: we ask our ministers to study the culture of their placement and learn their context and yada yada, but we ask them to “measure their effectiveness” and “demonstrate their outcomes” very quickly. Yet Christ himself just hung around for 33 years before opening his mouth once. SLOW. BOAT. We have much to learn from silence. We’re all talking too much.]
“I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.” Wow.
John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”
“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”
The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if Johnmight possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.
“You brood of vipers!” Ah, yes, there we go. That’s more familiar. This guy’s talking to me and he’s got my number. And while it is fully awful to be called on your bullshit – it can also be liberating. It proves you’re seen by someone, at least. It proves that you’re not as good at hiding as you thought, so you really can come out from behind that smokescreen – because, as it turns out, people could see through it anyway, and they haven’t gone full shun on you quite yet. John recognizes my game, and he’s calling me out on it. John brings the urgency. John tells me to get with the program. John has seen how Isaiah read me and is telling me that now that I know better, I have to do better. And doing better looks like throwing in beside the wily God. It looks like actively battling my Security worship. It looks like burning my idols – so, y’know, making a concerted effort to live a life informed by what the kingdom of God looks like instead of what the middle class American hipster life looks like.
John speaks to the powerful and despised in the context. He speaks to mercenaries and tax collectors, both of whom made it fat by taking more than they should’ve. But you know what? None of those single mercenaries or collectors were the ones who created the system, they’re just the ones who benefited from it, right? What could one tax collector do? It wasn’t his fault that the game was set up this way.
And you know what John says? STOP IT. Like, guys, just STOP it. And do the opposite thing. Stop extorting people and be satisfied with your wages. Don’t take more than what you’re required to take. And whatever you have in excess, share with those who have nothing.
So what might John say to me? When I say “I know this item was probably made from unfair labor abroad, but I’m not the one who set up the system and I still need to clothe myself…”
STOP IT. There are other ways for you to clothe yourself. And by the way, don’t you have more than you need? God clothes the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. Okay, that was Jesus, yeah. Don’t think you caught me, I know I’m hopping texts, cool it. Don’t miss the point.
“But John, I’m in a hurry, and I don’t have time to confront the cashier who just did some awful racial profiling to the person in front of me.” STOP IT. Share your privilege.
Our call to action in this text is to Do the work. Do. The. Work. Bear the fruit. Don’t just farm it somewhere else. Don’t just pay someone else to harvest it. Don’t then pay someone else to process it for you. Bear that fruit. Feel the weight of it on your branches. Own the process from flower to harvest.