Items filtered by date: March 2018
25 March 2018

Luke 23:32-43

What Jesus Means By ‘Saved’

March 25, 2018

 

          You drive along the interstate and see it on billboards: JESUS SAVES. Sometimes the sign will have the name of a church or organization, but often just those two words: JESUS SAVES. Pastor and author Frederick Buechner has written that those signs are a little embarrassing to him.1 Embarrassing, he says, because they remind him of old-time religion--pulpit-pounding, hyper-emotional, fundamentalist religion. Or perhaps they’re embarrassing, he confesses, because they remind him that he needs to be saved. Proud, self-sufficient, respectable as we are, there comes a time when all we can do is cry out, “Lord, save me!” We don’t like to be reminded of that.

          JESUS SAVES, the billboards say. Personally, I’m not embarrassed by those signs—more uneasy, I’d say. Yes, Jesus saves—but what does that mean? There’s more to ‘Jesus saves’ than can fit on a billboard, more to it than you can take in at 70 miles an hour. As we’ve explored together these past few Sundays, ‘Jesus saves’ means

  • to be restored to community, to be made welcome in the place of worship, to be un-ostracized
  • to be accepted for who you are right now and who, by the grace of God, you may become
  • to notice when you’ve been healed, and to come busting back to Jesus like someone in love
  • to be saved, Rev. Michelle taught us, is to be transformed.

Yes, Jesus saves—but I worry those two words will get oversimplified and therefore misused.

 

          It’s happened before. Three times in the crucifixion story the idea that ‘Jesus saves’ is used to mock Jesus. As people cast lots to divvy up Jesus’ clothing, Luke says, the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah.” The Roman soldiers taunted him the same way, saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” Even one of the criminals on the cross gets in on the act, saying, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

          ‘Jesus saves’ is reduced to a way of mocking Jesus because they completely misunderstand what it means. ‘Jesus saves’ does not mean that he will rescue us from pain or give us a get-out-of-suffering-free card. Rather, on the cross Jesus saves by entering into our pain; he saves by sharing our suffering.

          The other criminal on the cross gets it right. He accepts his suffering and simply says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus replies, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” – with me. The message of the cross is that to be saved is not to be rescued from suffering: to be saved is to be with Jesus, in your suffering and beyond your suffering. Or perhaps better, to be saved is for Jesus to be with you in your suffering and beyond your suffering.

 

          And then as saved people, as people who are confidently with Jesus, we can in turn enter into others’ suffering. Because we are firmly in Jesus’ presence, we can share the pain of others. Being saved is not about getting our ticket to heaven punched; it’s about caring so powerfully for others that, like Jesus on the cross, we will not let them go.

          Back in December the Columbus Dispatch ran a long article about a group working on the South Side to try to stop the violence that led to last year having a record number of murders in Columbus. This group, led by several black pastors, marches and prays and encourages people and talks to folks on the street. One of the group members said, “These dudes on the street are angry. Their friends are dead. They want to play tough with guns. But they really are that way because they have no hope. They think nobody cares if they live or die. So we intervene. Working with the babies, the kids, the women. . . You’ve got to be present. Every day.”2

          The newspaper article is called “Saving Souls.” I think that’s exactly right. No, they’re not really preaching. They’re not trying to get people to believe this or that about God. They’re being with people. They’re entering into their neighbors’ suffering and pain. They are being Jesus on the South Side: and what Jesus does is he saves.

 

          ‘Jesus saves’ does not mean he rescues people from pain or gives us a get-out-of-suffering-free card. Rather, on the cross Jesus saves by entering into our pain, by sharing our suffering. The message of the cross is that to be saved is to be with Jesus, in your suffering and beyond your suffering. And being saved yourself, to be Jesus to others.

          Let the billboards, let the church, let our lives proclaim it: Jesus saves!

         

1 Frederick Buechner, The Hungering Dark (New York: HarperOne, 1985), 59-69.

 

2 Holly Zachariah, “Saving Souls,” The Columbus Dispatch (December 22, 2017), F17-21.

25 March 2018

Luke 23:32-43

What Jesus Means By ‘Saved’

March 25, 2018

 

          You drive along the interstate and see it on billboards: JESUS SAVES. Sometimes the sign will have the name of a church or organization, but often just those two words: JESUS SAVES. Pastor and author Frederick Buechner has written that those signs are a little embarrassing to him.1 Embarrassing, he says, because they remind him of old-time religion--pulpit-pounding, hyper-emotional, fundamentalist religion. Or perhaps they’re embarrassing, he confesses, because they remind him that he needs to be saved. Proud, self-sufficient, respectable as we are, there comes a time when all we can do is cry out, “Lord, save me!” We don’t like to be reminded of that.

          JESUS SAVES, the billboards say. Personally, I’m not embarrassed by those signs—more uneasy, I’d say. Yes, Jesus saves—but what does that mean? There’s more to ‘Jesus saves’ than can fit on a billboard, more to it than you can take in at 70 miles an hour. As we’ve explored together these past few Sundays, ‘Jesus saves’ means

  • to be restored to community, to be made welcome in the place of worship, to be un-ostracized
  • to be accepted for who you are right now and who, by the grace of God, you may become
  • to notice when you’ve been healed, and to come busting back to Jesus like someone in love
  • to be saved, Rev. Michelle taught us, is to be transformed.

Yes, Jesus saves—but I worry those two words will get oversimplified and therefore misused.

 

          It’s happened before. Three times in the crucifixion story the idea that ‘Jesus saves’ is used to mock Jesus. As people cast lots to divvy up Jesus’ clothing, Luke says, the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah.” The Roman soldiers taunted him the same way, saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” Even one of the criminals on the cross gets in on the act, saying, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

          ‘Jesus saves’ is reduced to a way of mocking Jesus because they completely misunderstand what it means. ‘Jesus saves’ does not mean that he will rescue us from pain or give us a get-out-of-suffering-free card. Rather, on the cross Jesus saves by entering into our pain; he saves by sharing our suffering.

          The other criminal on the cross gets it right. He accepts his suffering and simply says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus replies, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” – with me. The message of the cross is that to be saved is not to be rescued from suffering: to be saved is to be with Jesus, in your suffering and beyond your suffering. Or perhaps better, to be saved is for Jesus to be with you in your suffering and beyond your suffering.

 

          And then as saved people, as people who are confidently with Jesus, we can in turn enter into others’ suffering. Because we are firmly in Jesus’ presence, we can share the pain of others. Being saved is not about getting our ticket to heaven punched; it’s about caring so powerfully for others that, like Jesus on the cross, we will not let them go.

          Back in December the Columbus Dispatch ran a long article about a group working on the South Side to try to stop the violence that led to last year having a record number of murders in Columbus. This group, led by several black pastors, marches and prays and encourages people and talks to folks on the street. One of the group members said, “These dudes on the street are angry. Their friends are dead. They want to play tough with guns. But they really are that way because they have no hope. They think nobody cares if they live or die. So we intervene. Working with the babies, the kids, the women. . . You’ve got to be present. Every day.”2

          The newspaper article is called “Saving Souls.” I think that’s exactly right. No, they’re not really preaching. They’re not trying to get people to believe this or that about God. They’re being with people. They’re entering into their neighbors’ suffering and pain. They are being Jesus on the South Side: and what Jesus does is he saves.

 

          ‘Jesus saves’ does not mean he rescues people from pain or gives us a get-out-of-suffering-free card. Rather, on the cross Jesus saves by entering into our pain, by sharing our suffering. The message of the cross is that to be saved is to be with Jesus, in your suffering and beyond your suffering. And being saved yourself, to be Jesus to others.

          Let the billboards, let the church, let our lives proclaim it: Jesus saves!

         

1 Frederick Buechner, The Hungering Dark (New York: HarperOne, 1985), 59-69.

 

2 Holly Zachariah, “Saving Souls,” The Columbus Dispatch (December 22, 2017), F17-21.

25 March 2018

Matthew 8:23-27 & 14:22-33

“Lord, Save Us!”

March 18, 2018

 

          The disciples are out in a boat. A terrible windstorm comes up and they’re afraid—they’re bailing to beat the band, flailing around and wishing they’d said goodbye to their families. Meantime Jesus is asleep in the back of the boat. Finally they think to wake him up, crying out, “Lord, save us!” Good call--Jesus saves! A few chapters later, it happens again: boat, storm, fear, flailing around--until Jesus comes to them walking on the waves. Peter wants to try that too, and he does for a moment. Until he notices the wind and the waves, panics and starts to sink. So he cries out, “Lord, save me!” Good call again—Jesus saves!

 

          I told a story on Ash Wednesday as the season of Lent began. I want to return to it now, as we near the end of Lent. Years ago I knew a man who got a new job at an insurance company downtown. It was a big promotion for him to a mid-level management position. He now had a whole team of people reporting to him, and no longer did he work at a cubicle; he had an office, with a door that closed! He was feeling pretty good about himself. But almost right away he started to struggle. There were a couple of computer applications that he never quite got the hang of. His supervisor was concerned because he wasn’t tracking his budget very well, and his team members were concerned that wasn’t keeping up with their work flow. But he didn’t want anyone to find out he didn’t understand those applications, so he kept that to himself and tried to compensate by working harder. Of course that didn’t help and at his six month review it was made clear that he would lose his job if things didn’t improve.

          He was literally returning from that fateful six-month review, back to his office with the door that closes, when he saw something he’d never noticed before. Around the corner from his office, on the very same floor, was a sign above a doorway. The sign said, “Tech Support.” So desperate was he at that moment that he poked his head in the door, and cried out, “I’m about to lose my job because I don’t understand two applications. Can you help me?” The woman at the desk said, “Of course, that’s what we’re here for. What’s your name?” She looked at her computer screen and said, “How about if someone stops by your office tomorrow afternoon?” Not only did they help him learn and feel confident with those applications, every time they were updated, they came back and got him up to speed again.

          He said to me, “Do you mean to tell me I went through all that stress, that I almost lost my job, for nothing? That all along all I had to do was ask for help?” Of course, he already knew the answer. What I was thinking was this: whenever we start bailing and fearing and flailing around, do you mean to tell me that all we have to do is ask for help? All we have to do is cry out to Jesus to save us? But of course, you already know the answer. If Tech Support saves, just think how Jesus saves!

 

          As I studied for this sermon I looked back at some previous sermons I’ve preached on these scriptures. One that caught my eye I preached during a capital campaign at another church. The problems with that building were so critical that if tuckpointing and drainage work weren’t done, it really was in danger of collapsing, falling apart. But we weren’t certain we could raise enough money to do the work. Several people asked me, “What are we going to do if we don’t raise enough money? What’s the back-up plan?” So in the sermon I tried to encouraged people, like Peter, to step out of the boat in their giving, to take a leap of faith in their generosity. And I said there really wasn’t a back-up plan except, like Peter, to cry out, “Lord, save me!”

          I wish I hadn’t said that. Or I wish at least that I’d put it a different way. Because when you’re out in a boat and a storm comes up, when the building is leaking and you don’t know what to do, crying out, “Lord, save me!” is not a back-up plan. Crying out, “Lord, save me!” is the plan.

 

          Most Bible commentaries agree that Matthew intended these stories of disciples, boats and storms not just as miracle stories, but as parables.1 The metaphor of the disciples in a boat, shaken by wind and threatened by waves, is a symbol of our life together in the church. In fact, one of the most common images for the church in early Christian is a boat. Here’s one that goes back to the 2nd century, from the catacombs beneath Rome:

 

It’s a simple picture, representing the church.

          In the Greek Orthodox Church, the disciples in a boat was a common icon for Christians contemplating the life of the church:

 

 

 

This picture shows Saint Nicholas, who lived in the 300s, as one of the disciples in the boat with Jesus:

 

 

 

And the image of the church as boat continues into modern church art and architecture. Here’s a beautiful church window from the 20th century:

 

 

 

 

It is a picture of the church.

          The image of the church as a boat is apt because, of course, the church is always facing some storm or other.

  • The first storm was the ascension of Jesus into heaven. One moment he was with the disciples; the next moment he was not, or at least not in the same way. They stood there staring into space, wondering What are we going to do now? Well, stay in the boat, and cry out, “Lord, save us!” There’s always some kind of storm.
  • And then Gentiles started believing in Jesus and wanted to worship and pray and even eat with these Jewish Christians, which the rules strictly prohibited. What are we going to do now? they wondered. Well, stay in the boat, and cry out, “Lord, save us!” There’s always a storm.
  • And then the Romans started persecuting Christians—burning them alive or throwing them to the lions if they wouldn’t renounce Christ. What are we going to do? they wondered. Well, stay in the boat, and cry out, “Lord, save us!” There’s always a storm.
  • You may know that the Methodist Church—then known as the Methodist Episcopal Church--split ages ago over whether Christians could participate in slavery, and it didn’t reunite for almost 100 years. For generations they wondered, What are we going to do? Well, stay in the boat, and cry out, “Lord, save us!” There are some pretty big storms out there.
  • I remember when people wouldn’t attend worship at my home church if there was a woman preacher. It seems silly now, but there were strong feelings about it back then. What are we going to do? they wondered. Well, stay in the boat, and cry out, “Lord, save us!” There’s always a storm.
  • And of course you know what the United Methodist Church is struggling with now—whether or not LGBT people will be truly and fully welcome everyone the way all people are welcome here. I know--people won’t always worry about this, but right now there are strong feelings about it. What are we going to do? people are wondering. Well, stay in the boat, and cry out, “Lord, save us!” There’s always a storm of some kind or another.

 

          Here’s the thing: In Matthew 8 when the church—I mean, when the disciples in the boat—were being swamped by the waves, do you remember where Jesus was? He was sound asleep! Not the slightest bit concerned. And in chapter 14 when the church—I mean, the disciples in the boat—were being battered by the waves, far from land, where was Jesus? He was taking a walk on top of the waves. In fact, Mark adds the detail that Jesus intended to walk right by them, not understanding why they were so worked up.

          Jesus is simply not preoccupied with our preoccupations; he is not worried by the things that upset us; he is not caught up in our anxiety and negativity. He’s seen storms come and he’s seen storms go. Therefore he can sleep right through them; therefore he walk right over the top of them. He can silence a storm with just a word. The trick isn’t to never be afraid of anything; the trick is knowing whom to call out to when we are afraid. Because Jesus saves. Crying out, “Lord, save us!” isn’t the back-up plan; crying out, “Lord, save us!” is the plan. The answer to so many, perhaps all, of the churches problems and concerns is just to stay in the boat and cry out together, “Lord, save us!”

 

          Now, there is another sermon in this Bible story. I mean, what about Peter? He didn’t stay in the boat, right? He got out of the boat and at least started to walk on water. And if I had time, I could preach you that sermon. There comes a time in every Christian’s life when you’ve got to step out of the boat. Every new ministry in the church was started by someone who dared to step out and try something new. Every social change comes about because someone dares to step out of the boat.

  • This church building hasn’t always been here. Someone dared to dream of building a beautiful church at the corner of Henderson and High, and someone dated to ask people for money to build it, lots of money. They stepped out of the boat, and here we are today.
  • And, for example, mission trips don’t just happen. Patti and John and Dan research projects and raise money and twist people’s arms to go. They step out of the boat every year, and think of all that’s been done.
  • And Rosa Parks, and Ruby Bridges, and John Wesley and all those kids from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School speaking to legislators and marching on Washington. Ministries happen, the world changes, because ordinary people step out of the boat. Maybe you will too.

 

          But I don’t have time to preach that sermon today. And anyway, I think the message that’s needed most right now is the one about staying in the boat. You’ll notice that eleven of the twelve disciples did not step out of the boat, and nowhere does Jesus criticize them for that. There’s a lot to be said for just staying in the boat. The answer to so many of the church’s problems and concerns is just to stay together and cry out, “Lord, save us!” Because, you see, the trick isn’t to never be afraid of anything; the trick is knowing whom to call out to when we are afraid. Jesus saves. Crying out, “Lord, save us!” isn’t the back-up plan; crying out, “Lord, save us!” is the plan. Why? Because Jesus saves.

 

 

1 See for example Thomas G. Long, Matthew, Westminster Bible Companion (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 95.

04 March 2018

Luke 17:11-19

Ten Are Healed, One Is Saved

March 4, 2018

 

          Jesus saves. All this season of Lent we’re looking at what that means in the stories of Jesus. For the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years, ‘Jesus saves’ means not only that her hemorrhage stops, but that she is restored to family and community, made welcome in the place of worship, she is un-ostracized. Jesus saves. For the woman others called a sinner, ‘Jesus saves’ means being accepted, loved, respected for who she is and who by the grace of God she may become. Jesus saves.

          Today’s gospel story draws a distinction between being ‘healed’ on the one hand and being ‘saved’ on the other. All ten lepers, it says, are healed—“made clean,” Luke calls it. Iaomai, is the Greek word—it’s a medical term; we might best call it ‘cured.’ Ten lepers are cured, but to only one leper does Jesus say, “Your faith has . . . made you well,” it says. But of course by now you know that ‘made well’ is our old friend, the Greek word sōzō. It’s sometimes translated ‘healed,’ yes; and sometimes ‘made well.’ But it means saved, in all the ways that Jesus saves.

          So what’s the difference between being cured and being saved? What set the one leper apart from the other nine? Let me give you two answers to those questions.

  1. All ten lepers, it says, were made clean as they were on their way to the priest. But here’s what happened to the one that didn’t happen to the others. It says, “Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God.” He is saved because he sees what God has done--he notices, he pays attention.

Here’s how Chris Anderson puts it in his wonderful book, Light When it Comes: The key word in the story, he says, is seeing, realizing. And one of them, Luke says, realizing that he had been healed. . . “As if,” Anderson says, “you wouldn’t know you’d been healed of leprosy. As if that wouldn’t be obvious.”

“But we’re being healed of leprosy all the time,” he says, “and we’re always failing to realize it.” I drive down the road and the leaves are turning yellow and red. A friend says something kind. I raise the cup at Holy Communion, brimming with wine, like rubies in a brooch. But I let the moments pass, or I never realize they’ve happened at all.1

Those are his examples of lepers being healed all the time. I have plenty of my own. My wife had cancer; my daughter had a life-threatening condition. And both are alive and living the dream. Almost every Sunday I get to hold one of your babies, and take that precious life into my own fragile hands. I sat recently in the presence of two people tearfully forgiving one another after years of separation and anger. I’m being healed of leprosy all the time, but all too often I let the moments pass, or never realize they’ve happened at all.

Those are my examples of lepers being healed all the time. I suspect you have some of your own. And when we manage to see, when we take time to realize what Jesus has done, we turn and praise God. Already we’ve been cured, already we’ve been healed. But in the seeing, in the noticing, we are saved.

 

  1. That’s one: we are saved when we see what Jesus has done and turn and praise the Lord. Here’s the other one. Because their disease was contagious, lepers had to stay away from everyone else. They lived outside the city walls. If they went anywhere they had to shout out they were lepers so others would stay away. If lepers thought they’d been cured, only the priest could certify it; only the priest could give lepers approval to return society and their loved ones. So in the process of healing them, Jesus naturally sends all ten lepers to the priest, to be proclaimed cured. Nine of them do as they’re told, never to be heard from again. But one of them does not do what Jesus says to do. One of them does not go to the priest. One of them is disobedient. And that’s the one, it says, who has faith. That one is saved.

          What are we to make of that—that it’s the disobedient one that is saved? Well, for one thing, this one is a Samaritan—a “foreigner,” Jesus calls him. Literally, the Greek word means someone “of another race.” In other words, he is a double outsider—not only a leper, but a despised foreign leper. Maybe he has less to lose than the others. Or maybe he has less to gain by going to the priest. Whatever the reason is, nine lepers behave like respectable people, obedient religious people, rule-followers; they do what Jesus tells them to do, what you’d expect cured lepers to do—they go to the priest.

          But one of them, a double outsider, does not. One of them makes a scene. When he sees that he is cured, he turns; he comes busting back to Jesus, shouting for all the world to hear. He throws himself face-down on the ground at Jesus’ feet. He will not quit thanking Jesus and praising God. He is not obedient; he is not respectable. Instead, as Barbara Taylor puts it, he acts “like a man in love.”2 It’s one thing to be cured of leprosy, it’s one thing to go obediently and respectably to the priest—it’s another thing altogether to come busting back to Jesus, giving thanks and praising God like a woman or man, like a girl or boy in love. Ten are healed; one is saved.

          Barbara Taylor grows confessional in her sermon on this scripture. She says, I know how to be obedient; what I don’t know so well is how to be in love with Jesus. I read my Bible, say my prayers, pay my pledge. And there is nothing wrong with that. It’s the kind of steady, rule-following discipleship—the discipleship of the nine lepers—that keeps the church going. I am, she admits, one of the nine. But what we long to be, what our hearts cry out for—at least once in a while—is to be in love with Jesus, to come busting back shouting praise and throwing ourselves on the ground. What we long for, what our hearts cry out for . . . is to be saved.

          Where are the nine, Jesus asks the healed Samaritan leper. But of course we know where the nine are. They’re us. An even better question is, “Where is the one, the one who got saved?”

 

          To be saved is to be restored to family and community, made welcome in the place of worship, to be un-ostracized. Jesus saves. To be saved is to accepted, loved, respected for who you are right now and who by the grace of God you may become. Jesus saves. To be saved is to see how we you being healed all the time, and for once in your life be the one who leaves obedience and respectability behind to come busting back to Jesus with gratitude and joy. Jesus saves, if only we will let him.

 

1 Chris Anderson, Light When It Comes: Trusting Joy, Facing Darkness & Seeing God in Everything (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2016), 61-62.

2 Barbara Brown Taylor, “The Tenth Leper,” The Preaching Life (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 1993), 107-13.

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