Alive in Christ (Artful Devotion)

Harriet Tubman series #4
Jacob Lawrence (American, 1914–2000), The Life of Harriet Tubman (Panel #4), 1940. Casein tempera on hardboard, 30.5 × 45.4 cm.

Ephesians 2:1–10 (two translations):

ESV: And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

The Message: It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us! Then he picked us up and set us down in highest heaven in company with Jesus, our Messiah.

Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.


SONG: “Night Has Turned to Day” by Fantastic Negrito, on Fantastic Negrito (2014)

This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, cycle B, click here.

Excerpts from “The Everlasting Mercy” by John Masefield

The poet laureate of the United Kingdom from 1930 until his death in 1967, John Masefield occasionally turned to Christian themes in his writing. In 1911 he wrote “The Everlasting Mercy,” a long poem that tells the tale of a man’s conversion from a life of sin to life in Christ. Masefield takes us down into the darkness felt by the poem’s antihero and speaker, Saul Kane—a belligerent drunk and a womanizer—and then up into the light he experiences when, in his own words, “the Lord took pity on me” and “brought me into grace.”

The bulk of the poem takes place during one of Saul’s drinking binges: he has just clobbered one of his friends in a boxing match, defending his (knowingly false) claim to a piece of land, and is celebrating at the Lion, a local pub. As is his custom, he starts flirting with a barmaid and then makes a sexual pact with her. He feels a sting of moral conviction about this—

And while we whispered there together
I give her silver for a feather
And felt a drunkenness like wine
And shut out Christ in husks and swine.
I felt the dart strike through my liver.
God punish me for’t and forgive her.

—but not enough to stop him from carrying out the deed. To ease his conscience, he issues a direct address to his fellow males, urging them away from such behavior:

O young men, pray to be kept whole
From bringing down a weaker soul.
Your minute’s joy so meet in doin’
May be the woman’s door to ruin;
The door to wandering up and down,
A painted whore at half a crown.
The bright mind fouled, the beauty gay
All eaten out and fallen away,
By drunken days and weary tramps
From pub to pub by city lamps
Till men despise the game they started
Till health and beauty are departed,
And in a slum the reeking hag
Mumbles a crust with toothy jag,
Or gets the river’s help to end
The life too wrecked for man to mend.

Found Drowned by G. F. Watts
George Frederic Watts (British, 1817–1904), Found Drowned, 1850. Oil on canvas. Watts Gallery, Guildford, Surrey, England.

Throughout the poem Saul’s narration is shot through with this sort of guilty awareness of his own depravity. It disgusts him, but he represses that disgust while he’s in the act of perpetrating whatever sin is at hand, whether it be lying, stealing, poaching, punching, speaking irreverently, or taking sexual advantage of young women.   Continue reading “Excerpts from “The Everlasting Mercy” by John Masefield”