There was a very heartwarming story on CBS News this week. It is about a group called Pets to Vets that was begun by a soldier who had returned from service in the Middle East. He was suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and was contemplating suicide when his little dog came up and licked him on the ear and prevented him from killing himself. This man was so moved by the experience that he began this organization, Pets to Vets, to match dogs and cats that are bound for euthanization with veterans of war who need a friend. The organization has saved the lives of many animals and have most probably saved the lives of many people who have received those animals and friends and companions. This group works with a shelter in the Washington, DC area to help with these matches.
Salvation---it is a truly religious word, one that those of us in religious circles throw around freely and about which we theologize to no end. It often has a futuristic meaning attached to the final end of humans. It sometimes is couched in questions that some ask others such as, "Have you been saved?" or "Do you know if you are saved?" The meaning of salvation is very personal and real, though. It often means more to someone to be saved in today's world than to wait for some cosmic event or final destination to bring salvation to one's life. The act of an animal that loves a master to come to the rescue of one determined to end his life is salvation that is cosmic in itself. It stops the world in its tracks and brings about life in the face of death.
Salvation comes to people who are so far down in life's quagmire that they think they can never see the top again. It comes about as someone, anyone, cares enough to speak words of comfort or kindness and not judge another by the circumstances that may surround one. When someone is about to have their home repossessed, they do not need a sermon about better financial decisions at that moment. They need an answer that will prevent them from sleeping on the streets. When someone is friendless and emotionally bankrupt, they do not need a lecture about the social ladder and how one may fit in better right then. They need someone to give them a hug and speak words of encouragement to them that will assure them that better days are coming.
Salvation comes about because of human beings who care for one another. We ARE the only hands and legs that God has to use, as one ancient says reminds us. We were placed on this planet to care for one another and to assist one another on the journey of life. God is powerful and possesses all the omni-words that we use to describe God but God needs our assistance to make God's presence real in the world.
There is a story about one who makes it to the life beyond this one and is given a tour of both the places of doom and salvation where some envision persons inhabiting beyond this life. First, the person is led to the place of eternal doom. There is a great banquet table set up with abundant portions of every imaginable good food. All the people there are sitting at the great table and are invited to eat whatever food they wish. Their forks, though, are five feet long and as they attempt to feed themselves, food is splashed all over and no one gets any food in their mouths. All are starving despite the abundance around them. Then, the person is led to the place of blessedness. There again is a great banquet table set up with abundant portions of every imaginable good food. All the people are sitting at the great table and are invited to eat whatever food they wish. They forks are also five feet long but they are eating and smiling and enjoying the delicious food because they are feeding one another with the long forks.
We save one another when we come to the rescue of others who need our help. We become the savior just as we need others to save us in our hour of need. We cannot exist on our own alone because we were not intended to be creatures living in isolation. We were intended to be communal, living alongside others and finding harmony through our interconnections. Thank God for friends and neighbors who help one another. Thank God for people who see a need and feel compelled to be of help. Thank God for animals that speak to our spirits and our needs even as we provide for theirs. Thank God for individuals who determine that their plight may be the plight of others and who organize so that others can find salvation too even as they did. Thank God for God, the source of our strength, who guides us on our journey and who provides companionship so that the journey will not be a lonely one.