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|Author:||Rev. Jeff Spencer|
|Copyright:||© 2011 by Rev. Jeff Spencer|
Please see the sermon manuscript for citations of sources quoted or used.
One of the joys for me in this adventure we are taking together, this adventure of forming a new church, is having a colleague to plan with. Along the way, Pastor Steve and I have been considering, âWhat might we do next as your pastors to grow our church â not just in members, but in depth of understanding and faith?â It was out of such a discussion that this sermon series was born.
We have held a vision for this new church that weâre creating: for Niles Discovery Church to be known as the preeminent progressive Christian congregation in the Tri-Cities. Pastor Steve and I have a hope that our new congregation will officially affiliate with the Center for Progressive Christianity and so we have wanted to find a way for the congregation to explore the â8 Pointsâ articulated by The Center for Progressive Christianity. âThe [Centerâs] intention of the â8 pointsâ has been to present an inviting expression of a particular approach to the practice of Christianity,â [i] that particular approach being âprogressive.â And so, in the course of this series, we are going to preach on these eight points.
Today, I preach on the first point, which says, âBy calling ourselves progressive, we mean we are Christians who have found an approach to God through the life and teachings of Jesus.â Actually, thatâs the way the center articulated their first point in 2003. They are now in the process of re-articulating their 8 points and currently articulate point 1 this way: âBy calling ourselves progressive, we believe that following the path and teachings of Jesus can lead to an awareness and experience of the Sacred and the Oneness and Unity of all life.â
I am choosing to articulate it this way: This is why Jesus is my Savior.
As I looked for a scripture to use for this sermon, I was drawn to the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, the story we heard read today. The thing that drew me to this scripture is the last verse: â[The people of the village] said to the woman, âIt is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.ââ There was something about their interchange with Jesus, something about their experience of Jesus that led the people of the village to say that Jesus is their Savior.
This is a wonderful, rich, somewhat confusing story. Jesus has this conversation with a Samaritan woman while theyâre at the well. A Jew and a Samaritan, a man and a woman, having a conversation in public. And not just any conversation, but a theological conversation. Talk about crossing conventional boundaries of propriety. I love that Jesus does that.
Someone [ii] once said that we all have a God-shaped hole in our souls and we all want to fill it, that our souls will not feel complete until it is filled. People try different ways to fill it. We try food, or alcohol, or other drugs, or relationships (perhaps this was the case for the woman at the well). We try intellectual pursuits or accumulating stuff or fame or power. But nothing fills that God-shaped hole completely â except God.
What the woman found in her encounter with Jesus was an approach to God, the one thing, the only thing, that can fill that God-shaped hole. She was so excited by this, she had to run off and tell the other in the village. They were intrigued enough by what the woman said (and maybe by how she said it), that they came to find out who this Jesus was and to check out the possibility that he was the long-awaited Messiah. And after two more days of experiencing Jesus, they came, as they put it, to âknow that this is truly the Savior of the world.â
I, too, have come to know Jesus as the Savior of the world. The thing is, when I say that, I probably donât mean the same thing that many less progressive Christians mean.
Paul, the writer of a bunch of those letters that made it into the New Testament, had his ideas of what it mean to say that Jesus is Savior. One aspect of that certainly seems to be a belief that we humans find redemption from our âfallenâ state only by accepting Jesus as our sacrificial savior. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 5:7, Paul refers to Jesus as âour paschal lamb,â the lamb that is slaughtered for the Passover so that death would pass over the Hebrews and they could escape slavery in Egypt and find a new home in freedom. And in Romans, Paul writes, about âthe redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood,â [iii] and âGod proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.â [iv]
This idea that Jesus is a savior because he rescues us from the wrath of God remains a common view of what it means to say that Jesus is our Savior within much of Christianity. But what a distorted view of God â and, yes, Iâm saying that Paul had a distorted view of God (at least in Romans 5). The idea that God, in all of Godâs holiness, wants to punish sinners and that Jesus needs to step in to rescue us by paying the price for our sins with his own death is repugnant to me.
Rob Bell, an evangelical Christian with a mega-church in Michigan, [v] caused a bit of a dust-up within conservative Christianity when he published his book Love Wins. In it he argues with this understanding of Jesus as Savior. âHowever true or untrue [that view may be] technically or theologically, what it can do is subtly teach people that Jesus rescues us from God. Letâs be very clear: we do not need to be rescued from God. God is the one who rescues us from death, sin, and destruction.â [vi]
Or, as Peter Marty put it, âGod has a larger job description than serving as the club bouncer who checks tickets at heavenâs door.â [vii]
If the great judgment in Matthew 25 is Jesusâ most exhaustive statement on who will go to heaven â and I think it just might be â then itâs worth noting that Jesus never mentions faith in himself as the ticket into heaven. The deciding factor for who is in and who is out has everything to do with how others are treated.
According to Jesus, it has nothing to do with his death as an atoning sacrifice nor with an explicit declaration of faith in him. As singer/songwriter Bryan Sirchio put it, â[Jesus] never said, â come acknowledge my existenceâ or âbelieve in me; Iâm the second person of the trinity.ââ [viii] What Jesus did say, again and again and again, was âfollow me.â At least 23 time in the four gospels, Jesus said, âfollow me.â [ix]
So, if saying that Jesus is Savior has nothing to do with being saved from the wrath of God, what does it mean?
The title, âLord and Savior,â was a title given to Caesar. So, to declare the Jesus is Lord and Savior is a political declaration. [x] To say âJesus is Lord and Saviorâ is to say âCaesar isnât lord and savior.â In contemporary America, itâs like saying, âJesus is my commander in chief,â or âJesus is my presidentâ â and, therefore, Obama is not.
If I say, âJesus is my Lord and Savior,â I am saying that I am a citizen of âŠ what shall I call it âŠ the United Communities of God. And I am saying that this citizenship comes before any other citizenship. My first allegiance is to Godâs realm.
This has very practical consequences. [xi] My allegiance to God first impacts how I look at the United States of America, the place of my second, subordinate citizenship. When I look at healthcare in the U.S., I see those who donât have access to it and decide that something must be done at a political level. When I look at the environment, I see Godâs creation and realize that we are but one generation of one species and we must make policies and choices that protect all of Godâs creation for future generations of humans and other species. When I think about our economic system, I have to ask if we are becoming like the Roman Empire where more and more wealth ends up in the hands of fewer and fewer people. And if we are, I have to ask how we can change that so the economic system is more like the economy of God where everyone has enough. When I look at the use of economic and military power by the United States, I canât help but realize that we are the worldâs imperial power and we must be careful that we donât act like imperial Rome.
The list, of course, could go on. My point today is simply this: As much as I am thankful for the advantages and privileges I have as a citizen of the United States, when I declare that Jesus is my Savior, I am saying that my first citizenship is in the Empire of God, my first allegiance is to the kingdom of God, and that citizenship, that allegiance calls me to participate in the United States in such a way as to further Godâs realm here on earth.
Thatâs one of the ways Jesus is my Savior. But saying that Jesus is my Savior has another equally important dimension to it that is much more personal.
When I was in college, I spent my summers working as a lifeguard and swim instructor. There were two town facilities where we worked. One was a swimming pool complex with four pools ranging from a little kidâs wading pool that wasnât as deep as my knees to a diving tank with one and three meter diving boards. The other was the Old Res, a long-retired reservoir, a small pond with murky water and a trucked-in beach that needed to be groomed every spring.
Out of those four summers, I only remember providing needed assistance twice. One time was up at the Old Res when a woman stepped on a jagged broken piece of glass and sliced open her foot â control the bleeding and send her off for stitches.
The other was one morning while I was circulating round the pool complex while lessons were going on. One of the instructors had kids flutter kicking across the intermediate pool and one of them was getting tired. As he tired, he pulled himself up onto the kick board, pulling himself out of a horizontal position, which made his kicking less effective, which made the other side of the pool seem further away, which raised his anxiety level, which caused him to pull himself further onto the kick board. You can see where this is going. So I stepped into the water that came up to my belly but was over his nose, pulled is board and told him to keep kicking, then lifted him up onto the side of the pool and suggested he rest for a couple minutes before continuing with the lesson.
I tell you this story because when I stop and really think about the meaning of the word âsavior,â I end up thinking about saving, which gets me thinking about being a lifeguard. Yes, I call Jesus my Savior because I want to proclaim my allegiance to him over that todayâs Caesars. And, I call Jesus my Savior because he saves me. But Jesus doesnât save me from the wrath of God. In fact, itâs quite the opposite.
Jesus is my Savior because through his life and teaching, I have found a way to draw closer to God. Jesus is my Savior because, through his life and teaching, I have found that that God-shaped hole in me is filled up with the only thing that can fill it perfectly.
I spend much of my time flutter kicking across the swimming pool of life, thinking that I can get to the other side on my own. And I canât. So Jesus jumps into the water and helps me to the other side. Jesus helps me see that God is God and that Iâm not.
What does Jesus save me from? Myself.
Jesus says, again and again, âfollow me.â So Jesus is my Savior because Iâve found that by following him I get my priorities and allegiances right and Iâm able to connect with the God he worshipped.
Thatâs why Jesus is my Savior. Why is he yours?ENDNOTES
[i] Progressive Christianity.org, formerly known as The Center for Progressive Christianity, About Us: 8 Points, http://tcpc.org/about/8points.cfm (17 September 2011).
[ii] I have no idea who said this first, and a quick internet search didnât clarify the question.
[iii] Romans 3:24-25 (NRSV).
[iv] Romans 5:8-9 (NRSV).
[v] See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rob_Bell for more information on Rob Bell.
[vi] Rob Bell, Love Wins, quoted by Peter W. Marty in âBetting on a generous God,â The Christian Century, 17 May 2011, p 23.
[vii] Marty, op. cit.
[viii] Bryan Sirchio, âFollow Me (87 Times),â from the album J-Walking: Songs For Justice Walkers, Â© 2004 Crosswind Music.
[ix] This number is based on a simple word search of the NRSV for âfollow me.â
[x] Marcus J. Borg, The Heart of Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 2003), pp. 135-136.
[xi] Borg, pp 143-145.