Divine Finger, intimating and numbering and assuming the sins of the world, O, how we want to know, Who did it? How quick we are to lay the blame at someone else's feet yet unwilling - or unable - to follow the thread and return to the first cause. Point us in our direction. Amen.
The story of salvation continues…
I began planning for this sermon series before the COVID Pandemic. My thinking was that “Salvation” would be a good topic to cover after our Lenten season of “Encountering Jesus.” Well, the pandemic got in the way of those plans and delayed “Salvation” for a month or so. And, I now had some more time to think about all the myriad ways one can think about salvation. And like Pooh, I sat on my thinking log and went, “Think, think think.” All of that thinking didn’t bring me any closer to salvation.
This week, though, salvation fell into my lap. As some of you know, I am a fifth generation pastor. My great-grandfather, Harvey Garland Waggoner, was the pastor at First Christian Church in Dixon, Illinois, during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. I have been seeking anything of his in the family archives from that time period so I could learn how to be a pastor in a pandemic. No luck. What I did find this week was this…
“What Shall I Do to be Saved? A Sermon by Elder J. G. Waggoner. Price 5 cents. pp. 16. A plain and faithful presentation of the scriptural answers to this question.” All of my work already done one hundred and forty years ago by my great-GREAT-grandfather, John Garland Waggoner. And, at a very reasonable price in today’s dollars: 5 cents in 1880 is about $1.25 today in 2020. Unfortunately, I don’t have a copy of that 16-page sermon.
(I love the sentence in the advertisement: “It would be a good tract to circulate in Chicago just now.” Makes me one wonder what was happening in Chicago in 1880. Probably not much different than today. Would John Garland Waggoner write the same thing about The Windy City if he knew that his great-great-grandson would be born there eighty-five years later?)
Of course he would, because the next sentence, “It is a good tract to circulate anywhere,” indicates that he knows that sin is present anywhere…and all the time.
Which brings me around to today’s salvation topic: Saved From Sin. The author of the Book of Hebrews writes, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” Very true. According to the Temple laws laid out in the Book of Leviticus every sin offering at the Temple in Jerusalem must be accompanied with a blood sacrifice. That is how it worked…back then.
In the two songs in our service today, we sing the words found in those traditional Christian hymns, “washed in his blood” and “the old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine.” Blood atonement. Getting right with God, atoning for one’s sin, can only happen with blood. The 20th-century pastor and theologian, Reinhold Neibuhr tells a wonderful story about blood atonement in his parish in Detroit. “The old gentleman was there too who wanted to know whether I believed in the deity of Jesus. He is in every town. He seemed to be a nice sort, but he wanted to know how I could speak for an hour on the Christian church without once mentioning the atonement. Nothing, said he, but the blood of Jesus would save America from its perils. He made quite an impassioned speech. At first I was going to answer him but it seemed too useless. I finally told him I believed in blood atonement too, but since I hadn’t shed any of the blood of sacrifice which it demanded I felt unworthy to enlarge upon the idea.”
And I really feel the same way today as Neibuhr did one hundred years ago in 1920. I am unworthy to enlarge upon the idea. Speaking of large. How about this idea of atonement?
“I want bigger virgins.” Because if you offer yourself to the volcano, say your name is Joe Banks played by Tom Hanks in Joe Versus the Volcano, then, who knows, maybe your sins and the sins of the tribe will be absolved by the Volcano God.
Maybe. I do know this. I am not one to throw myself into a volcano for the sake of absolution for the sins of the world. Reinhold Neibuhr was/is correct.
I am not worthy to enlarge upon the idea of being “washed in the blood so divine.” I AM grateful that the blood so divine flows through MY veins and arteries in this COVID pandemic-time. Whereas the blood of 127,000 people and counting in our nation has ceased to flow – 51,000 of those deaths of people in nursing and retirement centers. Two, Ed Alley and Jack Henneberry. My mentors, teachers, coaches and friends.
They did not have to die from COVID-19. And though I am unworthy to enlarge upon the idea of blood atonement, I will enlarge upon our understanding of sin for which blood atonement is made.
Here is my sin. Here is our sin. Ed Alley and Jack Henneberry did not need to die from COVID-19.
I was on a men’s retreat at Bedford Christian Camp in 1994 when I first met Ed Alley who was on staff for that weekend. Big, tall man. Bald. Bearded with a joy-full face. I asked him what his role on the weekend was. Ed replied, “I am here to simply bless, bless, bless.” As the principal for Western Avenue Elementary School, Jack Henneberry always ended the morning announcements with “Be kind to each other.”
Good advice. Biblical advice. Bless, bless, bless. Love one another. How to be saved from sin? How to be saved from our separation from the God of Love? Love one another. Bless one another. “Be kind to each other.”