Saved from Death.
Saved from Sin.
Saved from Self.
Saved from Meaninglessness.
Saved from Hell.
And since this is the last sermon in this series, perhaps some of you are thinking, Thank God, we are saved from another sermon by Reverend Eric about being saved.
I hope that after five weeks of wrestling with salvation – with what salvation meant for the early followers of Jesus Christ and with how the ideas about salvation have carried forward into today’s world – your appreciation for this rich, theological idea has grown, been challenged and, more importantly, that you are inspired to continue to be saved from death, sin, yourself, meaninglessness and from Hell. We have heard a great deal from Paul’s letters about salvation in this sermon series. Today’s reading from his letter to the Romans is the culmination, the endpoint and the main point, for Paul’s understanding of salvation found in Christ.
Paul writes to the church in Rome, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Did you catch how Paul began this list of his? Paul starts with, “neither death,” the place where he began in his earliest letter where he wrote about salvation to the Thessalonians. And then Paul keeps adding to the list of those things that cannot separate us from God’s saving grace. Ten things on Paul’s list. (Just to think I could have preached a ten-part sermon series.) “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Nothing nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from being saved. AND, this begs the question: If we are saved FROM everything, then what are we saved for? If God is for us, then we are saved for…? I have dropped some not-so-subtle hints in each of the sermons these past five weeks. Along the way I have talked about pronoun usage. If God is for us, then we are taken care of and we can stop worrying about us. Me, myself and I? We’re good. Now, how about the second person singular and the second person plural, you and the others, and the third person singular and the third person plural, he/she/they/them?
The point of being saved is not to become a follower of Jesus and be able to say, “I am a Christian.” That’s already taken care of. In fact, the point of being saved is not to become a “Christian” but to become Christ-like. There is a story of a young person seeking to evangelize an old and wise monk in a Greek monastery. The young person comes up to the monk and introduces themselves saying, “I am a Christian.” And before they could say anything else the monk replied, “Already?
That sort of puts one in their place. And we need that as people who call ourselves, “Christian.” To be reminded that the way of Jesus is a journey and not a destination. Just as Paul is convinced that nothing can separate us from the love of God, I am also convinced that we don’t really believe that that is true. How so? Well, we keep thinking and believing and acting…small. Most Christians think that being called a “Christian” and being a disciple and follower of Christ is what being a Christian is all about.
And, that is the first step. Once you see the resurrected Christ in the garden where it all begins outside the tomb, we are told to return to Galilee, where the story of Jesus all began. Why? Not to read it again as one of the disciples. You did that the first time through to become a disciple. Now, read the story again to do what Jesus did; to become Christ-like.
Take the only miracle story that appears in all four gospels. Yes, of all the miracles and stories about Jesus’ ministry, there is only one that is found in all four gospels. The feeding of the five thousand. What happens? The people have been following Jesus all day. It’s supper time. The people are hungry and tired. The disciples say to Jesus, “Send them away for they are hungry.” And Jesus replies, probably with a roll of his eyes, “You give them something to eat.” But we don’t have anything. And what happens? Bread and fish make a meal. Okay, okay. This is our first time through your story, Jesus, we understand.
What happens the next time we go through the story? What role do you see yourself in the second time through? Or is there a third time and a fourth time? At what point do we see and learn that we are supposed to be like Jesus and BE the ones to give them something to eat? Jesus tells us, “YOU give them something to eat.”
To do what Jesus did. To become Christ-like. That’s the saved for!
Our Bible study group is wandering through the Book of Acts and we are reading about how Peter and Paul and others “get it” and do what Jesus did. They go to those in need. They eat with them. They heal them. They resurrect them. We are called to do the same thing for…them. And it grieves me that the rapid decline in Christianity in the West, in the United States, is not due to the demonic forces keeping people away from the love of God. We know, from Paul, that that can’t happen. It grieves me that we have made the Christian faith so…small…and personal…and selfish…and most people see right through that in this day and age.
We are not saved for…us. We are saved for…everything and everyone else.