But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.
Join me on a little jaunt across the pond—If you are ever at pains to identify a true Anglophile, begin by talking about the Atlantic Ocean. Inevitably they will call it “the pond.” They, rather I, mean no harm. It is comforting to think that crossing an ocean to England takes but some light stretching, a brief warm-up, and the patient thirty minutes that all digestive tracks demand. So please indulge me and offending clichés—It is Wednesday in Liverpool. The sky drizzles threateningly. We are walking through the streets to Anfield, that great historic stadium of Liverpool Football Club (the peculiar kind of football inseparable with the word foot). It looms ahead as we approach, and the sound of singing from the stadium buzzes straight through us to the hairs on the backs of our necks. We grasp our tickets tight and resist the urge to run the remaining way.
For you see, the opponents today are not really opponents. They are the old enemy. Today Liverpool battles Manchester United. It is no normal game. In fact, it is not a game at all. It is life and death rolled into 90 minutes. We sigh at each errant pass by the home side. We mock each miscue by the away side. We bellow with delight and expectation at every attack; applaud each thunderous tackle. We complain at the slightest hint of injustice by the referee. And O! The players! They surge with adrenaline and reckless abandon. Winning means nothing. Defeating the enemy is all. Was there a time when this was but a game? No one can remember now. Imaginations have run beyond reality. They have told us something we cannot now remember but cannot seem to forget.
Some say the rivalry began when Manchester built a canal to bypass Liverpool. It does not much matter now. What matters are the stories kids have heard from parents and grandparents and great grandparents.
Such is the way with stories. They have power like a Colorado flashflood. It always begins in the usual places, then suddenly banks are escaped and the world begins to be reshaped. Of course, you know this. You must. Consider the cloud of fear billowing in your mind about something you must do. Each passing day you write the story of the fear and say, “This will end me. I am finished.” And the fear grows larger and more monstrous until you consider it the height of prudence to avoid your fear, and thus without so much as looking you in the eye, your fear has ended you.
Consider also the great care God has taken to shepherd you with stories. Does the Bible not burst with stories and songs and proverbs and parables? Moments that arrest you and fill you with wonder and awe. Stories that make you wonder what God must be doing. Songs shouting of God’s beauty. Phrases erupting with all the life of the Holy Spirit. Does it swell your heart?
These few verses in Titus locate us not just at the fulcrum of the Bible, but into the infinite deepness of God himself. Here is God—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The work of salvation determined by His mercy. And how he pours Himself away in mercy. What humiliation did Christ endure to appear before us! What cost He paid to pour the Spirit upon us. What grace flows from the Spirit in condescending to clean our filth and renew our hate filled lives! And how do we find ourselves? Quietly ushered through the back door, cleaned as well as could be managed considering the slime? No, but brought down the center aisle. Delighted. Sung over. Given riches and life and love so far beyond deserving it almost begs to be called a farce. But it is not. It cannot be for this is the very essence of our self-giving glorious and radiant Three-in-One. He created the world not because He needs love, but so that He can give love. He creates a people, not because He needs help, but that they too might give love and good works.
This statement is trustworthy. How often do you repeat these words? The church repeats them every week. The sacraments nearly burn with the potency of these words. Is this a story that you repeat to your children and their children and to others till it so fills their minds and imaginations that they sing it and obey without intending but with desire and delight? Let this story be the theme of your life.