Saved By Grace, Raised With Christ

Ephesians 2:1-10

Saved By Grace, Raised With Christ

April 1, 2018        Maple Grove UMC

 

          Certain believers like to start conversations this way: Are you saved? they ask earnestly. Are you saved? they want to know. And I know what they mean. They mean have I had an emotional conversion experience, asked Jesus into my heart and prayed the Sinner’s Prayer. And they want a one-word answer: Yes. Yes, I am saved. That’s what they want to hear. And the fact is, I could give them that answer—all of that is true for me. But that feels like such a partial, inadequate answer. There is so much more to being saved than that. I want to give them two additional, longer answers--a Lenten answer (a good answer) and an Easter answer (a great answer).

 

          Are you saved? My answer from the season of Lent, from the scriptures we’ve been looking at together, would be: Not only am I saved; I have been saved by Jesus. And Jesus saves means:

  • I have been restored to community, made welcome in the place of worship, un-ostracized
  • I have been accepted for who I am right now and for who, by the grace of God, I may become
  • I have learned to notice when I’ve been healed and have come busting back to Jesus like a man in love
  • I have not been rescued from pain, but Jesus has been with me in my suffering and through my suffering.

 

     I have been saved. A couple of weeks ago the Columbus Dispatch ran an article about a man who in January learned that he was dead.1 After working for 20 years in Turkey, Constantin Reliu returned to his native Romania to discover that his wife had officially registered him as dead. He went to court to overturn his death certificate, but he was too late. The decision, the court said, was final. He is, for the rest of his life, the living dead.

          Now not in a legal sense, but spiritually that’s the situation described in Ephesians 2. “You were dead,” it says, “through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived.” We were all that way, it says. Breathing, walking, going to work and school, having families, going to church, alive . . . but dead too, in a sense.

          This spiritual deadness results in all manner of sinful behavior. Ephesians doesn’t go into detail, but you know the kinds of trouble people get themselves into. But sinful behavior is just the outward symptom of the problem. The root cause, writes New Testament scholar Ralph Martin, is alientation.2 People are not in sync with the Creator; therefore we are anxious and out of sorts. People are cut off from God’s purpose for their lives; therefore we live out some other story, a story that’s not truly who we are. People are alienated from our own true selves; therefore we act out in angry, hurtful ways. The sinful behaviors are many and varied, but the root cause is alienation. It is a kind of death.

 

          But then something happened. The turning point of this scripture comes in verse 4. Actually the turning point of all existence comes in verse 4: “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us . . . made us alive. . .” We were dead, but God. Ephesians says, by grace you have been saved. We were dead, but God. Then it says it again: by grace you have been saved. Am I saved? you want to know. Not only am I saved; I have been saved.

          Everything in this scripture is in the past tense:

  • But God made us alive together with Christ
  • By grace you have been saved
  • God raised us up
  • And again, by grace you have been saved

And here’s what that means. Fleming Rutledge says, “We have been saved. Not ‘we might be saved,’ or ‘you could be saved,’ or ‘maybe you will be saved,’ or any other kind of ‘saved’ that has an ‘if’ attached to it. Not ‘saved if you are good,’ or ‘saved if you are proper,’ or ‘saved if you are better than somebody else.’ Just saved.3 It’s past tense.

          So the Easter message is not about trying harder. It’s not about needing to understand things better. It’s not about getting your act together. It’s past tense. Jesus died for us a long time ago, and God has loved us longer than that. Are you saved? people want to know. Not only am I saved, I have been saved. Past tense. Taken care of. Count on it. Blessed assurance. Amen.

 

          And that is some very good news. But are you ready for some even better news? Easter is not only the end of the old life; it is the beginning of a new life.4 Here’s how Ephesians puts it: But God, it says, who is rich in mercy,

  • Made us alive together with Christ
  • Saved us by his grace
  • But what is more, God raised us up with Christ.

Which leads to my second answer to the question we started with. Are you saved? people want to know. Why, not only am I saved—I’ve been raised. “The resurrection,” writes Justo Gonzalez, “is not the continuation of the story. Nor is it just [the old story’s] happy ending. It is the beginning of a [whole new] new story.”5 You know, raised.

 

          Now before I go on and tell about the goodness and glory of being raised, let me pause to acknowledge that being raised to new life can feel, well, unsettling. Here’s why: Craig Barnes says that “in order to receive this new life, we have to stop clinging to the old one.”6 So yes, we want new life, new growth, new possibilities . . . but we also like the comfort and familiarity of the old life. Sometimes we’d rather sit by the tomb weeping than embrace the new thing God is doing. There’s the old joke—how many United Methodists does it take to change a light bulb? Thirteen. One to change the light bulb and twelve to complain that they liked the old one better. The message of the empty tomb is that we have to stop looking for Jesus in the past—he’s not there, he’s been raised, and so have we. In order to receive new life, we have to stop clinging to the old one. I’m not going to dwell on it this morning. But I do want to acknowledge that change is hard—even good, holy, necessary change is hard. So pray for us.

 

               What does it mean to be not just saved, but raised?

  • I think of my friends in AA. It’s one thing to stop drinking. That’s necessary, difficult, for some it’s all-consuming. To stop drinking, you might say, is like being saved. But then what? Once you’ve stopped drinking, there’s still this hole in your life. And now that you’re not drinking, you know and feel that hole in your life. You’ve got to fill that hole with something other than alcohol—with God, with love, with a new purpose, with Step 12 which is taking the message to other alcoholics. Not just saved, but raised—that’s what Easter’s about.
  • My mother lived for six years after my daddy died. They’d been married for fifty years, and she’d been pretty much his full-time care giver for a couple of years. When he died, she wasn’t just sad--she was lost. After a few months I asked her how she was doing. She said, “Well, I don’t cry every day any more. I’m eating and sleeping better.” She paused, and then went on, “But that’s not enough.” And pretty soon she started volunteering at a thrift store, taking on tasks at church again, and babysitting regularly for her grandkids. She didn’t want to just eat and sleep and breathe; she wanted to live. Not just saved, but raised—that’s what Easter’s about.
  • I read about Grace Presbyterian Church.7 They’d been declining for decades. They tried adding services and programs, but nothing worked. Then one spring, the roof started leaking. The roofer said he could start work during Holy Week or they’d have to wait for months, which put the sanctuary out of commission. The Church Council began looking for another place to meet. Their young pastor took the opportunity to suggest that on Good Friday they walk through the neighborhood and sing and pray at places where trouble or violence had occurred in the past year. After two hours the small group returned, determined to share their experiences with the whole church. One by one on Easter morning they told what they had seen and felt, and finally one of them said, “We can’t stay inside this building any longer. This morning we are opening the doors of this church and committing ourselves to work for justice in this community. Christ is risen. Alleluia!”

          Soon they started serving a weekly meal for single moms. They volunteered in the neighborhood school. They picked up trash at bus stops. And little by little the church began to grow. They had to get over wanting just to be saved, to just keep existing, and start praying to be raised to new life, new ministry, new relationships with new people. Not just saved, but raised—that’s what Easter’s about.

  • And now here we are, you and me, this Easter Day. I’ve been praying and pondering for weeks about what to say to you today. How to help you see and feel that it’s not just that you are saved, but that you have been saved. Past tense. Taken care of. Blessed assurance. Amen. And more than that, I’ve been pondering how to help you see and feel that you can be not just saved, but raised. That things don’t have to be the way they’ve always been—in fact, things can’t be the way they’ve always been—but God gives new life, new growth, new possibilities.

     And then one morning, during my prayer time, it hit me. I don’t want to just preach about being raised; I want to be raised! I don’t want to just tell people about new life; I want new life! I want to be able to let go of criticism and just keep doing the right thing. I want to stop worrying about my daughters and just love and appreciate them. I want to stop fussing about where people in the church do and don’t want to go, and just go where God already is.

          I said all that to God Thursday morning. And do you know what God said? Here is what God said. God said, “Okay.” “Okay,” God said. I wonder what new life you’re longing for?

 

          If anyone should ever ask you Are you saved?, you know what to say, right?

  • Am I saved? Why, I have been saved! Past tense. Taken care of. Blessed assurance. Amen.
  • Are you saved? people want to know. Am I saved? Why, not only saved; I’ve been raised!

 

1 Alison Mutler, ”Dead Man Walking: Court Rejects Man’s Claim He’s Alive,” The Columbus Dispatch (March 16, 2018), A14.

2 Ralph P. Martin, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon, Interpretation (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1992), 25-27.

3 Fleming Rutledge, “Saved!,” The Bible and the New York Times (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 180.

4 Samuel Wells writes this of baptism in Incarnational Ministry: Being with the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2017), 92.

5 Justo Gonzalez, ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Luke, Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 274.

6 M. Craig Barnes, “We’re All Terminal,” Living by the Word, The Christian Century (April 6, 2004), 18.

7 Adapted from Claudio Carvalhaes and Paul Galbreath, “The Season of Easter: Imaginative Figurings for the Body of Christ,” Interpretation 63/1 (January 2011), 9-10.

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