Written by Pastor Mark
I was once stopped in the middle of 3rd Street during Turkey Rama by a group of young people. “Would you mind if we asked you a question?” They asked me. “Not at all” I answered them. “If you were to die tonight . . . “ I did not respond lovingly to the question and my response might have included some profanity. But the question drives me crazy. It is shocking to some people that concepts like: “Giving your life to Jesus”, or “Being Born Again”, or “Making a decision for Christ” or even the idea of being “Saved” are all fairly recent American additions to the Christian faith. Up until the “Great Awakening” charismatic movement of the 20th century, salvation and faith were not individual decisions, but gifts from God given to the people of God.
We’re asking you to rethink some of your views during this season of Advent. What does “saved” mean to you? Our two Bible lessons today give us very different views of salvation than those concepts listed above. In the Message version of Zephaniah Peterson titles this chapter “sewer city” which is the home of people who oppress other the poor. The concepts being addressed are social justice, not personal piety. Those in power, the priests, judges and politicians, have taken advantage of the poor. The good news is that God finds humble people with whom to partner–people who will work to overcome the evils of the world.
Likewise John’s advice to those who come out to be baptized is also centered in justice. He does not tell them to “Give their life to Jesus” or some other personal, pietistic, spiritual exercise. He tells them to share of their excess, to not steal or extort from those over whom they have power, and to be content with our income.
Being saved is not what happens after this life is over, it is instead the actions we take in this life to help others. So, our response to the question “Have you been saved?” might be to say, no, because there are still people who do not have enough to eat, who do not have adequate shelter or are being oppressed. Or we might respond, no, I still have more than one coat and more food than I can possibly eat. We need to change the question from one a personal decision to one of a corporate action.
The wonderful hymn, “Amazing Grace” was not written about a personal conversion experience. It was the result of being convicted that trading human beings as slaves was evil. God’s grace came to the author through seeking social justice, not by giving his life to Jesus.
There is, however, a reason the “great awakening” took place. People had become complacent and their faith and it had no impact on their everyday lives. The Good News must become a part of our everyday life, must in the words of the Gospel; give us strength and put heart into us. These words are centered in actions which benefit not us, but those who are oppressed by the powerful of this world. This is truly salvation. John the Baptist points to the arrival of this salvation on earth. In a little over a week we will celebrate the arrival of this salvation on the earth. During this season of Advent let us all meditate on the actions we might take to make this salvation a reality right here and right now.
Quotes for the Week
“I believe much trouble would be saved if we opened our hearts more. “ Chief Joseph
“God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools.” John Muir
“Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers of today—but the core of science fiction, its essence has become crucial to our salvation if we are to be saved at all.” Isaac Asimov
“Amazing Grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was lost but now I see.” From the hymn “Amazing Grace
“No sinner is ever saved after the first twenty minutes of a sermon.” Mark Twain
1st Lesson Zephaniah 3:14-20 (NRSV)
14-15 So sing, Daughter Zion!
Raise the rafters, Israel!
be happy! celebrate!
God has reversed his judgments against you
and sent your enemies off chasing their tails.
From now on, God is Israel’s king,
in charge at the center.
There’s nothing to fear from evil
16-17 Jerusalem will be told:
“Don’t be afraid.
Your God is present among you,
a strong Warrior there to save you.
Happy to have you back, he’ll calm you with his love
and delight you with his songs.
18-20 “The accumulated sorrows of your exile
I, your God, will get rid of them for you.
You’ve carried those burdens long enough.
At the same time, I’ll get rid of all those
who’ve made your life miserable.
I’ll heal the maimed;
I’ll bring home the homeless.
In the very countries where they were hated
they will be venerated.
On Judgment Day
I’ll bring you back home—a great family gathering!
You’ll be famous and honored
all over the world.
You’ll see it with your own eyes—
all those painful partings turned into reunions!”
Gospel Lesson Luke 3:7-18 (The Message)
7-9 When crowds of people came out for baptism because it was the popular thing to do, John exploded: “Brood of snakes! What do you think you’re doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to deflect God’s judgment? It’s your life that must change, not your skin. And don’t think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as ‘father.’ Being a child of Abraham is neither here nor there—children of Abraham are a dime a dozen. God can make children from stones if he wants. What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.”
10 The crowd asked him, “Then what are we supposed to do?”
11 “If you have two coats, give one away,” he said. “Do the same with your food.”
12 Tax men also came to be baptized and said, “Teacher, what should we do?”
13 He told them, “No more extortion—collect only what is required by law.”
14 Soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”
He told them, “No shakedowns, no blackmail—and be content with your rations.”
15 The interest of the people by now was building. They were all beginning to wonder, “Could this John be the Messiah?”
16-17 But John intervened: “I’m baptizing you here in the river. The main character in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will ignite the kingdom life, a fire, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.”
18-20 There was a lot more of this—words that gave strength to the people, words that put heart in them. The Message!
Questions for the Week
How might we as a congregation work to bring salvation to this community?
What one action might you do to provide for those who do not have enough?
How do you respond to the question, “Have you been born again?”