Pastor Scott Hannon
St. John Lutheran Church, Amherst, NY
Instead of a traditional greeting, the teller at the bank welcomed me by saying in a rather curt tone: “Don’t you want to bank on your own terms?”
“I don’t follow,” I replied.
“Well, don’t you have an ATM card? You can make this deposit at the ATM. Do you have the mobile app? You can make this deposit at home. Don’t you want to bank on your own terms?”
I said, “I suppose this is me banking on my own terms. I like going to the bank. It’s a part of my routine. It keeps me disciplined. Besides,” I threw in for good measure, “I tried your app and it doesn’t work.” Zing.
Unimpressed, she replied, “What if it snows? What if you don’t want to drive? What if you don’t have the time? Don’t you want the freedom to do everything on your own terms?”
I said, “I guess not.”
This rather mundane interaction left me with a bad feeling. On the one hand, I couldn’t figure out why a teller was trying to work her way out of a job. On the other hand, I felt conflicted about the notion that we can live life “on our own terms.” I was left with the impression that my freedom boils down to me being able to do what I want, when I want to do it. And that as long as I chose to bank in a traditional fashion I’d somehow be shackled by the rules and expectations of another. The teller was incredulous that I wouldn’t want to bank in ways that required no human interaction at all.
Well, the truth of my life is that I don’t live it on my own terms. And, I don’t mind that.
My days are shaped by my obligations to the people I live with. I don’t wake up the master of my own destiny; I wake up the husband of Kate and the father of Molly, Delaney and John. And so, instead of going for a run and reading the paper (like I want to do), I pour cereal and change diapers. My will is bent for the sake of these people that I love. I don’t mind it.
Moreover, I don’t live life solely on my own terms because I also find myself daily bound to the will and needs of the people I work with and for. My schedule changes when the needs of others present themselves. I don’t have the luxury of doing what I want every minute of every day because there are other people in this world and in my life. These are people that I know and that I love and sometimes I live life on their terms. I don’t mind it.
And finally, I don’t live life on my own terms because my conscience compels me to live life on God’s terms. Which means I must refrain from judgement, love unconditionally, forgive people I don’t want to forgive, and serve total strangers. This, I know, is an odd thing. The notion that we who are totally free would find our wills bent for the sake of another, is a strange idea. But it is how God calls us to live: not on our own terms. I don’t mind it.
Martin Luther wrote that the Christian is, “utterly free – lord of all and subject to none.” This, I believe, is the sort of freedom the bank teller had in mind this morning… a freedom that allows us to live life on our own terms. However, Martin Luther continued and said that the Christian is also “utterly dutiful – servant of all and subject to all.” In short, we are freed not to live life on our own terms, but to live life for one another.
What this world needs – what our country desperately needs – is for people to come together and to seek ways to interact. We don’t need another app that drives us apart or frees us from encountering strangers. We need to lose the notion that freedom means I can do what I want, when I want. Not only is that idea a logical fallacy (try living life on your own terms sometime and see how that works out), but it is contrary to the needs of humanity. We are called to serve, to love, and to share.
Sometimes you will be an inconvenience to me. And sometimes I will be an inconvenience to you. May we find ways to bless one another when this happens. And may we find ourselves living life on God’s terms and not our own.
In the Way,